Keeping It Real:
Taking the Novel Wuthering Heights to the Screen

        Many ideals of discussion present themselves in comparisons; to compare the 1939 film of Wuthering Heights, directed by William Wyler, to the 1939 screenplay, by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, would be easy. Wyler nailed this one. I read the screenplay, and the movie was so true, I felt as if I had been there done that. To consider the actors, the setting, or the editing, I feel a lot more information is needed because it is truly unfair to look at this film through modern eyes and judge. Still, there has to be something that is universal, independent of time.

             To me there are two main themes in this work, one of love and one of revenge. There is no question that the 1847 book, written by Emily Brontë, portrayed these to the tee, but how did the movie do? To not present these themes in their true essence would be a shame. Many feel let down that there is so much of the novel left out, but the screenplay tries to present the main story of the novel. This task, the movie does achieve. So in comparison, I will defend the movie as it represents the novel.

          The two main characters, Heathcliff and Catherine, are of two classes of people. They are brought together by circumstance. Heathcliff, a young fellow of questionable beginnings, wants to be with Catherine; and Catherine, too young to care for riches, finds a friend in Heathcliff. They were put together in their youth and innocence, and their friendship grows.

            The two grow as friends and are on the verge of being soul mates when Catherine catches a glimpse of the world she will start longing for.  Unwilling to give Heathcliff up and unwilling to accept him as he is, she pushes him away. This is evident as Catherine grows and is exposed to things in her class. It is very obvious as Catherine returns from the Lintons and wishes that Heathcliff had presented himself better and more evident when she is offended by Edgar's statements made against him.

            The glitter becomes more attractive, causing Catherine to turn her back on Heathcliff. She subdues her feelings and allows her wanting to take over. This betrayal causes Heathcliff of run away. He wants to be with Catherine so much, and is so hurt by her betrayal, that every wrong done to him becomes fuel for his revenge.

            So the movie takes a break from the broken hearts and tries show life going on as it should. This is to be only a brief calm in the storm before Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) reappears; ready to claim what he feels should be his. He does this out of hatred and revenge. He achieves his goals and even has a love, or so I thought. It seems that even his marriage to Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald) was to hurt someone. His love for Catherine (Merle Oberon) was the only thing he could not fix. He goes mad wanting her so much, that his very soul is consumed. Catherine finally too comes to the end of her lies and confesses her love, but it was a confession too late.

            Even though the movie is a departure from the story line of the novel, it stays true to the theme of the novel; it presents the story of Heathcliff and Catherine in a manner consistent to the novel. It is full of love, hate, revenge and is true to the man theme of the novel.

Ron Watkins

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