Home Run versus Strikeout

     William Wyler, one of the most successful directors of the first half of the twentieth century, directed both Wuthering Heights and The Heiress. However, these two films could not be more different. One film was horrid; the other was incredible.

     Wuthering Heights (1939) was the epitome of a film disaster. The actors looked out of place in their roles. The screenplay itself was very boring and much different from the 1847 novel by Emily Brontė. The ending of the movie was especially unmoving. When Edgar (David Niven) gave way to Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) at the conclusion of the film, Edgar was pathetic. He stood in Catherine's (Merle Oberon) room with no purpose. The monotonous dialogue between Catherine and Heathcliff was a complete contradiction from Brontė's story. Her desperate, whiny pleading was sickening, and his so-called pain was not evident. Then, the absolute worst scene in the film was the final image the viewer is left with. The final scene, ordered by Samuel Goldwyn, which Wyler refused to direct, the walk in the clouds by Heathcliff and Catherine (ghost-acted by two extras) was the corniest image I have seen in a film, surpassing even George Bailey's triumphant victory in It's a Wonderful Life. Wyler, with the help of producer Goldwyn, managed to ruin a perfectly good opportunity to make a better film than the original work.

     Inversely, Wyler's 1949 The Heiress was a sparkling version of the 1880 book by Henry James. Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift fit perfectly into their roles of Catherine and Morris. Doctor Sloper's character, as depicted by Ralph Richardson, was more entertaining in the film than in the novel. He showed a certain disdain for Catherine, which was present in the book, but not so easily visible. De Havilland made the perfect, shy, and incompetent Catherine; and Clift was charming, yet delightfully crooked. The ending with Morris beating on the door with Cathy smugly climbing the stairs was priceless. Overall, the film was wonderful.

     The films Wuthering Heights and The Heiress have distinct differences, despite both being directed by Wyler. He delivered a home run with The Heiress; but, unfortunately, he stuck out on Wuthering Heights.

Krista Kimmel

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