A Cinematic Taming of Wuthering Heights

        The 1939 Wuthering Heights, directed by William Wyler, cut down the 1947 book by Emily Brontë quite a bit.  I think I would have enjoyed and appreciated the film more if I had not read the book beforehand.  Just reading the 1938 screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur after reading the book and before watching the film in class, I was disappointed.  I understand the book and film are going to be different, but I thought they changed the text a little too much.  I could not help but compare between the two the entire time I was watching.

        I thought the movie made the characters it did not leave out entirely more loveable, and it cut out the less attractive characteristics of the important people.  In the book I despised them all.  Do not get me wrong: I think the film makers chose a very nice portion of the book’s story to adapt to film because 1) it is a lengthy story, and 2) it is definitely the storyline more people would prefer when given the choice of the book plot versus the love story between Catherine and Heathcliff.  One reason I love old black and white films so much is that soft touch on the characters’ faces during a romantic close-up, a technique utilized very appropriately in this film.

           I thought the actors were well chosen, and their faces and tones of voice portrayed all they needed to say even though they were toning down their counterparts in the book.  For example, I liked Olivier when he was playing Heathcliff in the beginning.  He showed his agony and longing for Catherine’s ghost to be with him.  Catherine, as depicted by Sarita Wooten as a child and Merle Oberon as an adult, was not nearly as self-centered or unbearable as she was in the book.  Flora Robson’s Ellen Dean was a caring and concerned young servant and older narrator who loved everyone dearly and who told a completely unbiased story, unlike Bronte’s Nelly.  Rex Downing’s and Laurence Olivier’s Heathcliff was not as nasty as Bronte’s monster but instead merely misunderstood.  Although I disliked the original unattractive characters, they are what made the book!  The movie, with the watered-down characters, is just another love story, in my opinion.

Maggie Gardner