Wyler’s “Hollywood” Feel

         Keeping a movie short enough to keep the attention of the audience is a craft that has haunted directors for ages. Many directors and screenwriters are commissioned with the task to transform the words from a novel into moving breathing visual representations, and keeping the basic plot sequence of the book can be tough to squeeze into a movie. In his 1939 page-to-screen adaptation of Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel Wuthering Heights, William Wyler does a swell job of sticking to the story line, while not drawing it and boring the audience.

         A couple of major criticism that I heard about the movie was that it contained hardly any of the content from the last half of the book. The chapters in which Heathcliff tortures his wife, Isabella, with verbally harassment is unseen in the movie. Wyler’s expertise was apparent in that he did not completely leave this aspect out of the movie. It seemed that every time that Heathcliff was around Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald) after the wedding, he was degrading her and making her feel very miniscule.

         As for what he did include, Wyler’s depiction of the novel was outstanding. Heathcliff (portrayed by Laurence Olivier) was as bizarre and cold-hearted as I had pictured when reading the novel. While Olivier did have a couple of odd moments in the movie (including one where he stares into the distance for about two minutes), he made me believe that Brontë originally had him in mind when she wrote the book.

         Although the movie versions of all of the characters were a little bit different, I actually embraced a few of the differences, including those given by Merle Oberon, the actress that portrayed Catherine. She was more warm-hearted than the Catherine from the novel, and it made the movie a more romantic feel. Oberon’s portrayal of Catherine made the movie much easier to stand.

         Although some students and critics did not appreciate the take that Wyler put on the novel, I was pleased with the “Hollywood” feel that he gave with his production. Wyler’s Wuthering Heights undoubtedly set the bar for many of its romantic cinematic followers.

Marshall Toy

Table of Contents