Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wuthering Heights (1939)

Yet another film in a long line of weepy, stagy melodramas that I kept making feeble attempts to see but not feeling all that bad when I missed it, this thankfully went the way of The Little Foxes (very good) rather than, say, Random Harvest (decent but a bit silly).

The film concerns an orphan, Heathcliff (played in adulthood by Laurence Olivier), who is taken in by a rich man with two children: Catherine (played in adulthood by Merle Oberon), who takes an immediate liking to him, and Hindley (in adulthood by Hugh Williams), who is immediately antagonistic (and within a few days, hits Heathcliff in the head wth a large rock. The film's weep quotient comes from the fact that it's obvious Heathcliff and Catherine are made for each other, and both of them love each other quite a lot, but Cathy is so set on finding a well-to-do husband, it's bizarrely ingrained into her and she can't help herself, and ends up marrying Edgar Linton (David Niven). Tears ensue.

Olivier is as he needs to be, brooding, hurt, beaten-down by the world. Merle Oberon is beautiful, enigmatic and perplexing (even to herself); the rest of the cast holds their own quite well (especially Hugh Williams as the petulant, childish and spiteful Hindley), but this is a two-person film, and the two knock it out of the park.The film was solidly directed by William Wyler; written by Ben Hecht, of all people, from the first half of the novel by Emily Bronte (trust me, it's enough); shot by the great Gregg Toland (who won the film's only Oscar, and deservedly so), and special attention should be paid to the score, which manages to exude feeling without ever spilling over into the melodrama it so desperately tries to give off.

Overall, a surprisingly fantastic film, #6 in the Golden Year of 1939. 4/5

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