Adaptation or Maladaptation?

     The outcomes of adaptations from novel/play to film are meant to be positive and enhance the effectiveness of the work to the audience they are speaking. Oftentimes, however; the meaning of the original version can get distorted and even unrecognizable.

     Emily Brontė's Wuthering Heights in its original 1847 version as a novel was very well written. It was very easy to read and to follow along with the plot. The core of the story was about two star-crossed lovers that did not have fate on their side. Apart from the love story of Catherine and Heathcliff, there were many subplots in this story.

     When Wuthering Heights was made into a movie directed by William Wyler in 1939, the adaptation was hardly a corny, melodramatic film that had no resemblance to the novel. In respect to the scenery; it was filmed on location in California, so obviously it was not the true original version. It was only about Catherine and Heathcliff. Many characters were excluded. The last half of the book was not even in the movie. The character (Laurence Oliver) who played Heathcliff in the movie was a toned-down version of the book character of Heathcliff. The Heathcliff in the book seemed much more sinister and evil.

     The ending of the movie topped it off with a cheesy scene with the ghosts of Catherine and Heathcliff walking hand in hand in the moors together. William Wyler did not want this ending; and the producer, Samuel Goldwin, should have listened to him.

     I know that doing the movie exactly as the book is written would have made the movie too long, but they could have at least used the second half of the book with the children of Catherine and Heathcliff. "Wyler incorporated many of the novel's main characters (Heathcliff, Catherine etc.) but left out such pivotal characters as Hareton Earnshaw, Linton Heathcliff, and the young Catherine Linton. How, one asks, can the film hope to follow the plot of the book if three of the main supporting characters are absent? Though I understand completely the difficulty condensing a three-hundred-page novel into a two-hour film, that does not mean large portions of the book should be left out or characters should behave almost completely oppositely to the way they did in the book" (Richard Wilson of the Montage).

     This is a clear-cut example of the maladaptation from the novel to film.

Amy Houk

Table of Contents