An Incredible Role Pathetically Played

     One of the most devilishly delightful characters ever created has been turned into a sniveling aristocrat with no personality. Oh damned Heathcliff, he did not do you justice. Laurence Olivier delivered the most shameful performance in William Wyler's 1939 film adaptation of Emily Brontė's 1847 novel, Wuthering Heights .

     Olivier did a fine job of memorizing lines but a poor job of understanding them. I watched in horror as he played the role and never knew what anything he said meant. His facial expressions were vague and without motivation. His posture and body language all cried in agony, "I don't know what I'm doing."

     His pristine condition as a stable boy left me with thoughts of putrescence. How clean and pretty he appeared, with his hair unfettered. The underfed acting was no doubt hindered by his enormous ego. In a scene with Merle Oberon, his hands lay in hers. She turned them over and spoke a line of how dirty they appeared. The camera shot of his hands was an insult to Emily Brontė. I have never seen digits so clean and well manicured on a stable boy.

     It was no doubt his reputation and not his on-screen ability that got him nominated for an Academy Award. He brought to the screen a meager performance, nothing worthy of nomination. The very essence of Heathcliff, his dark nature, a wonderful heart that beat pure black crude through his veins was never touched. Olivier, you make me sick.

     I was in towering anxiety waiting for my favorite scene where Heathcliff has a stand-off with a gun held by his former childhood nemesis. Alas poor Olivier did not deliver. In Brontė's novel this was a delicate moment full of years of torment and new -found confidence for Heathcliff. The acting I saw spoke none of that to me and was the largest disappointment I have ever witnessed.

Paul M. Helwagen

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