William Wyler: What a Difference a Decade Can Make

         Concerning the movies we reviewed in class, among the ones I found more favorable was that of The Heiress, a cinematic adaptation of Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, directed by William Wyler in 1949. The other film, Wuthering Heights, an adaptation of Emily Bronte's 1847 novel by the same name, was also directed by William Wyler in 1939, a decade earlier. However, I found Wuthering Heights to have been merely a disappointment, whereas I enjoyed the more subtle and well-executed The Heiress.

         The acting in Wuthering Heights came across as stilted. This could have been due partly to the fact that the actors, especially Laurence Oliver, who played Heathcliff, were more used to performing on stage rather than on the big screen. Not only did I find the cast's performance unappealing, but I also became repulsed by the film's score. Many times did the score intrude upon a scene. The music was obtrusive and obnoxious and added nothing to the atmosphere. Even though Wyler did not compose the score--that botched attempt he left in Alfred Newman's hands--he did, however, undiscriminatingly allow such racket to pass through his inspection.

         I found the score of The Heiress much more pleasant due to its subtlety, thanks to the competence of Aaron Copland, the scorer of the film. One will obviously find this film of Wyler to have been more judiciously directed than his Wuthering Heights. The genuine acting of the cast, especially that of Olivia de Havilland, who played the part of Catherine, and the smooth transition of the camera work all added to the film's benefit. In fact, I even considered the plot of the film to have been more credible than that of the original novel. Indeed, Havilland played her part remarkably well, which carried one's interest throughout the bulk of the film. Her character's transformation from a naïve and manipulated daddy's girl to a strong though perhaps a pathetic woman of many years later was absolutely fascinating.

         Such fine attributes of the cast and the score caused me to believe that Wyler had learned his lessons well during the decade since the directorship of his Wuthering Heights.

John Couris

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