Practice Makes Perfect

             There are few similarities one could find between the films Wuthering Heights (1939) and The Heiress (1949). Upon viewing the films, one would probably think two different people had directed them, when in fact, William Wyler directed both. But Mr. Wyler seemed to have a split personality when it came to directing. His first personality belonged to an inexperienced and untalented director, and the other belonged to a man who could direct a film that would touch one's every emotion. The transformation of this mediocre director into a breathtaking film maker seemed to be caused simply by time and practice. There was a ten-year span between the production of Wuthering Heights and The Heiress that allowed this man's talent to grow by leaps and bounds.

     The first film, Wuthering Heights, failed in every aspect of film making. The actors did a poor job of making the story believable. Laurence Olivier's portrayal of Heathcliff was far from convincing. He did not come across as the evil villain he was in Emily Brontė's 1847 novel. He was simply a lovesick puppy. His physical appearance did not fit Heathcliff's original character either. The lines the actors had to speak in this film were also very poorly written. Most of the ones that were meant to be serious brought laughter out of my classmates, such as when Catherine blurts out to Ellen, "I am Heathcliff." It was a silly, overly dramatic line to begin with, but hearing it spoken made it seem even more so. Alfred Newman's music in this film was too overpowering. The film was full of crescendos and decrescendos that drew the viewer's attention away from the film and to this inappropriate and annoying music.

     While Wuthering Heights made a disgrace out of Brontė's work, The Heiress totally redeemed the story of Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square. This book was boring and dull, but Wyler was able to transform it into a captivating film. The actors in the movie perfectly fit their roles. Montgomery Clift, who played Morris, and Olivia de Havilland, who played Catherine, were especially good at portraying their characters both physically and mentally. Their appearances and their body language allowed me to see Morris' arrogance and Catherine's shyness. The lines the characters spoke were very meaningful and not at all cheesy as the ones in Wuthering Heights. One could feel Catherine's suffering after Morris left her. Wyler also learned how to strategically place background music into his films during the ten-year period. The music in this movie was used much more sparingly and effectively. It allowed my attention to focus on the story.

     There are many more factors about each of these films that made The Heiress superior to Wuthering Heights. After viewing both of these films, I found that there was no doubt in my mind that William Wyler had become far more experienced by the time The Heiress was produced. He is a perfect example of saying that practice really does make perfect.

Regina Clark

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