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Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights(1939)

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According to an August 1936 Hollywood Reporter news item, producer Walter Wanger, who owned the film rights to Wuthering Heights previous to Samuel Goldwyn, planned to film the story with Anatole Litvak directing and Charles Boyer and Sylvia Sidney starring. An October 1937 Hollywood Reporter article noted that after two years on his production schedule, Wanger decided to abandon Wuthering Heights and put the rights, along with Charles MacArthur's and Ben Hecht's script and some backgrounds already planned or constructed by art director Alexander Toluboff, up for sale. The article also noted that before Wanger decided to sell Wuthering Heights, he had signed Harold Young to direct the picture. M-G-M put in its bid for the rights, but it was Goldwyn who eventually acquired the property. According to a biography of director William Wyler, Goldwyn initially refused to buy the story, stating that he thought it was "too gloomy" and that he did not like stories "with people dying in the end." Wyler's biography also notes that while Goldwyn was considering the property, Bette Davis tried to convince producer Jack Warner to buy the script for her. According to Hollywood Reporter, soon after buying the rights to the script, Goldwyn began negotiations for English actor James Mason to star. A June 1938 Philadelphia Inquirer news item noted that Tyrone Power was sought for the lead. An October 1938 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that Goldwyn had signed Joseph Calleia for "an important role," but he did not appear in the released film.
       Contemporary news items note that Bront societies worldwide wrote Goldwyn and urged him to remain as faithful in detail as possible to the original novel, and protested the use of any one of a number of replacement titles for the story that were rumored to have been considered. Titles reportedly considered by the Goldwyn sales office were Gypsy Love, Fun on the Farm and He Died for Her. Although the script remained faithful in many respects to the novel, it covered only the events pertaining to the first generation of characters in the novel. The time period of the story, according to modern sources, was changed from the late eighteenth century to 1841 because Wyler did not like the dresses of the earlier period. Goldwyn's biography notes that he and Wyler quarreled often during production, a situation that reportedly grew most serious when Goldwyn insisted that Wyler reshoot the ending. Not satisfied with an ending in which both the hero and the heroine die, Goldwyn asked Wyler to add a final scene showing Heathcliff and Cathy reunited in Heaven. When Wyler balked at the producer's demand and refused to comply with it, Goldwyn suspended Wyler and threatened to hire a new director to film the scene. Goldwyn eventually got his way and the superimposed image of Heathcliff and Cathy ascending towards Heaven together was used as the final shot.
       A January 1939 New York Times article indicates that some filming took place in the Canejo Hills, about fifty miles from Hollywood, where a set resembling the Yorkshire moors surrounding Wuthering Heights was constructed. A modern source notes that some shooting took place at Chatsworth, CA. Although a Hollywood Reporter pre-release news item refers to noted still photographer Robert Coburn as a cameraman, along with Gregg Toland, the exact nature of Coburn's work on the film has not been determined. Coburn accompanied Toland to Lone Pine, CA, where cloud and rain effects were to be filmed. Hollywood Reporter pre-release news items also note that high winds on the location shoot caused Merle Oberon to injure her ankle, and that her injury precluded her appearance in long shots.
       Modern sources indicate that actor Robert Newton was originally tested for the part of Heathcliff, and that Ronald Colman and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. were considered for the part. Wuthering Heights was the first film on English actress Flora Robson's contract with Goldwyn. According to modern sources, Laurence Olivier, who was seeking a divorce from his wife Jill Esmond at the time, insisted that his girl friend, Vivien Leigh, be cast in the part of Cathy. Goldwyn, however, remained firm in his decision to cast Oberon, whom he had under contract. Leigh was eventually cast in Gone With the Wind. Wuthering Heights marked Oberon's last film for Goldwyn and was the second of two Olivier-Oberon pictures, the first of which was the 1938 film The Divorce of Lady X.
       The film received an Academy Award for Best Cinematography and was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Best Picture, Best Actor (Olivier), Best Supporting Actress (Geraldine Fitzgerald), Best Director, Best Screenplay, Interior Decoration (James Basevi) and Original Score. Wuthering Heights was named Best Picture of the Year by the New York Film Critics and also placed fourth on Film Daily's Ten Best Pictures of 1939 critics' poll. A 1979 Los Angeles Times article quotes Olivier as saying that Wuthering Heights "was a lousy picture," and notes that the actor said that he would not watch it on television. The film was re-issued in 1989 to commemorate its fiftieth anniversary and in honor of Olivier's death.
       Other film adaptations of Bront's novel include the 1920 British Ideal Films production, directed by A. V. Bramble and starring Milton Rosmer and Anne Trevor; the 1953 Mexican film Abismos de Pasin, directed by Luis Buuel and starring Jorge Mistral and Irasema Dilin; the 1970 American International Pictures production, directed by Robert Fuest and starring Timothy Dalton and Anna Calder-Marshall; the 1985 French production Hurlevent, directed by Jacques Rivette and starring Lucas Belvaux and Fabienne Babe; the 1988 Japanese film Arashi ga oka, directed by Yoshishige Yoshida and starring Yusaku Matsuda and Yko Tanaka; and the 1992 Paramount Pictures production, directed by Peter Kosminsky, starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche, and featuring singer Sinad O'Connor as Emily Bront. The Paramount film, unlike previous adaptations, covered the entire Bront novel.
       An operatic adaption of Wuthering Heights, written and composed by Carlisle Ford, was performed by the New York City Opera Company and starred John Reardon and Phyllis Curtin. The opera had its world premiere in Santa Fe, NM, on July 16, 1958. Many stage versions of Wuthering Heights have been produced, including England's Royalty Theatre production, which opened in London on June 3, 1934 and was directed by Olive Walter and R. Eric Lee and starred R. Eric Lee and Betty Hardy; and New York's Longacre Theatre production, which opened on April 27, 1939 and was directed by Stewart Chaney and starred John Emery and Edith Barrett. Television adaptations of Bront's novel include the Kraft Theatre production, starring John Baragray and Louisa Horton, which aired on the NBC network on November 24, 1948; the Studio One production, directed by Paul Nickell and starring Charlton Heston and Mary Sinclair, which aired on the CBS television network on October 30, 1950; and the DuPont Show of the Month production, directed by Daniel Petrie and starring Richard Burton and Rosemary Harris, which was televised on the CBS network on May 9, 1958. A musical adaptation set in contemporary Los Angeles, directed by Suri Krishnamma and starring Erika Christensen, Mike Vogel and Katherine Heigl, aired on cable's MTV on September 14, 2003. Three Lux Radio Theatre adaptations of Wuthering Heights were produced. The first, featuring Barbara Stanwyck, Brian Aherne and Ida Lupino, was broadcast on September 18, 1939; the second, also starring Lupino, was broadcast on November 4, 1940; and the third, featuring Merle Oberon and Cameron Mitchell, aired in 1955.