The Earnshaws are Yorkshire farmers during the early 19th Century.
One day, Mr. Earnshaw returns from a trip to the city, bringing with him a ragged little boy called Heathcliff. Earnshaw's son, Hindley, resents the child, but Heathcliff becomes companion and soulmate to Hindley's sister, Catherine.
After her parents die, Cathy and Heathcliff grow up wild and free on the Moors and despite the continued enmity between Hindley and Heathcliff they're happy-- until Cathy meets Edgar Linton, the son of a wealthy neighbor.
Merle Oberon ... Cathy
Laurence Olivier ... Heathcliff
David Niven ... Edgar Linton
Flora Robson ... Ellen
Donald Crisp ... Dr. Kenneth
Geraldine Fitzgerald ... Isabella Linton
Hugh Williams ... Hindley
Leo G. Carroll ... Joseph
Miles Mander ... Lockwood
Cecil Kellaway ... Earnshaw
Cecil Humphreys ... Judge Linton
Director: William Wyler
XVid / MP3
Being a classic film buff, I had the chance of being introduced to this film by chance one late evening when it was being aired on TCM. I fell in love with the movie, and when I was told that it would be required reading over the summer, I was ridiculously happy. As many have noted, the 1939 adaptation of "Wuthering Heights" is, more or less, merely the first volume of Emily Bronte's beautifully and powerfully written classic -- focusing less on the detail of Heathcliff's wrath post Cathy's death, but moreso on the sheer complexity of Heathcliff and Cathy's relationship (the scenes at Penniston Crag of them among the moors and heather are not in the book because Bronte had to stick to Ellen's point of view -- it was nice that we could finally have an in-depth look at the tumultuous relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff). While characters are omitted (Frances, Hareton, Linton and the baby Catherine), it still retains much of the very nature of the novel. (If you will recall, many parts of "Gone With The Wind" were changed and characters removed in the process of transferring Margaret Mitchell's masterpiece into a screen epic. After all, this is Hollywood.)
The cinematography is divine (very much worth its Oscar), perfectly capturing the very essence of the bleak, chilling, haunting Yorkshire Moors that Bronte described in her book. Laurence Olivier is, in my opinion, a very fine Heathcliff. Indeed, in the book his nature is more animalistic and devilish, but Olivier superbly exhibits what Heathcliff is all about -- dark, brooding, and terribly bitter. Even at our first introduction to him, we know by the tone of his voice that something is very, very wrong with this man and that something is very, very off in that household. Olivier expresses Heathcliff's wildness and devilishness through his voice, stance and through his facial gestures, rather than so much in other physical ways. Merle Oberon is remarkable as Cathy -- a much more dark and exoctic beauty than Isabella whose good looks are very wholesome and pure (perhaps to match the darkness of the gypsy stable-boy Heathcliff), and capturing the duality of personality that is Catherine Earnshaw -- part of her wanting to love a wild, evil, wicked stable boy... the other part longing to be part of a higher society. Particularly coming to mind is her scene in the kitchen with Ellen and that marvelously disturbing death scene -- her eyes wild. (I do wish they would have left in the part of the book where she refuses to eat and begins hallucinating -- Oberon could have performed it so well.) Also to be noted are the stunning performances of David Niven and Gerladine Fitzgerald as the long-suffering Edgar and Isabella Linton (respectively), their lives made miserable by Cathy's selfishness, vanity and greed to be part of a higher way of living, and by Heathcliff's undying love for Catherine and his course of revenge and destruction. Flora Robson is also wonderful as Ellen Dean, narrator of the whole sordid story.
Someone mentioned that this film (by focusing on the love story and by the ending, I suppose) tried to say that Heathcliff and Catherine were perfect for each other and could have, eventually, found true love. I disagree, wholeheartedly. I believe what director William Wyler was trying to say here was that Heathcliff and Catherine were not good people. Cathy was right when she said that she and Heathcliff's souls were made of the same basic fiber -- they were both greedy and selfish (he wanted her passion for him to be as deep as his passion for her and she wanted and if he couldn't have it, no one else deserved to have it, and God forbid those around him feel any kind of love, compassion or humanity; and she didn't even really know what she wanted, except to be part of the upper crust and to rise above what she had lived through when Hindley became master of their house) and because of that, their love could have never meant anything BUT tragedy. They could never have found happiness together because they were not happy people. But they could find love in death -- because in death, they could be what they really were all along -- children; mere children forced to grow up all too quickly with the death of the man who cared deeply for them, thus forcing Hindley to become head of the household. There would be no Hindley in death. And as children they were good together -- as children, Cathy, wicked as she was at times as a youngster, could restore hopes of prosperity to Heathcliff's dark, bitter soul. They were, as children, more or less all one another had. And so they could go on, as children, without a care, happily picking heather and being King and Queen on the moors.
You've GOT to see this movie.
* In the final sequence, the spirits of Heathcliff and Cathy are seen walking their favorite pathway. This was added after filming was complete, and because Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon had already moved on to other projects, doubles had to be used.
* The Mitchell Camera Corporation selected Gregg Toland and this picture to be the first to use their new Mitchell BNC camera. This camera model would become the studio standard.
* MGM felt that script was too dark for a romance movie, so it asked several writers to do a rewrite on the script; the studio even asked a young John Huston, who said that the script needed no rewrite, it was perfect as it was.
* Vivien Leigh wanted to play the lead role, alongside her then lover and future husband Laurence Olivier, but studio executives decided the role should go to Merle Oberon. They later offered Leigh the part of Isabelle Linton, but she declined and Geraldine Fitzgerald was cast.
* The movie covers roughly the first 16 of the book's 34 chapters.
* Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier apparently detested each other. Legend has it that when William Wyler yelled "Cut!" after a particularly romantic scene, Oberon shouted back to her director about her co-star "Tell him to stop spitting at me!"
* Samuel Goldwyn later claimed that this was his favorite production.
* In a departure from the novel, there is an afterlife scene in which we see Heathcliff and Cathy walking hand in hand, visiting their favorite place, Penistone Crag. Wyler hated the scene and didn't want to do it but Samuel Goldwyn vetoed him on that score. Goldwyn subsequently claimed, "I made "Wuthering Heights", Wyler only directed it."
* Laurence Olivier found himself becoming increasingly annoyed with William Wyler's exhausting style of film-making. After yet another take, he is said to have exclaimed, "For God's sake, I did it sitting down. I did it with a smile. I did it with a smirk. I did it scratching my ear. I did it with my back to the camera. How do you want me to do it?" Wyler's retort was, "I want it better."
* Ronald Colman, Douglas Fairbanks and Robert Newton were all considered for the part of Heathcliff.
* Both of the leading players began work on the film miserable at having to leave their loved ones back in England. Olivier was missing his fiancée Vivien Leigh and Oberon had only recently fallen in love with film producer Alexander Korda.
* Los Angeles - April 5, 1939: Samuel Goldwyn has withdrawn "Wuthering Heights" from the entire province of Quebec. Quebec censors demanded deletions because certain sequences dealt with divorce and infidelity, situations long frowned upon by the Quebeck board. Goldwyn refused to make the cuts. Whether the picture will play in other provinces is not known.
* Montreal, Quebec, Canada-April 6, 1939: "Wuthering Heights" may be shown in Quebec Province if certain excisions are made, Arthur Laramee, censor chairman said yesterday. He denied that the film had been formally banned.
* Real heather was imported from England and re-planted in California to help simulate the look of the moors.
* The film was not a big financial success when first released. It had to be re-released years later to earn a profit.
* The film only depicts sixteen of the novel's thirty-four chapters and is set in 19th century instead of 1771-1801.