Samuel Goldwyn was a mastermind; there is no other way around it. I mean, he was a big, bold figure, an independent producer that made a name for himself and got the audience's attention. Now, of course, Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer (MGM), the company he in no small part spawned, is hardly making movies as big as they used to be. There have been a few good films, and Bond movies are still doing well, but even the Bond franchise is not as big as it used to be, and the studio that was THE studio is no more... but Wuthering Heights, directed in 1939 by William Wyler, goes back to an era before MGM, but with Samuel Goldywn being a name nonetheless. This was a time when Goldwyn made movies painted with broad strokes, tales of romance. Wuthering Heights, though, is such a film based on a darker melodrama. Would it be safe to take a classic (such as Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights), cut it in half, and lighten it up for the sake of a Hollywood romance?
Sure, you have William Wyler, no doubt talented as a director; but he had yet to reach his prime, first of all. But he still does a fine job, crafting a film probably as good as he could with what he had. I do not know what Wyler though of dismantling the novel, but I do know the ending was not his, with the two ghost-acted ghost lovers walking hand-in-hand. And he did not write it, either, so it was not his duty in taking away the darker side of Heathcliff, especially as Goldwyn probably had his big say in things. Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht, two fine writers, wrote the script... and it is not that it is horrible. Right after reading the novel, I found that every problem is accentuated as to why even include some of these characters when their purpose is thrown out in adaptation? When you are not being faithful... why remain faithful to the keeping characters?
Laurence Olivier (not the only good actor here, but I will stick with him) plays the Heathcliff of the romance film, and certainly not the book... and he does a good job of it. You cannot blame him for the character he had. He had to make the film work as it could... as did everyone involved. How can we hide the scars of surgery in so drastically changing the novel? And I do not think you really can. It is a fine enough film, but they should not have made it Wuthering Heights. They should have taken characters out, and give more to the story they wish to tale. If you are not doing Brontë... do not. I do not even like the book all that much, the labyrinthine melodrama as it is. I was not pulled in by it at all... and I wanted to enjoy an old-fashioned romance movie... and found nothing but the same problems you can find with modern romances.
It is just like Nora Ephron's 1998 You've Got Mail, for example, based on Ernst Lubtsich's 1940 The Shop around the Corner. A fine little romantic comedy, charming enough, but in the end it never fully absorbed me. Some nice little moments and all, and fine performances by fine actors, and then you go on with your day, la de da. But The Shop round the Corner... wow. When I saw it, it made me wonder more why You've Got Mail was made... and really it was just made to team up Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan again for a cute little romance, just as Wuthering Heights was made just for a little romance movie. The Shop around the Corner is a fantastic movie that engaged me more than just a few laughs. It has dramatic juice, too, and I loved it. James Stewart as the leading man is such a knockout performer... and I also just realized the sheer amount of Alfred Hitchcock connections I have raised. Writer Ben Hecht and, of course, James Stewart were involved with various Hitchcock productions, and then we come to a point I wished to make about Olivier. Olivier's very next movie after Wuthering Heights was Hitchcock's 1940 Rebecca... which is a great movie, and proof that the sparks simply just were not with Wuthering Heights.
They had the cast and crew, and yes, even Goldwyn knows what to do, but I really think that Goldwyn's influence in this case was a bad one. You cannot take something classic (even if I do not like it, for example) and try to just lessen it so greatly and hope for something good. The box office could have been good for the movie, sure; and there were probably no regrets. I mean, there should be no regrets about You've Got Mail, either. It is what it is, and does what it does, fine enough. It is fluff, and if it is your sort of thing... jump on in and have a nice little time. You may also see the sheer volume of talent involved being wasted, but perhaps it is safe, anyway.