“Wuthering Heights” will have to depend on class audiences. Its general sombreness and psychological tragedy is too heavy for general appeal. With that setup, and lacking socko marquee dressing, picture is more of an artistic success for the carriage trade.
Emily Bronte’s novel, published a century ago, tells a haunting tale of love and tragedy. Samuel Goldwyn’s film version retains all of the grim drama of the book. Dramatic episodes are vividly etched, without benefit of lightness. It’s heavy fare throughout.
Merle Oberon has two loves – a pash for stableboy Laurence Olivier and love of the worldly things David Niven can provide. After unsuccessfully goading Olivier to make something of himself, girl turns to marriage with Niven. Olivier disappears, to return several years later from America with a moderate fortune. Miss Oberon keeps her smouldering passions under control, and Olivier marries Niven’s sister (Geraldine Fitzgerald) for spite. Climax is reached with Miss Oberon dying from an incurable disease in Olivier’s arms.
Stark tragedy is vividly etched throughout. Tempo is at a slow pace, with many sequences devoted to development of psychological reactions of the characters. It’s rather dull material for general audiences.
Olivier provides a fine portrayal as the moody, revengeful lover. Miss Oberon is excellent throughout, nicely tempering her changing moods. Niven handles his role satisfactorily, while Miss Fitzgerald is impressive as Niven’s sister, who comes under the spell of Olivier and finds nothing but unhappiness in her marriage to him.
Story is unfolded through retrospect narration by Flora Robson, housekeeper in the early-Victorian mansion of Yorkshire. After briefly detailing background of three principals as children, tale swings into the main love theme and tragedy.
Production has been given best facilities possible in all departments. Camera work by Gregg Toland is top grade, and settings are in keeping with period of the story.
Direction by William Wyler is slow and deliberate, accenting the tragic features of the piece. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur wrote the screenplay.
1939: Best B&W Cinematography.
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Laurence Olivier), Supp. Actress (Geraldine Fitzgerald), Screenplay, Art Direction, Original Score