Wuthering Heights (1939)

I've not read the Emily Bronte classic Wuthering Heights, but after watching this film, I don't have any desire to. In fact, if it were any other actor than Laurence Olivier playing Heathcliff, I'm not sure I would have made it through this movie.

This is more personal preference than a jibe at the film's quality. It's shot beautifully with long takes that weave through ballrooms and peak in windows. It's also moodily shot, with characters hiding in the corners of the frame and lightning revealing all the hidden parts of the composition.

And I have the propensity to love the story line: a lonely boy, Heathcliff, is gladly taken into a home, but is later scorned and made a stable boy by the prejudiced son of the man that took him in, all whilst the daughter, Cathy, grows to love him. There are even frequent insults that include some variation of "gypsy blood" in reference to the somewhat uncouth Heathcliff.

What's not to love?

People just talking, and then talking some more, about the passion.

Cathy and Heathcliff's initial interactions as children are sweet, and so are their young adult days when they vow to love each other forever. But once things start getting complicated with the introduction of upper class money and society, the film just starts talking about their great love and all their feelings while not doing much. Yeah, Cathy gets married and Heathcliff runs off and mysteriously gets rich, but we never get the details, so we're left to fill in the blanks while the movie goes back to Cathy and Heathcliff talking about not being together.

This frustration is only compounded by knowing that Wuthering Heights was the basis for the book 3 of the Twilight series, Eclipse, which was all talk and about 50 pages of action, with Jacob (one of the few characters with personality--especially compared to Edward) being slighted in the end after a steamy make-out sesh with Bella that almost made up for absolutely nothing happening otherwise, but not quite because that book was hundreds upon hundreds of pages long.


Anyway, as much as I'm griping about Wuthering Heights, there were things to love about it in a ridiculous old movie sort of a way. The swelling, melancholy strings that serve as the overwhelming score. The supernatural connection between the lovers even after death (what else but an old movie could pull off that Gothic cheese?). The epiphanies during a thunder storm:

And of course Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff giving a believable performance as both a maligned stable boy and a vengeful gentlemen. He may soon make it to my top 20 list if I keep seeing him transform his body language and demeanor so effectively in other films.

But even Mr. Olivier couldn't save the film from becoming a soupy mess at the end. They spent so much time talking about their feelings that I never actually got to experience it, so I didn't even care by the end. A similar film experience would be Cold Mountain, in which the lovers somehow build up so many expectations that we're so supposed to care about their relationship even though they don't see each other for a large portion of the film. I'm sorry, that's just a depressing--not to mention boring--relationship which is better suited to the pages of a novel where psychological states of mind can better be explored. Although even then it's frustrating to me.

So watch Wuthering Heights if you love corny old movie romances. This fits the bill and is guaranteed to make you giggle if you adore sudden declarations of love and hatred. However, this may also be how you feel about the film itself.


  1. Yeah, the book was equally painful.

  2. Good to get confirmation on that.

  3. I actually really liked the book, as you may know the film covers barely half of the plot and to date no movie has paid justice to it.
    The version with Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche is even cornier and sloppier, although it does take the whole of the book.
    I enjoyed the 1939 version because of its cheese, even the-fake-mountaintops seem to be in on Heathcliff and Cathy's doomed romance, I swear I saw some grass stems swoon along with the music.
    As for the whole Cold Mountain issue I still feel the film was greatly undervalued, because in my particualr case I actually loved how they were apart throughout the movie. Their love was so fake it attained a sort of black humor...but that's a topic for another time.

  4. I did enjoy the movie, for the most part, but I don't think I could watch it again. In terms of the book, maybe I'll give it a try some time, if only in the hopes of some fantastic inner dialogue.

    And I would love to hear more about the black humor of Cold Mountain. (Which has its moments for me.)

  5. Two tips: 1) watch the 2009 version instead with Tom Hardy. It's much better at showing instead of telling, one of the main reasons being the intense chemistry between the two leads. Also, I can almost guarantee you that you'll consider putting TH on your favourite actors list afterwards. :) 2) do read the book. It's one of the most fascinating tales ever written imho.