(director: William Wyler; screenwriters: Charles MacArthur/Ben Hecht/from the novel by Emily Bronte; cinematographer: Gregg Toland; editor: Daniel Mandell; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Merle Oberon (Cathy Earnshaw Linton), Laurence Olivier (Heathcliff), David Niven (Edgar Linton), Donald Crisp (Dr. Kenneth), Flora Robson (Ellen Dean), Hugh Williams (Hindley Earnshaw), Cecil Kellaway (Earnshaw), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Isabella Linton), Cecil Humphreys (Judge Linton), Miles Mander (Lockwood), Leo G. Carroll (Joseph, servant), Rex Downing (Heathcliff, as a child), Sarita Wooton (Cathy, as a child), Douglas Scott (Hindley, as a child); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Samuel Goldwyn; MGM; 1939)
“This is a first-class Hollywood production.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Talented director William Wyler (“Jezebel”/”The Letter”/”The Heiress”) does justice to the spirit of Emily Bronte’s classic romantic tale about doomed love, the much filmed novel, even overcoming the interference of his producer Sam Goldwyn’s vulgar suggestion to shoot for a happy ending by having the ghostly hero and heroine walk over the moors on their way to a kitschy eternal reunion. Wyler refused to shoot that scene, so the enterprising commercial-minded Goldwyn used another director to shoot it and got doubles to take the place of the stars.
The film covers only the first seventeen chapters and ignores for the sake of tragic melodrama Bronte’s concerns with the weaknesses of pre-Victorian society. American writers Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht capture the raw power of the haunting novel and the talented cast provide superb performances. This is a first-class Hollywood production.The sets weremagnificently designed by art director James Bavesi, as it was filmedin the hills of the San Fernando Valley but the countryside of the Yorkshire moors were accurately recreatedgreatly helping the story’s setting and the moody photography of Gregg Toland.Young egotistical British stage actorLaurence Olivier earned an international reputation with his impressive performance in this breakout triumphant film for him, as this pic made him a movie matinee idol.
It begins with a traveler (Miles Mander) lost in a snow storm and forced to stay overnight at the estate of Wuthering Heights in Yorkshire, in the moors. After treated in a hostile manner by the boorish estate owner Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier), longtime housekeeper Ellen Dean (Flora Robson) tells the traveler in flashback the story of forty years ago, sometime around 1839, to explain why Heathcliff is such a bitter man.
The original middle-class owner of Wuthering Heights, Mr. Earnshaw (Cecil Kellaway), returns from Liverpool with a scruffy gypsy orphan boy and names the lad Heathcliff. He raises him with his adolescent daughter Cathy and spoiled older teenage son Hindley. When the kindly widower dies, Heathcliff and Cathy develop a strong romantic attraction for each other but Hindley, not the head of the estate, abusively treats Heathcliff and keeps him on only as the stable boy. Cathy (Merle Oberon) meets her wealthy neighbor Edgar Linton (David Niven), the son of a judge, and is seduced by his wealth and power and starts dating him. The jealous Heathcliff retreats to Liverpool, but soon returns to Wuthering Heights because he craves Cathy. When he sees she’s impressed by the fine things in life, he once again departs and this time returns from America as a rich and sophisticated man. But Cathy has married Edgar, and in revenge Heathcliff buys Wuthering Heights from the destitute from gambling debts alcoholic Hindley (Hugh Williams) and out of spite marries Edgar’s sister Isabelle (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Isabelle loves Heathcliff but he only loves Cathy, and treats his bride with contempt. When Cathy dies, Heathcliff blames himself for her death. The bitter man settles into living out a loveless marriage with Isabelle at Wuthering Heights. When death finally calls Heathcliff that night of the traveler’s visit, the spirits of Cathy and Heathcliff ascend together to live in happiness in the other world like they couldn’t in the real world.
REVIEWED ON 5/27/2012 GRADE: A