One stormy night, a traveller finds himself sheltering at Wuthering Heights, a rundown, morbid old house that we later learn used to be a home of joy and laughter. Warming himself by the fire, he is told by a servant the tragic story of Heathcliff and Cathy, which will apparently make him believe that ghosts can walk the Earth. Heathcliff, as a boy, was orphaned and then adopted from the streets by Mr. Earnshaw, who already had two children, Hindley and Cathy. The latter took a shining to the new boy, playing with him whenever possible and forging a firm bond, but her older brother saw this newcomer as nothing more than a stableboy, which is the position Heathcliff was reduced to when Mr. Earnshaw passed away and the property became Hindley’s by right. By this time, the adult Heathcliff and Cathy (Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon) are obvisouly in love with one another, but their positions in society prevent them from doing anything about it. When their wealthy neighbour Linton (David Niven) falls for Cathy too, Heathcliff runs away, but seeing as this is a romance movie you know he’ll be coming back, and that it probably won’t work out all that well for everyone involved.
This film was nominated for me to watch by Kristen Lopez of Journeys in Classic Film. She’ll probably be appalled to know that I didn’t know anything about the overall plot of Wuthering Heights before watching this, other than it inspired an agonisingly terrible Kate Bush song. And if other adaptations of the Emily Bronte novel are like this one, I won’t be checking them out either, because it’s really quite depressing.
I wasn’t exactly expecting a laugh a minute, but some enjoyment would have been nice, but this starts off hopeful and then continues to throw rocks – sometimes literally – at the two leads, and it doesn’t help when they start throwing them at themselves and each other. Theirs is the kind of romance where they are willing to hurt other people indefinitely if it means revenge on the other for daring to love someone else whilst they have been away. Where mis-hearing a conversation or two spells eternal suffering and torment for anyone in the vicinity.Where the prospect of moving on and getting over something is an alien notion. If that’s what true love is then count me out.
Olivier is excellent as Heathcliff. He is a very dour, sombre character, as you’d expect from someone with a hard upbringing and people in his life who refuse to let him forget it, and the only moments he ever seems even capable of happiness are around Cathy. There’s an intensity and a power to his performance that made me root fro his redemption long after it could ever come. Sadly Merle Oberon is less capable as Cathy. I didn’t mind her character, doing her best to not simply be a pawn in the games of men, but Oberon never reached the lofty heights of Olivier is terms of making me understand her actions, remaining a soppy, childish girl throughout. At times she came off as shallow and fickle, oblivious to the world around her and the effect she has on others, which made her a difficult heroine to root for.
It’s a rare film in which I pay close attention to the score, but the best word I think to describe this one is “relentless.” The string section never stopped throughout the entire piece, turning the whole thing into a melodramatic farce. This wasn’t helped by the dramatically timed thunder claps and lightning flashes, which I’ve always found more comical than effective in inducing tone.
Overall, the story didn’t make me believe ghosts could walk amongst us, but it showed how easily love can slide into hate, and how difficult it could be to reverse that transition, and that’s something I’d rather not think about.
Choose Life 6/10