Saga of the Heathcliffs

         Even though both movies interpret Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights, their treatments of Heathcliff were vastly different. William Wyler's 1939 Wuthering Heights depicted Heathcliff as a tragic hero trapped by his circumstances. The 1954 Los Abimos de Pasion of Buñuel showed Alejandro as cruel and manipulative. Both directors had a distinct idea of how Heathcliff should be portrayed cinematically. This seems to be a case of picking and choosing since Brontë showed both sides of Heathcliff in the book.

         While Healthcliff had suffered in his childhood, each director chose his own method of having Heathcliff deal with it. Wyler's version starts with them as children, but Buñuel's begins with them as adults already. Wyler created sympathy for Heathcliff since he was constantly abused by Hindley (Douglas Scott/Hugh Williams) as a child and as an adult. In Wyler's version, Heathcliff (Rex Downing/Laurence Olivier) continued to play the victim in his interactions with Catherine (Sarita Wooten/Merle Oberon) and Edgar (David Niven). He repeatedly found himself at the mercy of Catherine's decisions. He rarely made an attempt to avenge himself. In Los Abimos, Alejandro (Jorge Mistral) took on a malevolent bent after his return. He set out to torment Catalina (Irasema Dilian) for choosing to marry Eduardo (Ernesto Alonzo). In that, he did succeed marvelously. In this movie, Alejandro refused to play the victim and instead actively sought revenge.

         In Brontë's book, Heathcliff lived for many years after Catherine's death and generally tormented those around him. He forced his son and Catherine's daughter to marry and took her inheritance. He went slowly went crazy and finally died at the Heights. In each movie, Heathcliff experienced a different manner of death. In Wyler's version, Catherine's death sent Heathcliff over the edge. He wandered out into a blizzard and died of exposure on the moors. Even though Wyler protested, Catherine and Heathcliff's ghosts-acted ghosts were seen meandering across a heavenly moor, seemingly at peace at long last. In Buñuel's movie, Alejandro was sent into a depression after her death and spent a long period of time disconnected from reality. At last, he stumbled into the graveyard and opened the crypt of Catalina's family. After embracing her cold corpse, he was shot and killed by Ricardo (Luis Aceves Castaneda). The two tormented lovers did not end up in eternal peace. Alejandro died as he had lived: in violence. These two movies each dealt Heathcliff a vastly different fate.

         While based on the same book, Wyler and Buñuel's cinematic treatment of Heathcliff could not be more dissimilar. One version was the downtrodden romantic peasant-hero. The other version portrayed him as vengeful and violent. These are but two interpretations of the same complex character, created by Emily Brontë.

Rebekah Ruppel

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