Wuthering Heights: Not a Pretty Sight

         William Wyler's 1939 adaptation of the famous novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë in 1847 fell short of remarkable in my eyes. I found the film version of Brontë's acclaimed work of genius to be superior to the written word, but that is not in truth a compliment, for I do not hold a high opinion of the book either. I must first acknowledge that this film seemed to me, revolutionary for its time, but that does not fully hide the fact that I thought the actors inexperienced and the music at times overwhelming.

         Alfred Newman's music played a chief role in this film, as one can clearly determine by at least the third time Merle Oberon's character, Cathy, entered a scene.  Every time she appeared on the screen or a climactic element of the story was revealed the very same music would suddenly crescendo, linger briefly, and then slowly climb back down again. It is apparent that Wyler used this idea for effect, and had he used it more sparingly (and only when necessary) it would have served his purpose.  Instead, I found myself dreading anything alluring to happen in the film for I feared the same music would play once again.

         As I mentioned before, Merle Oberon assumed the role of the charming Cathy, and Laurence Olivier played the multi-dimensional role of Heathcliff. Neither of these performances was highly engaging, quite on the contrary, I found them to be rather disappointing. After hearing all my life the high praises of Laurence Olivier, I found that his performance in this film did not live up. Both of these actors seemed to play off of each other, producing two whiny people in love who could never make up their minds about one another. Each of these characters lacked the dimensions and emotions they are to be driven by. They always appeared to be holding back, or just playing one emotion at a time, which does not work because we, as humans, are much more complex beings than that. The other minor roles were filled by an array of actors, including Hugh Williams, who played the part of the cruel and drunken Hindley. Williams' presence should have commanded the audience's attention the moment he entered a scene, but instead I noticed myself looking for him in the scenes I knew he was required to be present for. A blubbering drunk, by definition should grab an audience's attention, but Williams failed in this area.

         Though these disappointing elements were scattered throughout a vast expanse of the film, a redeeming quality was the breathtaking scenery. Seeing Heathcliff and Cathy gazing lovingly into each other's eyes against a stretch of unscathed land hidden in the mountains of Southern California and the Yorkshire moors, was undeniably stunning.

         To wrap this up, if one can look past the head-pounding melodies and the poor acting choices of Wuthering Heights to get a glimpse of the scenery, this film would be a somewhat mediocre selection for one's weekly movie night.

Lydia Davis

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