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a/perture cinema, the Official Movie Sponsor of The Less Desirables, presents The Less Desirables Movie of the Week, Wuthering Heights (1939) starring Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier and David Niven.

Per IMDb: “A servant in the house of Wuthering Heights tells a traveler the unfortunate tale of lovers Cathy and Heathcliff.”

An unfortunate traveler gets caught in a snow storm and wanders to the estate of Wuthering Heights, a mansion in disrepair. The owner, Heathcliff (Olivier) is rude and standoffish. Later, after being shown into a forgotten room that was once a bride’s chamber, he’s awakened by a window shutter flapping against the house and a Wuthering_Heights_(1939_film)broken window filled with rags. Just as he’s about to close it, he feels an icy hand clutching his and sees a woman outside yelling, “Heathcliff, let me in! I’m out on the moors. It’s Cathy!” When the traveler (named Lockwood, played by Miles Mander) calls to Heathcliff he tells him what he heard and felt. Heathcliff throws him out of the room. Heathcliff starts calling out to Cathy and runs down the stairs and out of the house, frantic.

The maid for the estate explains to Lockwood that Cathy is Heathcliff’s life’s love and that he lost her a few years back. The maid tells the story of a well-to-do family whose generous father brings an orphan home (Heathcliff) to live with his two children, Cathy and Hindley. Cathy accepts him and really likes him but Hindley treats him as a pauper, especially after the father dies. That doesn’t change when they get older. Cathy (Oberon) likes him even more and Hindley (Hugh Williams) despises him even more.  Cathy and Heathcliff run about the grounds dreaming of being together. They run to a larger neighboring estate, that of the Lintons, secretly watching a ball and hope that one day they’ll be like that. The estates dogs catch them and the owners help Cathy but send Heathcliff out and he curses them; he runs away.

Some time passes and Heathcliff returns to work as a stable boy for Cathy and Hindley. She had gotten close to Edgar Linton (Niven) by then, and Edgar insults (and vice versa) Heathcliff. Cathy sends Edgar away and runs out to see him in their secret place. She struggles with her feelings for Heathcliff and the life she had gotten used to with Edgar. She’s not the only one that struggles with it. Heathcliff does as well. He hears Cathy tell the maid that Edgar asked her to marry him. After Cathy realizes that she’s just like Heathcliff, but before hearing that, he runs away; apparently to America. Cathy marries Edgar.

Heathcliff returns, rich, distinguished and smug. He purchases Wuthering Heights out from under Hindley (paying off his gambling and drinking debts) and starts courting Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald), Edgar’s naive, younger sister, much to the chagrin of Edgar (and Cathy). Then, Heathcliff and Isabella are married. Of course, he marries her to hurt Cathy. He feels Cathy has been cruel to him (I think he’s being cruel to her). She flips out and it hurts Edgar. Isabella becomes a miserable wretch and Heathcliff becomes more callous as each day passes. Then… Cathy gets sick. What does that do to Heathcliff? Isabella? Edgar? Anyone? You’ll have to watch to find out.

I maintain, and will continue to do so, that 1939 was the greatest year in cinematic history. Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Gunga Din, Ninotchka, Stanley & Livingstone, Union Pacific, Destry Rides Again, Gulliver’s Travels. This is only a handful of films that came out that year. This film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture (Gone with the Wind), Best Actor, Best Director and more. It won for Best Cinematography – Black and White.

My only problem with the film was the sound. There were times when the dialog was mumbly, not necessarily the actors but the actual sound. I know we’re dealing with stock that was quite old in the conversion process but still? I believe, even though I’ve not read the book (it’s on my list) that there’s some differences from it in the film that may have changed the ending. Something seemed abrupt about the ending that threw me off. Overall, I think it’s a decent film and worthy of recognition. I don’t know if I’d consider it the 73rd best film (the AFI Top 100, 1997 list) or really, even the 400 nominees but it was a decent film.

Merle Oberon was a very beautiful woman. And, there were a lot of good supporting characters, like Leo G. Carroll. And Geraldine Fitzgerald’s career ran the gamut: starring as Laurence Olivier’s wife and Rodney Dangerfield’s mother-in-law (Easy Money). Laurence Olivier’s Shakespearean talents are definitely in abundance here. At times, I thought he may have overacted, but then again, what do I know?

Rotten Tomatoes rates the film at 100% Fresh (wow!) with an Audience Score of 85%, which sounds closer to right. IMDb has it at 7.7 stars out of 10. This is available through Netflix‘s DVD.com program, only. I actually own it on DVD and watched my copy of it. I’m rating it 3.5 stars out of 5. Have you seen it? Have you read the book? What do you think? I’d like to know.

Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
Scorp out!

“If he loved you with all the power of his soul for a whole lifetime, he couldn’t love you as much as I do in a single day.” – Heathcliff