Emily Brontė: Rest in Pieces

         Los Abismos de Pasion was released in 1954 under the direction of Luis Buñuel. It is the foreign adaptation of Emily Brontë's novel, Wuthering Heights. It is an excellent adaptation, utilizing the key characters as well as the character found within the setting itself, in a very similar, yet stylized way, as the book. It is in contrast to another film version, Wuthering Heights, which was produced in 1939 under the direction of William Wyler. Both directors use the basic story introduced by Brontë in 1847. However, the versions differ along cultural lines.

         Wuthering Heights utilizes southern California to create the setting of the English Yorkshire Moors. The movie has a cold feel to it, with blustery winds and hard snowfalls. The setting inserts an important character into the cast by creating tension, happiness, fear, and melancholy just by changing the apparent season or a given day's weather conditions. Los Abismos de Pasion is set in Mexican hills and plains. The setting also plays heavily into the feel of the movie. However, there is an absence of snow, which is replaced by driving rain and wind. The sunshine adds depth with the tensions that rise when the temperature increases. While the climate is warmer in Los Abismos de Pasion, it does not prevent the cast from being the cold characters Brontë envisioned.

         Alejandro is the Heathcliff character of Wuthering Heights. As played by Jorge Mistral, he is a cold, cruel man who has his heart set on revenge and will not spare anyone in his quest to achieve it. True to Brontë's novel, the only person that can warm him is Catalina, the Catherine character, portrayed by Irasema Dilian. However, Alejandro is kinder while in Catalina's home than Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) is in Catherine's (Merle Oberon). Alejandro comes home to take Catalina back, but he is unable to steal her away from her husband, Eduardo (Ernest Alonzo) until her death. He is polite while in his presence. though. Heathcliff, on the other hand, is much more rude while in Catherine's estate. The Spanish men in general, seem to be kinder, but not friendly, with the exception of the Hindley character.

         The Hindley character, Ricardo (Luis Aceves Castaneda), in Los Abismos de Pasion will stop at nothing to pay Alejandro back for taking his estate from him. In the book Wuthering Heights but not in the movie Hindley (Hugh Williams) dies. In the novel Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff gets Hindley to gamble and drink his his estate away, whereas in the movie, Heathcliff quietly buys up the estate behind the gambling Hindley's back, after gambling and drinking himself into such debt that Heathcliff is able to legally own Wuthering Heights. However, the Hindley character in Los Abismos de Pasion is able to not only survive his alcoholism but also to kill Alejandro in the end, as he dies hallucinating that his Catalina is beckoning him. This seems a far jump from the novel. However, it may be explained that the Spanish culture demands the lesser of two evils to survive over the worse. Regardless, the end of the movie is incredibly powerful and unexpected, an ingenious way to make viewers remember the film.

         The most striking difference in characters of the two adaptations is with Catherine and Catalina. In Wyler's version, Catherine is portrayed as a strong woman by Merle Oberon, yet she is easily swayed away from Heathcliff. When he returns, she seems to be willing to continue to push him away, for the sake of her marriage and husband. It is not until she is on her deathbed that she is able to admit she desires to be with him. In contrast, much like her counterpart in Brontë's novel, Catalina refuses to push Alejandro away. She is overjoyed by his return and wishes to start their friendship, if not their relationship as well, up again. She tells her husband that she will not desert her friend and that he will just have to accept him as a part of her life. She is never revealed to give in to Alejandro totally, but she is very flirtatious with him. I believe the change in character is due to the Spanish view of women in 1954 versus that towards American women in 1939. American women were subservient, needed mainly to run the household and care for the children. Spanish women were freer than their American counterparts. They had the ability to care for themselves if need be and were legally allowed to be equal to their husbands. Spanish women today have a stereotypical reputation for being bull-headed and strong-willed. This was quite likely true in 1954 as well.

         The differences between Wuthering Heights and Los Abismos de Pasion are due to their having been made in two entirely different cultures. It was very interesting seeing the novel reproduced in two such dramatically different ways. Wyler and Buñuel are both talented directors who took a famous novel and made it into two drastically different masterpieces separate from not only each other, but from the novel as well.

Amanda J. Williams

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