I'd like to spank the Academy

Wuthering Heights (1939)


Yep, this one is out of order, too. I had to take the DVD back to a somewhat far away library, so I had to watch Wuthering Heights instead of the more alphabetically appropriate movie I was planning on; ironically, it was Of Mice and Men. Best laid plans and all that. But they will all get reviewed eventually, so I don’t really suppose it matters the order that I do them in. I just like to do them alphabetically so that people know that I’m being impartial and not putting them in order of which I like best.

Film adaptations of books are tricky. Books are so personal, and everyone has their own interpretation, so you will never be able to please everyone. But I hate the book Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff is a terrible person who makes everyone around him miserable in his quest for revenge. I had heard that this wasn’t a very faithful adaptation, so I hoped that they would have been able to turn this movie into something that I liked. Sadly, they didn’t.

So what’s the story? Heathcliff, a starving, ragged orphan, is adopted off the streets of Liverpool by the kindly Mr. Earnshaw and taken to Earnshaw’s house, Wuthering Heights, to be raised with Earnshaw’s children, proud Hindley and impulsive Catherine. Cathy and Heathcliff become great friends and vow undying love, but when Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley takes over and makes Heathcliff a servant. As they grow up, Cathy and Heathcliff fall more deeply in love with (or become more obsessive about) each other, but Cathy wants to be rich. She urges Heathcliff to go away and make something of himself so that they can marry. After an accident, Cathy stays for some time with the Lintons, her wealthy, kindly neighbors and glimpses what a future with wealth and comfort would be like. When Edgar Linton proposes, Cathy accepts. What will Heathcliff do to get revenge for all the wrongs done to him?

The Good: Geraldine Fitzgerald, who also did an amazing job in Dark Victory, plays Isabella Linton heartbreakingly well. She’s a silly girl, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t feel the wrongs done to her by Heathcliff. So good.

Laurence Olivier plays Heathcliff. He was a very good-looking man and an incredible actor. I felt sorry for Heathcliff in this movie, which I never did while reading the book, so props to Olivier.

The Bad: Merle Oberon’s Cathy is a spoiled, selfish girl who is unwilling to give up her place in society and a comfortable home for true, pure love. If it’s the screenplay’s fault that she appeared like that, than she did a good job of acting. But I felt like they were trying to make her sympathetic, and that never came across for me. I was kind of hoping that Heathcliff would fall in love with someone else, just so she could see that she wasn’t that great.

This is another movie from the 1930s that fell victim to the idea that accurate costuming didn’t matter. If the director and/or producers decided to have it take place in the 1860s, which is what the clothes vaguely suggest, that’s fine, but Heathcliff was gone for a while, right? And yet the ladies are still wearing the same fashions that they were before he left. The passage of time through clothes wasn’t shown at all. That would have been a very nice touch, but since it didn’t happen, I was left with the feeling the Heathcliff didn’t really leave for all that long. I guess people could make fortunes in America incredibly quickly in those days.

The Ugly: The ending is so incredibly bad. It makes Cathy and Heathcliff out to be tragic lovers who, due to circumstances beyond their control, were unable to be happy in life, but can now be happy together after death. The movie was already melodramatic, but the ending takes the movie past melodramatic to beyond cheesy. Ugh.

Oscar Won: Best cinematography, black-and-white.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a leading role (Laurence Olivier); best actress in a supporting role (Geraldine Fitzgerald); best director; best writing, screenplay; best art direction; best music, original score.

The week is over, but the nominees of 1939 aren’t! Join me next week for the rest of the best of 1939, including the juggernaut: Gone with the Wind.

Comments on: "Wuthering Heights (1939)" (2)

  1. Booooooooo “Wuthering Heights.”

    I think that’s all I have to add to this conversation.

    Ha! I lied. I have more thoughts.

    Yeah, I think that Hollywood struggled with historical costuming for awhile. Though to be fair, any non-fashion person who looked at 1830-1860 fashion would probably just see “big puffy skirts and tiny waists and sometimes puffy sleeves” and have a difficult time explaining the evolution of the dress. Plus, Hollywood wasn’t really trying to recreate an historic era back then, just evoke a different time. (That’s how I cope, at least.) You know what’s unforgivable though? All those horrible 1960s films’ interpretation of 18th-century fashion. And hairstyles. Do you know when 1960s-style beehives were fashionable besides the 1960s? Never. That’s when. And they have no excuse, because fashion historians were a thing by then.

    I’ve never seen Laurence Olivier in action, but I have never found stills of him particularly seductive. I guess I’ll have to take your word for it.

    Also, your “best laid plans” joke definitely elicited a giggle or two on this end. But, like, not a giggle, because I don’t really giggle.


    • Oh, I hate the westerns from the seventies where all the women have loose, flowy hair. No woman who has ever walked in the winds whipping across the plains would leave her hair loose.


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