From the Heights to Hollywood:

The Difference in the Two Heathcliff Characters

     In Emily Brontė's 1847 Wuthering Heights William Wyler film version Heathcliff also possesses these undesirable traits; however, the movie portrayed a more polished, desirable character than the Brontė classic did.

     One example of the contrasting characters can be found in the beginning of both versions. In the novel, Heathcliff demands Hindley's horse after his (Heathcliff's) falls lame. An argument soon occurs, and Hindley hit Heathcliff with an iron weight. It appears as though Brontė had Heathcliff provoke this early quarrel.

     The movie provides the same scene but with a different twist. Heathcliff (Rex Downing) is portrayed as the single victim to an obnoxious Hindley (Douglas Scott). This time, Hindley takes Heathcliff's horse and then proceeds to throw a rock at him. This cinematic version, unlike Brontė's version, depicts Hindley as the lone villain.

     Heathcliff's vengeance against the Wuthering Heights atmosphere is also contrasted in both the novel and the movie. While his actions are overall shady in both versions, the novel tends to make Heathcliff more malicious than the movie. The novel describes Heathcliff acquiring his hated old residence by deliberately luring Hindley into drinking and gambling his life away. Heathcliff awaits as Hindley accumulates so high an amount of IOUs that he is severely indebted to the former orphan.

     The movie has Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) explaining his acquisition of Wuthering Heights in a subtler manner. He explains to Linton (David Niven) that he had gained control by "paying off Hindley's gambling debts." He possesses charm and does not seem very bitter in delivering this annoying news to the suitor who stole the love of his life.

     The alteration of the Heathcliff from the novel to the cinema could have been a result of the times it was filmed. The country had been coming off a depression and the events leading to World War II were in its early stages. It was important to recognize the poor underdog raising his way to the polished hero. This was the case in the film adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff was portrayed more the golden-hearted orphan who clawed his way to the top in the movie than the chip-on-his-shoulder hoodlum he is painted as in the novel.

Adam Thompson

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