The Tame and the Wild

         Nothing provides a better example of the variety of human interpretation than the telling of a story from two points of view. William Wyler’s (1939) Wuthering Heights and Luis Buñuel’s (1954) Los Abismos de Pasion were both based on Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel, but, owing to varied interpretations, the films seem incredibly different. Wyler’s film tells the story with a softer, American portrayal, and Bunuel’s depicts the tale in a harsher and more dramatic light.

         In Wuthering Heights, Wyler tamed his characters as well as the story. Focusing on the love between Heathcliff and Catherine and cutting out the rest of the novel, he portrayed Catherine (Sarita Wooten/Merle Oberon) as a spoiled, yet good-hearted young girl. This contrasted to Brontë’s depiction of the character as selfish, impulsive and barely tolerable. The director also downplayed ferocities in Edgar Linton (David Niven) by omitting episodes where he taunted Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier), thereby making him an angel on film.

         However, the most obvious character change was probably that of the “gypsy boy” himself. In this movie, Heathcliff’s prime characteristic–his cruelty--seemed partially absent. He stole Wuthering Heights from Hindley (Hugh Williams) and married Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald) to torture Catherine, but the level of his everyday harshness was not represented by Laurence Olivier in the screenplay. He treated his victims with apathy instead of delighting in their misery.

         In contrast, Los Abismos de Pasion told the story with violent passion, clearly showing each character’s faults. Catalina, as depicted by Irasema Dilian, was flagrantly rebellious, flaunting her love for Alejandro (Jorge Mistral) in front of her husband, Eduardo (Ernesto Alonzo), who seemed more cowardly and tortured than even Bronte had portrayed him. Alejandro’s cruelty and anger also fully manifested in the film, making Catalina’s reference to him as “not a man” seem justified, and even the Hindley counterpart, Ricardo’s (Luis Aceves Castaneda) shifty ways showed up more vividly in the picture. He was accurately portrayed as a drunken and abusive father–a shell of a man.

         However, if this interpretation does the novel an injustice, it would be found in the story’s embellishment. Buñuel made the tale even more dramatic than the novel–which already could be considered the 1800s equivalent to Days of Our Lives. The movie climaxed as Alejandro broke into his beloved’s grave, and threw open her coffin only to be shot by Ricardo and die upon Catalina’s breast. While this is certainly entertaining, it seems superfluous–a movie industry attempt to improve an ending, which should have been left alone.

         While both of these films failed to capture the full effect of the original Wuthering Heights, they still offer value through their varied portrayals. One shows a softer side to the story with characters whom one could actually call likeable, and the other depicts the novel with wild passion, deep kisses and flamboyant embellishments.

Casey Northcutt

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