Haunting, beautiful film version of Emily Bronte's tragic novel, with Olivier at his romance period peak, but marred slightly by Oberon's relative lack of passion.
WUTHERING HEIGHTS is a beautifully told story, displaying impeccable talent both in front of and behind the camera. Wyler had been interested in Bronte's story as a vehicle for Charles Boyer and Sylvia Sidney, who had starred in his 1937 film DEAD END. Hecht and MacArthur were assigned to write
the film, and they headed for the island home of drama critic Alexander Woolcott. Here they labored to create a script faithful to the novel, though Woolcott was convinced the two writers would destroy Bronte's passionate and poetic story. Wyler eventually got Goldwyn to back the script, though
Boyer was no longer being considered for the lead. The next choice was Olivier, a relative unknown to American audiences at the time. Hecht, who was an uncredited writer on QUEEN CHRISTINA, remembered Olivier from that film. The Briton had originally been hired to play opposite Garbo in that film,
but was removed from the production in favor of John Gilbert. Olivier was furious, and had harbored ill feelings towards Hollywood ever since. He was interested in the part of Heathcliff however, and agreed to portray the doomed lover only if his wife, Vivien Leigh, could be his Cathy. But Oberon
had already been signed for the role, and Goldwyn would not consider firing her. Leigh was offered the role of Olivier's unloved wife instead, but she turned this down, saying she felt more akin to the tragic lead character. Besides, Leigh had already been featured as the lead in several British
films and was simply unwilling to step down for Hollywood. Eventually Olivier agreed to take the role, and Leigh ended up playing Scarlett O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND that year. Olivier and Oberon had previously appeared together in THE DIVORCE OF LADY X, a 1938 British film; many believe they
made an unforgettable romantic duo.
Though the film understandably condenses Bronte's lengthy novel, Goldwyn spared no expense in creating the right atmosphere for the picture. A tract of 450 acres of land in California's Conejo Hills was transformed into authentic-looking English moors. One thousand heather plants were
transplanted, and Goldwyn completed his re-creation by building a period manor on the site. However, he switched the novel's period from the original Regency to the Georgian era. His reasoning was simple: the Georgian period was marked by fancier dresses for women, and he was eager to show off
Oberon in beautiful costumes. Gregg Toland won an Academy Award for his brilliant photography, a moody black-and-white perfectly suited to the material.
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