Wuthering Heights

Released:  1939

Cast:  Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier, David Niven, Geraldine Fitzgerald

Oscar Wins:  Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Gregg Toland)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actor (Laurence Olivier), Best Supporting Actress (Geraldine Fitzgerald), Best Screenplay (Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur), Best Original Score (Alfred Newman), Best Art Direction (James Basevi)

SUMMARY:  When a traveler gets caught in a snowstorm one night, he knocks on the door of Wuthering Heights, a run-down house owned by an older and unpleasant man named Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier).  Despite Heathcliff’s disagreeable behavior, the visitor, called Lockwood, is allowed to stay, and is shown to a room.  He falls asleep, but is woken up later by the window shutters slapping against the house.  As he goes to close it, he hears a woman’s voice outside, calling to Heathcliff.    Heathcliff has heard Lockwood’s yells, and enters the room; when Lockwood tells him of the woman, who says her name is Cathy, Heathcliff rushes from the house and out onto the moors.  Lockwood is perplexed by this behavior, so the housekeeper tells him that Cathy is the ghost of Cathy Earnshaw, the woman Heathcliff loved.  Four decades earlier, Heathcliff had been an orphan living in the street when he was found and brought home by Mr. Earnshaw.  Mr. Earnshaw already had two children, Hindley and Cathy.  While Cathy and Heathcliff get along very well, Hindley and Heathcliff do not, as Hindley seems to feel threatened.  When his father dies and he becomes master of the house, HIndley throws Heathcliff out of the house and essentially makes him a servant.  However, Heathcliff’s relationship with Cathy (Merle Oberon) has turned to love, though they are forced to meet secretly to keep it from Hindley.  While out together one night, the two sneak over to their neighbors’ house.  The Lintons are having a party, and the two sneak in to watch through a window, but are attacked by the guard dogs.  Heathcliff gets away, but Cathy is injured, and has to stay several days at the Linton house.  During her stay, Cathy becomes close to the Linton family; she also enjoys living in their glamorous and wealthy world (Hindley has squandered the Earnshaw money drinking and gambling).  She stays several months, long past the time needed to recover from her injury.

During her time at the Linton house, Edgar Linton (David Niven) falls in love with Cathy.  He proposes, and Cathy accepts.  Not long after this, she returns to Wuthering Heights.   She does not immediately see Heathcliff, but sits in the kitchen talking to the housekeeper.  Cathy acknowledges her former relationship with Heathcliff, but says that it would be beneath her to marry him.  Later, she does state that she loves him, and wishes he would do something to change his financial situation so that they could marry.  However, Heathcliff has been listening from the other room, only hearing the first part of the conversation.  When he hears Cathy say that it would be beneath her to marry him, he storms off.  Cathy realizes what has happened and rushes after him to explain things, but is caught in a serious rainstorm.  She is eventually found by Edgar Linton, who takes her home and nurses her back to health.  After she recovers, Cathy marries Edgar.  Heathcliff has not been seen since he rushed out of Wuthering Heights, but he reappears two years later, wealthy and seemingly refined.  Without the knowledge of anyone but Hindley, Heathcliff buys Wuthering Heights.  When he sees Cathy again, she is cold and distant.  Heathcliff is infuriated by this, and seeks out ways to anger both her and Edgar.  In response, they are equally disdainful towards him, which appalls Edgar’s sister, Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald).  When he discovers that he has (somewhat accidentally) earned Isabella’s affections, Heathcliff uses this against the Lintons:  he eventually marries her, though he ignores her after the ceremony.  It becomes obvious to everyone that Heathcliff and Cathy are in love with each other, but are trapped in marriages (with a spouse that actually really loves them).  After Heathcliff marries Isabella, Cathy seems to lose the will to live (or even to fight with Heathcliff); she becomes sick, and the illness turns grave.  When Heathcliff hears that she is dying, he rushes to her side.  Both of them confess that they do love the other, just before Cathy dies.  Back in the present, the local doctor arrives at Wuthering Heights, saying that he saw Heathcliff and a woman walking through the snow together.  However, after seeing this, the doctor was thrown from his horse.  He walked to where he had seen the couple, but found only Heathcliff:  there was no woman, nor were there any second set of footprints.  The doctor confirms that Heathcliff is dead, but the housekeeper corrects him by saying that he is with Cathy, and that they have just begun to live.

MY TAKE:  I’ve actually read the book Wuthering Heights, so I was familiar with the storyline.  This movie is actually somewhat different, in that it completely eliminates the second half of the book, which involves the children of Heathcliff, Cathy and Hindley.  Instead, the movie only focuses on the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff, which seemed a lot more detailed than it was in the book.  As I remember it, in the book Cathy was not nearly as smitten with Heathcliff as he was with her, which was part of the whole revenge thing.  I think they’re both idiots.  Cathy is obsessed with being part of genteel society, but is also kind of a wild child (plus she’s in love with Heathcliff).  She’s not meant to occupy the place in society she wants to, but marries Edgar in an attempt to reach it.  This should have been Heathcliff’s first sign:  if she’s willing to throw you over for pretty dresses, it won’t work out.  Of course, being completely nuts himself, Heathcliff can’t just let things lie – he has to make Cathy as miserable as he is.  The ironic thing is that to do so, Heathcliff becomes wealthy and refined, which is the same thing Cathy had asked him to do earlier and he refused.  Really, these two are infuriating.  I don’t know how they stood the other one – I would have gotten fed up really quickly.  He’s got a nasty temper and a serious mean streak, and she’s flighty and materialistic.  Although it made for interesting viewing for a while, I ultimately did get fed up watching them.  When you combine this with the lack of the redeeming second half of the story, I was left rather irritated.

RATING:  Great acting, frustrating story.


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