Stay True or Change the Name

     When I see a movie title that is the same as the novel it was "supposedly" based on, I assume that the film is a true interpretation of that novel. When it is not, or when the director or screenwriter takes poetic license with the novel, I strongly feel that the name of the film should not be the same as the novel. I believe that, when a film does not accurately portray the novel, it is very misleading to the viewer. The viewer, if not familiar with the novel, leaves with a false sense and false account of the work of the novelist or playwright. Two examples of films which I feel are inadequately named are William Wyler's 1939 version of Emily Brontė's 1847 book Wuthering Heights by the same name and Anthony Asquith's and Leslie Howard's film Pygmalion, based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play of the same name.

     Wuthering Heights, as written by Brontė, is a story of love and hate. The film, as directed by Wyler, emphasizes the love much more so than the hate. Wyler made Wuthering Heights the story of the love between Catherine and Heathcliff and perhaps the misplaced love of Edgar and Isabella. Hatred is a substantial part of Brontė's. Of the nine main characters in the book, only five ever love, whereas all nine hate throughout. While Wyler may touch on this in a limited way among Heathcliff (Laurence Oliver), Edgar (David Niven), Hindley (Hugh Williams)and Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald), he never builds it up the way the book does. Plus Wyler never shows the second generation and the hatred within it.

     The movie of Wyler's also downplays the vengeance that occurs in the novel. Wyler never shows the full extent of Heathcliff's wrath as displayed in the book towards either Hindley or Edgar. While Wyler shows Heathcliff buying Hindley out of his home, Wyler does not have Heathcliff tormenting Hareton to make an idiot of Hindley's son. Nor does Wyler depict Heathcliff relishing the time it takes him to "push" Hindley to death by a drunken stupor.

     Also within the movie, even though Wyler did not put this in, at the end Catherine and Heathcliff's specters walk off together holding hands. This is completely opposite to the book. In the novel, Heathcliff knocks out one side of Catherine's coffin and has them buried together. This is Heathcliff's final insult to Edgar, that Heathcliff and Catherine should be together eternally. To leave out the following episodes of vengeance is to leave out major personality traits of Heathcliff.

     While Wyler did use the same location and setting of the novel as Brontė, that is the point where the similarities stop. Wyler left out many pivotal characters. Wyler also changed many of the personalities and motivation of many others. How can this film hope to follow the plot of the book if these are left out (Richard Wilson, Montage '96)?

     In Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard's film Pygmalion, based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play of the same name, Asquith and Howard make a very large mistake. They turn Pygmalion into a love story. How could this be? Shaw wrote Pygmalion to express his dissatisfaction with the numerous idiosyncrasies of the English language. Why then did Asquith and Howard focus on the love triangle between Professor Higgins, Eliza, and Freddie? Why did Shaw let his play of protest become one of immature romance. There are many reasons why the film Pygmalion is very unrealistic in its plot and should not have been called such; for it does the play no justice.

     Higgins is a self-centered and selfish individual. From the beginning he shows nothing but contempt for Eliza. He badgers her, patronizes her, and degrades her. He tells her she is a disgrace to the language of Milton and Shakespeare. He tells her she is a squashed cabbage leaf and a guttersnipe numerous times. How can this be the protagonist of any love story? He brings her to tears and shows no remorse for it. He claims all the credits for Eliza's success and says she would be nothing without him. He displays no interest in Eliza's feelings or sense of self-worth, but in the end says he could not respect her because she did not respect herself. How could she when he had belittled her from the beginning? But once she gains confidence by leaving Higgins, they suddenly fall in love. I do not buy that. How could Eliza love someone who displayed so little concern for her.

     Shaw did not intend for Higgins to be a likable person. He preferred Higgins to be self-centered; this allowed him to not have to get Eliza and Higgins together in the end. He wrote his play to show the value of proper speaking and the effect it can have on someone's life. Shaw wanted to show how anyone can change his or her lot in life if given the proper opportunities. Asquith and Howard try to show "love conquers all boundaries." This is to the complete left of Shaw's point.

     How is it that we are to believe that Eliza (Wendy Hiller) could love Higgins (Leslie Howard)? She is supposed to love the man that made her cry, degraded her, threatened to throw her out, but took all the credit for her transformation. Then after she stands up to him, he says he now can respect her and upon her return the first thing he says is, "Eliza can you fetch me my slippers."

     The movie Pygmalion is a far cry from Shaw's version if one considers the point made and the believability of the endings. If Asquith and Howard had really wanted to make a love story, they should have changed the way he treated Eliza throughout the movie. Meredith Major states, "Eliza needs to know that she is important and that Higgins does not want her with him" (Montage '96). By not doing this and only changing the ending, Asquith and Howard made a movie that not only emphasizes different points than Shaw's version, but is very unrealistic in its outcome.

     In response to Wyler's film Wuthering Heights, Richard Wilson replies, "This unsubtle reweaving of an excellent novel into a less-than-excellent film was one of the first stages in what has become a trend today"; also, "large portions of books should not be left out of characters behaving almost oppositely as they did in the book." Wilson ends with saying that many films do a fine job of capturing the essence of novels, but almost twice as many screw up (Montage '96). Wuthering Heights by Wyler and Pygmalion by Asquith and Howard, I believe, fall into the second category. They do the book and play they are based on no justice. These are cases where they should have stayed true to the original source or just changed the name of the films.

Shawn Rainey

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