Posted by: Jen. 5 stars.
Director: William Wyler
Cast: Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, David Niven, Geraldine Fitzgerald
The novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte makes one physically uncomfortable reading it, and I put it off for a long time before seeding the 1939 film starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. All the main characters are scoundrels with no redeeming qualities, who take pleasure in hurting those around them. It is dark and twisted, and even the ending is a little unsettling. This movie portrayed the story the way we as readers want it to be – a bittersweet love story, two star crossed lovers longing to be with each other, an ending where they finally are. While still a little unsettling, it is easier to digest, and is a story that will make any girl’s heart sigh.
Master Heathcliff (Olivier) was a beggar boy, dying in the street when Mr. Earnshaw brought him home to raise with his other two children: Hindley and Catherine. Hindley saw competition from the Heathcliff, who quickly became the father’s favorite. However, young Catherine takes a liking to the new boy, and the two become inseparable. When the father dies, young Hindley takes his place as master of Wuthering Heights (the name of their house), and turns young Heathcliff into a servant. This turns him into a rough, hot-headed man who is always dirty and ready to fight. The only reason he stays is his love for Catherine and wanting to be near her.
Catherine, ever ambitious, separates herself from Heathcliff in the interests of money and marries another man. Heathcliff becomes even crueler, and plots the downfall of everyone around her as soon as he makes a fortune by some mysterious and unknown means. Once he is rich, the two do everything they can to hurt each other by using those who are around them as pawns and everyone is miserable until the very end when the two lovers are united, but it’s really not as happy as it sounds because there can be no happiness in two such decrepit souls.
Olivier makes Heathcliff a hero – the romantic lead that we desperately want Heathcliff to be, rather than the monster in the novel. It shows his childhood with Catherine, where they escape the harshness of Hindley, and it turns them both into sympathetic characters. We want them to be together. Whether you’ve read Wuthering Heights or not, this is a great romantic movie, on par with Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. And though I’ve seen Olivier in movies before, this is the one that turned me into a fan. 1939 was a great year for great movies, and I cannot recommend this one enough.