Top 100 Movie Review: No. 94 – Wuthering Heights (1939)

Ranked 94 on the IMDB Top 100 Movies
Watched October 2017

Cast: Laurence Olivier (Heathcliff), Merle Oberon (Catherine Earnshaw Linton), David Niven (Edgar Linton), Flora Robson (Ellen Dean), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Isabella Linton), Hugh Williams (Hindley Earnshaw), Miles Mander (Lockwood)
Director: William Wyler
My rating: 7.5 / 10

One cold night a traveller Lockwood (Miles Mander) is caught in the snow and stays at the estate of Wuthering Heights where he meets the master of he estate the cold Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier). After Lockwood has a ghostly encounter Heathcliffe suspects it is his long dead lost love Catherine (Merle Oberon) and goes out into the cold night in search. From here we flashback 40 years to when Heathcliffe is bought to Wuthering Heights as a street orphan where he first meets Catherine and her brother Hindley (Hugh William).

Catherine and Heathcliff quickly become childhood friends as they grow up and even more as young adults but at a critical point after being injured Catherine falls for wealthy Edgar Linton. This breaks her budding romance with Heathcliffe who believes this is because he is poor. Heathcliffe leaves and later returns a wealthy person bend on revenge that has tragic consequences for everyone.

What’s to Like
Classic black and white movie, haunting music, the tragic story.

What’s not to Like
The love between Heathcliffe and Catherine even in death after everything they have done to each other is hard to believe.

Based on the novel, Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë. This tragic story sees a divide between rich and poor, between love and convenience, between hope and revenge, between pride and prejudice.

First we witness what prejudice brings to Hindley who dislikes Heathcliffe, the poor street orphan who is father loves and who his sister becomes close friends and more. Hindley’s bitterness about this leads him to alcohol and destroying his life as Heathcliffe later buys Hindley’s family estate and embarrasses him at every point.

Later Catherine’s casual disregard for her childhood friend and budding romantic relationship with Heathcliffe for the sophisticated and wealthy Edgar destroys Heathcliffe’s soul. he goes from a mostly carefree young man to a driven bitter person wanting revenge and apparently still Catherine. The scene when he overhears Catherine say that she could never be with the poor Heathcliffe brings all the tragic later events. More tragic as you believe that in her heart she does love him.

Heathcliffe’s ultimate revenge comes when he becomes wealthy and elegant. He woos Edgar’s younger sister Isabella and marries her to spite both Edgar and Catherine even though he has no love for Isabella. Catherine’s jealously of this marriage hurt’s Edgar who never really set out to harm anyone but suffers for his relationship.

Eventually with such nasty events and emotions around her Catherine gets sick and dies but not before she expresses her love for Heathcliffe on her deathbed. Heathcliffe’s revenge plan is in disarray, he stays married to Isabella in a loveless relationship, everyone suffers in this movie.

I guess the theme here is about how revenge never works and just destroys everyone. Although Catherine’s carelessly throwing away Heathcliffe’s love and affections when she does care for him is the catalyst for the increasingly dark events. Brother and sister Edgar and Isabella both suffer enormously for marrying people who don’t love them (although Catherine did care for Edgar on some basic level). Short term poor decisions face long term tragic consequences.

While I liked this movie seeing the two main leads continually make poor decisions that hurt those around them makes it hard to get behind the eternal beyond death love.

Academy Awards

  • Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Gregg Toland) – winner
  • Best Picture – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Laurence Olivier) – nominee
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Geraldine Fitzgerald) – nominee
  • Best Director (William Wyler) – nominee
  • Best Writing, Screenplay (Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur) – nominee
  • Best Art Direction (James Basevi) – nominee
  • Best Music, Original Score (Alfred Newman) – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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