WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939): The Essentials
During a fierce snowstorm, a stranger comes to Wuthering Heights, a dark and mysterious home on the Yorkshire moors with a tragic history. Taken in for the night, he begins to sense that the place is haunted. A servant, Ellen, then relates to him the story of Cathy, daughter of the home's original owner, and Heathcliff, a wild orphan boy adopted by the owner many years before who has since become the master of the house. As they grew older, the bond between Cathy and Heathcliff grew more and more intense, aggravated by their passionate natures. Cathy began to yearn for the comfort and respectability of the life lived by their genteel neighbors, the Lintons, while Heathcliff just became wilder and more rebellious. But nothing - not years in exile, the scorn of others, misguided marriages, even death - could ever separate them.
Director: William Wyler
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Screenplay: Charles MacArthur & Ben Hecht, John Huston (uncredited), based on the novel by Emily Bronte
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Editing: Daniel Mandell
Art Direction: James Basevi
Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Laurence Olivier (Heathcliff), Merle Oberon (Cathy), David Niven (Edgar), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Isabella), Flora Robson (Ellen), Donald Crisp (Dr. Kenneth).
BW-104m. Closed Captioning.
Why WUTHERING HEIGHTS is Essential
In any other year, Wuthering Heights might have walked away from the Academy Award ceremonies with top honors. But this was 1939, a year that has gone down in legend as Hollywood's crowning moment. It was the year of Gone with the Wind, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, and a host of other memorable movies. Nevertheless, Wuthering Heights was still one of the most acclaimed pictures of its time. Although not a financial success on its initial release, Emily Bronte's classic tale of a tempestuous love that retains its passion even beyond death eventually captured the hearts of audiences, and in spite of the numerous remakes and adaptations, this version remains, for most viewers, the definitive film adaptation.
The picture made a star and matinee idol of the 32-year-old Laurence Olivier. The legendary British actor always said he learned everything about motion picture acting from working on this film with director William Wyler. He also said Wyler taught him the essentials of filmmaking that Olivier eventually brought to his own directorial efforts. In fact, when Olivier decided to film Shakespeare's Henry V (1944), he asked Wyler to direct it, but Wyler told him he knew enough about making a movie by that point. Wisely, Olivier took his advice and made his directorial debut with that film.
Wuthering Heights was producer Samuel Goldwyn's personal favorite and the crowning achievement of his long association with Wyler, lasting from 1935 to 1946 over the course of nine films. Wyler brought to this picture considerable experience and expertise with adapting literary and theatrical classics to the screen.
The film is noteworthy, too, for the cinematography of Gregg Toland. Creating a gothic, almost supernatural atmosphere for the tragic love story, Toland refined the deep-focus technique for which he would become famous and which achieved its greatest accomplishment in Orson Welles' landmark Citizen Kane (1941).
by Rob Nixon