Catherine: American versus Spanish

     Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights is portrayed in two different ways in both films adapted from the 1847 novel, Wuthering Heights (1939) and Los Abismos de Pasion (1954). Catherine, being a complex character originally in Brontė's 1841 novel, is "morphed" into two different persons in the films.

     To begin, in the American version, directed by William Wyler, Catherine does not have as much spite as the original character in the novel. The film centers on the love story of Catherine and Heathcliff and does not deal with the other developments of the story. In that light, Catherine does not have as much of a chance to be the character that evolves from a spunky little girl to the withered and frail woman that dies of insanity in the novel. Instead, Catherine is brought into the story for just moments as the younger girl, played by Sarita Wooten, and is then transported to her adulthood, where Heathcliff (Laurence Oliver) is the center of her being. Since the films of that time usually dealt with females as being the much weaker sex, Catherine is treated as no exception, and Merle Oberon portrays what should be strong, independent character, but who instead is a woman plagued with uncertainty even in her stronger moments. She even has the classic sobbing on the man's shoulder scene, as most women do in the films of the time. The character only superficially stays true to her predecessor.

     The Spanish version of the novel, directed by Luis Buńuel, provides a different approach to the character of Catherine Earnshaw. A major difference between foreign film makers and those in the American film market is that the foreign guidelines for movie-making are not as rigid. On that note, the Spanish version is somewhat shocking to those not accustomed to the freedom of these producers. This element of shock is factored into the portrayal of Catherine, Catalina (Irasema Dilian), as the movie opens with her shooting buzzards in the back yard. This attempt at foreshadowing shows the difference that will be encountered in this film compared to all previous productions of Wuthering Heights. Catherine is more harsh in this version. She is more conniving to Isabella, Isabel (Lilia Prado), and she tends to give Edgar, Edgardo (Ernesto Alonso), more trouble at times concerning Heathcliff, Alejandro (Jorge Mistrel). In this film, her childhood is not mentioned at all, so these extremities in her persona do add to her character, making her more like the original Catherine without the trouble of providing her history. Her passion is more pronounced without the undertones of her weaknesses as Ms. Oberon put forth.

     In conclusion, the two film of this classic novel shed different shades of light onto Catherine's true personality. Both do contribute to the spirit of Catherine Earnshaw, however. Perhaps if the two actresses were to collaborate...

Rachel Dixon

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