Sunday, June 8, 2008

Wuthering Heights (William Wyler, 1939) C (x2)

For being considered one of the most romantic movies not only of the 1930's but ever, it's surprising that the main characters of Wuthering Heights- stableboy Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and wannabe society lady Cathy (Merle Oberon)- are such incredibly awful people. Not only are they incredibly cold, but they do such incredibly awful things to the people around them, consequently destroying their lives as well, without any regards for anyone else's feelings. Olivier, I believe, understands how to make Heathcliff's coldness sexy and alluring (easy enough considering Oliver was never the was the most personable actor). Through him, we understand what draws Cathy toward him. On the other hand, Oberon is a complete and utter mess as Cathy. Then again, the schizophrenic screenplay by the usually reliable Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, really doesn't do her any favors. In one scene, she goes from loving Heathcliff, to cutting him down to size in front of romantic interest Edgar (David Niven), then berating Edgar for speaking poorly about Heathcliff and then falling in love with Heathcliff again. Keep in mind this takes place in the matter of about 90 seconds. Even Scarlett O'Hara was more consistent. Oberon isn't a good enough actress to connect these emotions together to make them the least bit logical. Instead, we are left with a soulless portrayal of a potentially interesting character. From the beginning to the end, I had no idea who Cathy was. She appears, says some lines, goes through the motions, but she's as hollow as a chocolate Easter bunny. Geraldine Fitzgerald, as Edgar's sister Isabella, was nominated for an Oscar but I can't see why besides the fact that she was a respected stage actress and Wuthering Heights was enormously popular in 1939. She's not bad by any means (especially when contrasted with Oberon) but it's not the type of performance to write home about. Fitzgerald has some good moments- most notably the scene where she gets slapped around by Oberon- but they don't add up to a complete performance.

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