Making Catherine and Heathcliff Appear Innocent

         The 1939 movie version of Wuthering Heights portrays the drama about jealousy, greed, and revenge in a light and fluffy manner, as compared to Emily Brontë's 1847 novel. The novel's two main characters, Catherine and Heathcliff , are the ones responsible for many of the other characters' grievances; but they too become victims of revenge from each other.

         In Brontë's book, Catherine is thought by many to be selfish, petty, and immature. In the novel, Heathcliff seems vengeful, sadistic, and evil. So how does a movie based off this novel have people feeling sorry for Catherine and Heathcliff by the end because of the pain they have caused themselves? With the movie's music, script, and happy ending, the film makers were effective in turning this tragedy into an unfortunate incident.

         William Wyler, the movie's director, incorporated Alfred Newman's background music throughout the movie to captivate his audience. If his intention was to romanticize the story's plot, the music assisted him in doing so. It had a romantic feel to it, enticing the audience towards positive types of emotions.

         The playwrights' script was significantly different from the actual novel. The scriptwriters, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, decided to leave out many of the details about Heathcliff's vengeful attitude and Catherine's indecisiveness, not giving the audience a clear grip on the characters' complex personalities in the novel. This utterance made by Heathcliff in the book did not make it to the movie script: "You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry, and wring out my kisses and tears; they'll blight you--they'll damn you. You loved me--then what right had you to leave me? What right--answer me--for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery, and degradation and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart--you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine" ( 170). It shows the audience how Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) still choose to blame Cathy (Merle Oberon) for their suffering, even when she was on her deathbed.

         Going against Wyler's directing, Samuel Goldwyn, the producer of the movie, decided it should end with the ghost-acted Heathcliff and Catherine's ghosts walking on the moors together; where as the book ends with Heathcliff's death. They did this to leave the audience with a sense of hope. There is a happy ending for two characters that least likely deserve one.

         The movie portrayed the characters as more likeable and the story line more enjoyable than what Brontë had intended for them to be.

Allison Webster

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