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Wuthering Heights

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Wuthering Heights

Starring: Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier
Director: William Wyler
Rated: NR
RunTime: 104 Minutes
Release Date: April 1939
Genres: Drama, Romance, Classic


*Also starring: David Niven, Donald Crisp, Flora Robson, Hugh Williams, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Leo G. Carroll, Cecil Kellaway, Miles Mander



Review by Brian Koller
3½ stars out of 4

Time has not been completely kind to the 1939 version of "Wuthering Heights". Intended as a great tearjerker, it now comes across almost as camp. The hammy performances and dramatic dialogue is very entertaining, however.

The Emily Bronte classic has been condensed to feature the romance between Cathy and Heathcliff. Petulant beauty Cathy (Merle Oberon) and her sadistic, self-destructive brother Hindley (Hugh Williams) inherit the Wuthering Heights estate from their benevolent father (Cecil Humphreys). Left out is brooding adopted son/gypsy/stableboy Heathcliff (Lawrence Olivier). Since society would frown on their relationship, Cathy dumps Heathcliff for wealthy snob neighbor David Niven. Heathcliff vows revenge on all concerned, which he does upon making his fortune.

Oberon and Olivier had been teamed up before in the highly successful "Divorce of Lady X" from 1938, but Olivier, not yet a star in America, had wanted lover Vivien Leigh (they would wed in 1940) as Cathy. United Artists instead offered Leigh the secondary lead, which she declined. ("Gone with the Wind" gave her a better role anyway). Ironically, Oberon and Olivier supposedly detested each other. Hollywood legend has it that when Director William Wyler yelled "cut" after a particularly romantic scene, Oberon shouted at him "Tell him [Olivier] to stop spitting on me!"

"Wuthering Heights" had excellent production values. The sets, particulary the rocky crags, are elaborate, as are Oberon's costumes. The film was rewarded with box office success and a slew of Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Olivier), Best Original (?) Screenplay (Ben Hecht), Best Art Direction (James Basevi), Best Cinematography (Gregg Toland), Best Score (Alfred Newman), Best Supporting Actress (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Given strong competition from films such as "Gone with the Wind", "Wuthering Heights" did not win any awards.

Copyright 1995 Brian Koller

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