Wuthering Heights (1939)

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  • directed by William Wyler
  • starring Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, David Niven, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Flora Robson, Hugh Williams, Sarita Wooten, Rex Downing
  • A servant in the house of Wuthering Heights tells a traveler the unfortunate tale of lovers Cathy and Heathcliff.

“Do not leave me in this dark alone where I cannot find you. I cannot live without my life. I cannot die without my soul.”

Well, there goes my day. Just as a beautifully shot and powerfully acted film adaptation of one of the all time devastating and romantic stories tends to do, Wuthering Heights, with its expansive natural environment and constant sense of yearning, definitely got under my skin. It’s crazy that I am now reading that Olivier and Oberon reportedly hated each other all throughout filming because what they pulled off with Cathy and Heathcliff, even without words, was believable at least and arresting at best. Admittedly I don’t have much experience with Olivier, so to finally take in his discipline and sheer command informs my view of acting in general going forward. I’m basically the 12-year-old boy, a fanatic of today’s NBA, who happened to flip channels and catch a vintage Chicago Bulls ‘91 Finals game. For all the conflicts he had with both Oberon and Wyler, the fact that the best possible outcome was reached for all involved in the film is not a question.

There was a great shot, really the beginning of the end for the pair, when Heathcliff and Cathy peer into the window of the party at Linton’s Manor. The grand, high-society scene was captured beautifully through the window as if it was a moving picture on a wall, with shared emphasis on the two outsiders looking in through trees and other “wild” elements. I’ve also never felt such strength and doom from a storm in film before as when Heathcliff flees and Cathy chases after him. If I had one thing to pick at with the film, I think it was a bit heavy handed with the score. I was sold on everything that was happening and Wyler’s emphasis on the landscape and flowing wind would have been better served with some natural silence here and there especially during the carefree and passionate periods in which the couple were actually happy.

One of the aspects of Emily Brontë’s novel that Wyler clung to with the film was the element of nature, and he and cinematographer Gregg Toland were able to thoroughly convey the theme of the wild Moor versus the contained culture of the Linton existence with sensitive yet striking visuals. Especially after Cathy marries Edgar and all the scenes that follow at the Linton house, the contrast between an orderly existence and the castle on a cliff is wrought with symbolism and adds something of a cosmic destiny to the bond between Cathy and Heathcliff. Really, you either buy into that or not. There are plenty of people that take a cynical approach and say that all is what it appears to be and the story is of two flawed individuals–Cathy for an out-of-left-field betrayal of everything she believed until that point and Heathcliff for his vindictive response to that–that can’t take their heads out of their asses long enough to see that it’s not the Gods that are keeping them apart. Looked at from a different perspective, it’s the banalities and injustices of “real life” that interfere with their connection—a connection so strong that it doesn’t belong in this world. I fall somewhere in the middle of all of that, but needless to say, all of these personal interpretations and open-ended questions, a classic timeless story do make.

About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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