Review by Brian Koller|
3½ stars out of 4
Time has not been completely kind to the 1939 version of
"Wuthering Heights". Intended as a great tearjerker, it
now comes across almost as camp. The hammy performances
and dramatic dialogue is very entertaining, however.
The Emily Bronte classic has been condensed to feature
the romance between Cathy and Heathcliff. Petulant beauty
Cathy (Merle Oberon) and her sadistic, self-destructive brother
Hindley (Hugh Williams) inherit the Wuthering Heights estate
from their benevolent father (Cecil Humphreys). Left out
is brooding adopted son/gypsy/stableboy Heathcliff
(Lawrence Olivier). Since society would frown on their
relationship, Cathy dumps Heathcliff for wealthy snob
neighbor David Niven. Heathcliff vows revenge on all
concerned, which he does upon making his fortune.
Oberon and Olivier had been teamed up before in the
highly successful "Divorce of Lady X" from 1938,
but Olivier, not yet a star in America, had wanted lover
Vivien Leigh (they would wed in 1940) as Cathy.
United Artists instead offered Leigh the secondary lead,
which she declined. ("Gone with the Wind" gave her a
better role anyway). Ironically, Oberon and Olivier
supposedly detested each other. Hollywood legend has
it that when Director William Wyler yelled "cut" after
a particularly romantic scene, Oberon shouted at him
"Tell him [Olivier] to stop spitting on me!"
"Wuthering Heights" had excellent production values.
The sets, particulary the rocky crags, are elaborate,
as are Oberon's costumes. The film was rewarded with
box office success and a slew of Oscar nominations:
Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Olivier),
Best Original (?) Screenplay (Ben Hecht), Best Art
Direction (James Basevi), Best Cinematography (Gregg Toland),
Best Score (Alfred Newman), Best Supporting Actress
(Geraldine Fitzgerald). Given strong competition from
films such as "Gone with the Wind", "Wuthering Heights"
did not win any awards.
Copyright © 1995 Brian Koller