We have all heard of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 book: The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde. Even if we have not read this book, we know what it is all about; and each one of us has heard of the opposing personalities of Dr. Jeckyl/Mr. Hyde. Now, compare this idea of an opposing character to that of Heathcliff in Emily Brontë's 1847 novel, Wuthering Heights, and further compare it to the film, a 1939 Samuel Goldwyn Production, Wuthering Heights, directed by William Wyler. In both the novel and the film, we see several sides of dear Heathcliff in changes from a child, to a young man, to the adult he becomes.
The novel portrays the idea of Heathcliff as a gypsy child, always getting insulted by the other children in the house, except Cathy. Heathcliff ages and becomes, like a slave, a hardworking young man, doing exactly as he is told. Then he becomes a man that knows his love lies with his housemate, Cathy. Heathcliff runs away and returns a bitter, unhappily wealthy individual. He only wants to please his love but finds that she has married, and now he is left alone to love no other. In the novel, we are presented with the idea that Heathcliff is a minority individual, and he is not well respected by anyone, not even his true love, who has practically disowned him because of his low status in society. We receive a very similar portrayal of Heathcliff in the film (minus his dark complexion gathered from the book)
It is not until Heathcliff returns to Cathy that we begin to observe his Dr. Jeckyl/Mr. Hyde personality, most greatly portrayed in the film directed by William Wyler. Heathcliff, played by Laurence Olivier, is a dashing individual, not necessarily the "dark, evil" character he is supposed to be. He does pose for a variety of reactions received from the audience. One minute he turns to Cathy (Merle Oberon), ready to embrace her, to be with her; but, seeing that he cannot fulfill his hopes of this, he gives an evil glare and seems almost Star Trek like. When he does embrace Cathy, it is an over dramatized sequence of prolonged hugging. Although films of that day were more carefully censored, over dramatization led viewers to further observe the character and the personality portrayed. Heathcliff, in his obsessive hugging, seemed a kind, gentle, caring man; but, when realization sets in that Cathy has, in a sense, betrayed him by marrying Edgar (David Niven), Heathcliff turns from her and hence, we gather, into the character of Mr. Hyde. Heathcliff has wanted revenge from everyone who has ever put him down as being nobody, a gypsy, a lowlife. Heathcliff blames Cathy for his bitterness and seeks out to marry Edgar's sister, Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald). He has no notion for even loving Isabella and tells her to her face. He only wants to get back at Cathy for the hurt she has caused him. Cathy does not want to see Heathcliff anymore; she says she cannot love him anymore-that she loves her husband, and her husband loves her. Heathcliff's personality and anger only worsen.
On Cathy's deathbed, however, all is dissolved, as the film portrays. Her love for Heathcliff is once more revealed, while his mind bounces between good and evil. The film does an excellent job of portraying this. He blames her for "killing herself, betraying her own heart and marrying for wealth." Cathy's love for nice things has been granted in her marriage to Edgar, but her heart has been in pain while she has loved Heathcliff and could not have him. Her yearning to be with him and regret for not giving herself to him are what has killed her. After Heathcliff expresses his outrage-the evil and Cathy pouts that he "should break her heart," he falls back for her and forgives her for what she has done and for the hurt she caused him. He becomes the nice man again-the good. Then, Heathcliff picks Cathy up, so that she, looking out at the moors one last time, goes limp and dies in her lover's arms, unlike in the novel where she dies in an unconscious state after giving birth to her daughter. Soon after, Heathcliff, crying out for Cathy one last time (like Dr. Jeckyl taking on Mr. Hyde one last time), delivers himself to the "castle" shared by the two-Pennistone Crag-and dies amid the snow.
At last, the "good" Heathcliff and Cathy walk off together into the Crag. The film, thus, brings together a happy ending with the two lovers joined as one and Heathcliff changed back to the dashing young man he had been with Cathy, unlike the novel, which ends with Heathcliff dying alone miles away from Cathy. These events which, very cleverly, bring the "story" to a close, signify that the opposing personalities of Heathcliff's character are dissolved, most particularly, in the film. And, although the novel ends with Heathcliff dying a rather disturbed man, he is later observed with Cathy (both individuals in spirit) by a small boy, and readers are informed that the couple is to be married. Both Heathcliff and Cathy are joined, once again, in love; and like the film, the novel, too, presents that the opposing personalities of Heathcliff are dissolved.