“Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest so long as I live on!”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
However, Peary argues that “too often the atmosphere conveys characters’ emotions that otherwise wouldn’t be evident from the acting alone”, and that “unlike in the book, the characters don’t come across as being forces of nature more than human beings”. He spends the rest of his review comparing the book (mostly unfavorably) with the film — and in his Cult Movies 2 essay on the film, he admits bluntly: “I like Wuthering Heights very much. Yet I am disturbed by how much [screenwriters Ben] Hecht and [Charles] MacArthur changed the novel”. He writes that while in the novel, “Heathcliff’s fight is with all who are civilized”, in the film his “anger is directed toward Cathy for marrying rich Edgar Linton (David Niven),” and “all that he intentionally does wrong — including marrying Edgar’s naive sister, Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald) — is his way of getting revenge.” Peary complains that Hecht and MacArthur’s “biggest crime is to turn Cathy into the film’s villain”, and writes that while the “film has a polished veneer”, the “issues are far more complex in the novel, as are the characters — and they are far more interesting”.
The film does — for better or for worse — reduce the novel’s complex narrative into a “simple” story of star-crossed lovers and revenge. However, as Peary writes, “there’s no denying that Oberon and Olivier are a wonderful couple, and their scene in the make-believe castle on Peniston Crag” — “original to Hecht and MacArthur”, who “wanted to humanize the characters” — is “one of the most romantic [and iconic] bits in cinema history”. He notes that “Oberon is surprisingly good” (this was almost certainly her best, most impassioned performance), and that Olivier’s “delivery has such strength that we tend to overlook those lines which make no sense”; he’s fully invested in his role. Ultimately, Olivier and Oberon make such a handsome, romantically tragic couple — representative of all would-be lovers kept apart either through fate or social constrictions — that we can’t help becoming involved in their plight, despite knowing from the beginning how things will turn out.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)