Saturday, 13 May 2017

''Wuthering Heights'' (1939 film)- Review

Directed by: William Wyler
Released: 1939
Country: United States

Genre: Romantic drama

Rating: 5 out of 5

''Wuthering Heights'' has been one of my favorite novels ever since I first read it back in 2010. I was indeed aware of the fact that the 1939 film adaptation omits a lot of things from the book- it excludes the entire second half of the book, for example- I loved this film. It was so hauntingly poetic and atmospheric. It retained the Gothic atmosphere of the book perfectly and although not entirely faithful to the novel, it is a great film in its own right. 

When Mr. Lockwood (Miles Mander) has to spend a stormy night in the house of his landlord, Mr. Heathcliff (Lawrence Olivier), he encounters strange, eerie things, such as the voice of a woman coming from the moors. Mr. Lockwood is perplexed. The elderly housekeeper, Ellen Dean (Flora Robson) explains to him the mysteries of the house, Wuthering Heights.

Decades ago, Wuthering Heights used to be a happy house. It was owned by the Earnshaws. The family consisted of the loving Mr. Earnshaw and his two children, Hindley and Catherine (Cathy). On a trip to Liverpool, Mr. Earnshaw came across an abandoned boy and brought him to Wuthering Heights. He was named Heathcliff and Mr. Earnshaw started raising him as a son. Cathy and Heathcliff soon became great friends. However, Hindley was greatly jealous of Heathcliff. After Mr. Earnshaw's death, Hindley- now the owner of Wuthering Heights- turned Heathcliff into a stable boy, neglecting and humiliating him. Several years passed, Heathcliff (played by Laurence Olivier) and Cathy (played by Merle Oberon) were still very close and love each other deeply. However, when Cathy came across the handsome, wealthy Edgar Linton (played by David Niven), she decided to marry him, primarily for his wealth and social status. She wanted the best for Heathcliff, but also knew that she would never be able to acquire the social life and wealth she wanted for herself if she married Heathcliff. Hearing this, Heathcliff left Wuthering Heights, and although Cathy initially was heartbroken, she moved on and married Edgar, but some years later, Heathcliff returned. Now a wealthy man, he had other intentions in his mind as well. 

There is no doubt in the fact that the film is not very faithful to the novel. While the novel has a lot of focus on Heathcliff's vengeful attitude and how it destroys everyone around him, the film focuses more on the relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy and I was completely fine with that. After all, I cannot possibly have an opinion about a film on the basis of how faithful it is to its source material. I am supposed to have an opinion based on how perfectly the film works. When it comes to that, this film is simply great.

I loved the atmosphere. Consider the scenes in which Heathcliff and Cathy meet on the Penistone Crags. They are just so beautiful, so very poetic. I really fell in love with those scenes. I loved their conversations. Or consider the scene in which Cathy expresses to Ellen how much she loves Heathcliff and utters the famous line- ''I am Heathcliff''. There is a storm outside and as Cathy is standing beside a window, a lightning flashes on her face. There are so many poetically atmospheric scenes throughout the film that it was just impossible on my part not to love it. The film is made more poetic by the beautiful black-and-white cinematography: I don't think color cinematography could ever be this poetic.

When it comes to the performances, they are great. Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon are great in their roles. David Niven, Geraldine Fitzgerald (playing Edgar's sister, Isabella), Flora Robson and Hugh Williams (playing the adult Hindley) are excellent as well. (I just noticed something: the physician, Dr. Kenneth, is played by Donald Crisp, the same man who played the villain in ''Broken Blossoms''!). 

''Wuthering Heights'' is a hauntingly beautiful and atmospheric film. It will be injustice if it is compared to the original novel because, while the novel is one of the greatest works in English literature, the 1939 film adaptation is a great film in its own right, no matter how different it is from its source material. 

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