Wuthering Heights: Jerking the Tears Around

         What makes a movie or a book touch your soul? Why do you read some books multiple times and others never finish? Why are some movies tear-jerkers and others that are intended to be tear-jerkers a joke?

         I had never heard of William Wyler, who directed a movie version of Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights in 1939, until we watched a documentary about him in class. I had heard of many of the movies he directed. Two of my favorites are Funny Girl and Roman Holiday. The documentary showed a clip from The Best Years of Our Lives. The clip showed three men coming home from the war. One man was pointing out the different sites in the town and describing the people who owned the businesses. I could tell he was nervous to go home, and the reason became clear when he got out of the car. The man had lost both his hands and now had hooks where his hands should have been. He did not know if his family would want him that way. But the family was thrilled to see him and welcomed him home. In just a few minutes I became personally involved in the story and could not keep the tears from sliding down my cheeks. That is a sign of a good movie, one that captivates the viewer's attention and stays with them long after the movie is over.

         The same thing applies to a good book; the reader is absorbed and becomes part of the story. I did not feel that attachment with Wuthering Heights, and was disappointed. After watching the documentary about Wyler, I looked forward to the movie of Wuthering Heights. This director would not let the actors bluff their way through. They would do the scene until it was right. I looked forward to a movie that would have the impact missing from the novel.

         But I felt let down. Laurence Olivier, whom some called the greatest actor that ever lived, played the role of Heathcliff. He did an adequate job of playing the part; but I never believed he was Heathcliff; he was Olivier being Heathcliff. In the scene where Catherine gets bit by the Lintons' dog and they carry her into the house, Olivier acts as though he is mad and spits on the floor. Living in Western Kentucky, I know that it is not rare to see men spit, and I was not convinced.

         Merle Oberon's Catherine was not the feisty woman we met in the book. She seemed more bi-polar to me, alternately manic then depressed. For example, in the scene where Cathy comes in to the kitchen to tell Ellen (Flora Robson) that Edgar (David Niven) has proposed, she is believable in her plan to marry Edgar, when she clearly does not love him. But when she describes her relationship with Heathcliff as "whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same" there is no passion--I just do not believe her. I expected to see a strong woman that toyed with the men in her life--a Scarlett O'Hara type. This Cathy was a disappointment.

         The movie was underwhelming. No suspense scenes caused me to hold my breath. The love scenes did not cause my pulse to quicken. I did not breathe a sigh of contentment when the movie ended by the time the lovers died; I was ready for them to go. I know Mr. Wyler was a great director because his other films were so good. I just wonder what happened with Wuthering Heights.

Lynne Gustafson

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