Wuthering Heights (1939) Review

Wuthering Heights (1939) Director: William Wyler


Of course, Wuthering Heights, is drawn from Emily Brontë’s great 1847 Gothic novel of the same name (her only novel), however the film only features approximately sixteen of the thirty-four chapters in the book (the first two-thirds or so). It tells the story of only the first generation at Wuthering Heights (omitting the stories of the children of both Healthcliff and Cathy). The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards. It stars Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon.

The story depicts a stranger who arrives during a storm at the remote estate of Wuthering Heights, a home which has fallen on dark and hard times. The stranger hears a voice out on the moor saying ‘Cathy.’ As Heathcliff goes running out after it, one of the servants explains the whole story to the stranger about Healthcliff being brought home as a vagrant boy one day, and he and Cathy grow up together and gradually fall in love, but when the father of the house dies his drunken son abuses Heathcliff. As Cathy grows she frustratingly rejects Heathcliff for a true gentleman and the life of a lady, while Heathcliff works as a stableboy. One day, Heathcliff runs away only to return years later as a rich man and he buys Wuthering Heights from the drunken son who has squandered his family’s wealth. Cathy is now married, and Heathcliff marries her now sister-in-law, but then Cathy becomes deathly ill and Heathcliff runs to embrace her and she dies in his arms as they look out at the moor together, remembering their childhood. Her dying words to Heathcliff are that she will wait for him out there. Thus, Heathcliff is tormented by her love. He is sometimes seen with her ghost out on the moor.

The film was shot in Thousand Oaks, California, with scenes at Wildwood Regional Park as well as the current site of California Lutheran University. Alfred Newman has received praise for his score for “Cathy’s Theme.” Of course, the year being 1939, he lost with the Academy to The Wizard of Oz. The film was produced by Samuel Goldwyn, one he later called the favorite of all his productions.

Wuthering Heights is a great movie, perfectly capturing the Gothic and atmospheric novel of the same name. It is a haunting depiction of Brontë’s great novel.

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