Wuthering Heights (1939)

Wuthering Heights poster

Genre: Drama

Description:

In the early nineteenth century the owner of the Wuthering Heights estate brings home an orphan named Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier). His son despises the boy, but his daughter Catharine (Merle Oberon) forms a close bond with Heathcliff. As they grow up, the owner dies and his son forces Heathcliff to work as a stable boy. Heathcliff is heartbroken when Cathy marries her wealthy neighbor Edgar (David Niven) instead of him. Heathcliff leaves the estate, only to come back into Cathy’s life as a very wealthy man.

Cast:

Laurence Olivier                     –                  Heathcliff
Merle Oberon                           –                  Catharine Earnshaw
David Niven                             –                   Edgar Linton
Geraldine Fitzgerald             –                   Isabella Linton
Hugh Williams                         –                   Hindley Earnshaw
Flora Robson                           –                   Ellen
Donald Crisp                            –                   Dr. Kenneth

The original trailer:

Facts:

–          The film is based on the classic novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Although there have been many film adaptions of the book, this version is seen as the definitive one.

–          The film only covers half of the book and leaves out some important parts. Such as their children and the depiction of mental and physical cruelty.

–          Many actors were considered for the important role of Heathcliff, such as Ronald Colman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Ultimately, the role went to Laurence Olivier.

–          The film was meant to be a vehicle for actress Merle Oberon. Although it is her most famous feature, it was Laurence Olivier’s career that was catapulted by the success of Wuthering Heights.

–          The two leading actors were reportedly miserable during filming, since they missed their own loved ones. Laurence Olivier was newly engaged to actress Vivien Leigh and Merle Oberon was in love with producer Alexander Korda, both lived in England.

–          Vivien Leigh wanted to play Cathy opposite her fiancée. The studio declined, but offered her the part of Isabelle Linton. She turned it down and it went to Geraldine Fitzgerald instead.

–          The two leading actors reportedly detested each other. A famous anecdote is that after a romantic scene, Merle turned to director William Wyler and shouted: ‘Tell him to stop spitting at me!’.

–          David Niven wasn’t happy with his role in this film. It was a secondary character and he and Merle Oberon felt uncomfortable with each other since they had been in a relationship a few years prior.

–          Vivien Leigh visited Laurence Olivier during filming and pursued a big dream of hers: playing Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. Filming had already begun, without a Scarlett, and she visited the set with Laurence to convince the producers that she was the one who should play the coveted role. She convinced them and therefore her visit to Laurence Olivier while he was filming Wuthering Heights led to her getting the part that would make her famous.

–          The final sequence was added last minute, after much debate. But since the actors assumed filming was finished, they had moved on to other projects and stand-ins had to be used to film the ending.


Olivier and Oberon in Wuthering Heights

Awards

Wins:

Best Film – Wuthering Heights – 1939 New York Film Critics Circle
Best Cinematography – Gregg Toland – 1940 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences

Nominations:

Best Picture – Wuthering Heights – 1940 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Actor – Laurence Olivier – 1940 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Supporting Actress – Geraldine Fitzgerald – 1940 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Director – William Wyler – 1940 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Writing – Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur – 1940 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Music – Alfred Newman – 1940 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Art Direction – James Basevi – 1940 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences

 

Olivier and Oberon

 

Influence:

Wuthering Heights is a romantic classic. The relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy is one of the most famous fictional love affairs in history. Although the film does not cover the entire book, the two are often associated with one another as this is the most famous film adaption of the classic novel. The film has not lost its appeal and is still very popular today. It has inspired many spin-offs and parodies. The famous Kate Bush song Wuthering Heights was even inspired by the 1939 picture.
Although many have tried to emulate the film’s success, no other screen adaption has survived the test of time. In 2007 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’.




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