Sunday, December 03, 2017

Wuthering Heights (1939)

Wuthering Heights (1939). Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and Catherine (Merle Oberon).
Humiseva harju / Stormvindar (FI) / Svindlande höjder (SE). US 1939. P: Samuel Goldwyn / United Artists. D: William Wyler. SC: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur – based on the novel (1847) by Emily Brontë. DP: Gregg Toland. M: Alfred Newman. AD: James Basevi. Cost: Omar Kiam. ED: Daniel Mandell.
    C: Merle Oberon (Catherine Earnshaw), Laurence Olivier (Heathcliff), David Niven (Edgar Linton), Flora Robson (Ellen Dean), Donald Crisp (Dr. Kenneth), Hugh Williams (Hindley Earnshaw), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Isabella Linton), Leo G. Carroll (Joseph), Miles Mander (Lockwood), Cecil Kellaway (Earnshaw), Rex Downing (Heathcliff as a child), Sarita Wooton (Cathy as a child), Douglas Scott (Hindley as a child), Mme Alice Ehlers (musician), Romaine Callender (Robert), Helena Grant (Miss Hudkins).
    Helsinki premiere: 30.9.1955 Savoy, first distributor: RKO – tv: 28.3.1980 YLE TV2 – vhs: 1990 Kielipalvelu – VET 42144 – K12 – 2850 m / 103 min
    A KAVI 35 mm print deposited by Adams-Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles.
    Viewed at Vaahterasali, Lahti, 3 Dec 2017.

I was asked to introduce Wuthering Heights in our film series in the city of Lahti and stayed to see the movie again.

Revisited William Wyler's adaptation of Emily Brontë's 1847 Gothic novel, a story of l'amour fou loved by Surrealists, a love story across class boundaries, between a foundling rescued from the gutter and a daughter of a wealthy farm. A story of love, hate, revenge, and death. And love beyond death.

Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur wrote the original screenplay in 1935. They cut Brontë's novel in half and removed the story of the second generation. The story of love and hate was transformed more decisively in the direction of a romantic love story. John Huston, Wyler's lifelong friend, shaped the final form of the screenplay and the dialogue. Samuel Goldwyn added the final image.

There were two major stages in Wyler's early career. In 1925–1935 he was a contract director at Universal, making 28 routine westerns and then more ambitious features including The Shakedown, Hell's Heroes, and A House Divided. In 1935–1946 he had a contract with Samuel Goldwyn for whom he directed These Three, Dodsworth, Come and Get It (with Hawks), Dead End, Wuthering Heights, The Westerner, The Little Foxes, and The Best Years of Our Lives.

After Goldwyn Wyler freelanced, directing quality films (The Heiress, his masterpiece), an Audrey Hepburn breakthrough film (Roman Holiday) and some of the hugest blockbusters of all time (Ben-Hur, Funny Girl). To the end Wyler was happy to make controversial films such as The Children's Hour (on love between women) and The Liberation of L. B. Jones (on racism).

Laurence Olivier had acted in films since 1930 (he is quite agreeable in The Yellow Ticket, for instance), but Heathcliff was his breakthrough role in films. Olivier clashed with Wyler during the production but was grateful for the rest of his life for the insight he learned about film acting (and gave an interesting performance later for Wyler in Carrie).

Merle Oberon was an Alexander Korda protégée, his star whom he married in 1939. She was provided with high profile roles including Anna Boleyn (The Private Life of Henry VIII) and Messalina (I, Claudius).

Gregg Toland was the trusted cinematographer in Wyler's Goldwyn period. Next year he would launch his deep focus aesthetique in The Long Voyage Home, followed by Citizen Kane and Wyler's The Little Foxes. Those films, together with Jean Renoir's La Règle du jeu, were crucial for André Bazin's vision of true continuity in contrast to the montage school of the cinema.

1939 is widely regarded as the greatest year in the history of the cinema. It was the year of the revival of the A Western (John Ford's Stagecoach and a dozen more), Young Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Only Angels Have Wings, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, and in France, La Règle du jeu, Le Jour se lève, and La Fin du jour, and in Japan, Kenji Mizoguchi's Zangiku monogatari.

In his private life, Wyler was experiencing the great love of his life. He had divorced from Margaret Sullavan and had had a passionate affair with Bette Davis whom he had launched to a new level of stardom in Jezebel and whom he would direct also in The Letter and The Little Foxes, but Davis was not interested in becoming a housewife. Wyler frequented the home of his best friend, the great producer-agent Paul Kohner. They had entered the Universal Studios in 1920, both at the age of 18. Wyler loved the family atmosphere of the Kohners and asked Paul to introduce him to a nice girl. When Wyler was directing an orchestra sequence featuring Jascha Heifetz he made a deep impression to an aspiring actress, Margaret Tallichet, and this was the beginning of a lifelong marriage. Their first child was called Catherine. After the premiere of Wuthering Heights, Catherine became the third popular name for babies.


In my opinion this film adaptation of Wuthering Heights is fundamentally miscast. Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon make a valiant effort to live their parts in this Gothic romance of doomed love, and it is an instance of movie magic that the end result works this well. Laurence Olivier is an anti-romantic actor, at his natural best in sober roles, as the voice of reason, or as a ruler or authority figure. He has an innate presence of authority and command. It is fascinating to observe him as Heathcliff but impossible to really believe him.

Olivier's next Hollywood role was in Rebecca based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Both Wuthering Heights and Rebecca are based on Gothic novels by British lady writers. As Maxim de Winter Olivier was much more in character than as Heathcliff.

Merle Oberon's performance is a brilliant case of star acting, which can be truly moving, but it also means an external approach to a role which could call forth shattering moments of passion.

The Wyler film I had seen most recently is A House Divided, a family saga set on a stormy island in the Pacific Ocean. Produced by Universal Pictures, it has affinities with the Gothic approach of the Universal horror films. As does Wuthering Heights. Walter Huston's performance in A House Divided has much of the irresistible, shattering power that is missing from Olivier's Heathcliff study.

I do not object to Samuel Goldwyn's addition of the ghosts of Heathcliff and Catherine walking towards their magic kingdom at Peniston Craig. The ghost ending was popular in the 1930s, from Frank Borzage's Three Comrades to Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will. Not forgetting Abel Gance's J'accuse. Nor the most moving case, Max Ophuls's Liebelei: "Ich schwöre... ich schwöre... dass ich Dich liebe... dass ich ewig Dich liebe", the ghostly voices heard after the death of both lovers.

Our print looks a generation or so too much duplicated, still watchable, but the definition of light is a bit off, missing the perfect contrast that one can guess was Toland's aim.


Muita filmatisointeja: Humiseva harju (Abismos de pasion, MX 1954, O: Luis Buñuel), Humiseva harju (Wuthering Heights, GB 1970, N: Anna Calder-Marshall, Timothy Dalton), Hurlevent (FR 1985, O: Jacques Rivette), Emily Brontën Humiseva harju (Wuthering Heights, US/GB 1992, O: Peter Kosminski, N: Juliette Binoche, Ralph Fiennes).

Humiseva harju kuuluu William Wylerin parhaiten muistettuihin elokuviin, mutta hänen ohjaajauransa kokonaisuutta vasten se osoittaa enemmän merkkejä tuottaja Goldwynin panoksesta kuin ohjaajansa draamallisista ja tyylillisistä kehityslinjoista. Käsikirjoitus ja roolijako olivat jo valmiina Wylerin tullessa mukaan ja kuvausvaiheessa Goldwyn ulotti vaikutuksensa aina kameran paikkaa ja lähikuvien käyttöä myöten. Tässä mielessä Goldwynin paljon lainatussa lausunnossa on paljon totta: “Minä tein Humisenvan harjun, Wyler vain ohjasi sen”. Samana vuonna valmistuneen Tuulen viemän tavoin Humiseva harju onkin paradoksaalisesti sekä yhden miehen että kollektiivin luomus, osoitus “järjestelmän neroudesta” yksilöllisten lahjakkuuksien palveluksessa. Se pitäytyy romantiikan ja melodraaman Hollywood-konventioihin, mutta tavoittaa juuri sitä kautta kulttuurin eräänlaisen alitajunnan, yhteisen kokemuksen, jonka rakenteet on moneen kertaan koeteltu sekä kaupallisessa että esteettisessä kierrossa.
    Ben Hecht ja Charles MacArthur ovat mahdollisimman epäbrontelainen parivaljakko työstämään tarinaa, joka leiskuu synkkiä intohimoja ja kuolemaa voimakkaampaa rakkautta. Silti tai juuri siksi heidän poeettinen käsikirjoituksensa on dramaattisesti pitävämpi kuin alkuteos. Itse asiassa he ovat poistaneet romaanin koko toisen polven ja rajoittaneet tarinan Heathcliffiin ja Cathyyn, Edgar ja Isabella Lintoniin sekä heidän palvelijoihinsa ja koiriinsa ja lohduttomaan nummimaisemaan, joka on draaman tapahtumapaikka. Kyseessä on kunnioittavasti ja hyvin kirjoitettu sovitus, joka iskee kirjan ytimeen, tutkii sen varjoja ja iskee dramaattista tulta siihen kätketyistä villeistä aineksista. Siinä missä Buñuel antoi meksikolaisessa versiossaan “hullun rakkauden” palaa latinalaisella kiihkolla ja korosti henkilöiden luokkaeroja, amerikkalainen sovitus on toki pidättyväinen ja sovinnainen – myönteisessä mielessä kontrolloitu. Draaman sykkeessä on yhtä kaikki jäljellä jotakin ylitsepursuvaa, Heathcliffin rakkauden ja vihan kuohunta, sen murtuminen vasten yorkshireläisen maailman pehmeyttä, haaste jonka hän uljaasti heittää taivaalle ja helvetille ja itse kuolemalle.
    Visuaalisesti Humiseva harju kytkeytyy goottilaisen romantiikan perinteeseen eikä kaihda edes kauhuelokuvan kuvastoa. Mestarikuvaaja Gregg Toland valitsi tietoisesti romanttisen tyylilajin, “todellisuuspaon ja fantasian” linjan, joka antoi yleisölle tilaa “unelmoida kauniiden lähikuvien pyörteessä” ja loi raskaan latautuneisuuden, pehmeän kynttilänvalon, pitkien lämpimien varjojen tai usvaisen koleuden atmosfäärin. Laurence Olivierin tulkinta ei ole täysin ristiriidaton, mutta parhaimmillaan hänen fysiikkansa ja äänensä yhdessä luovat kiehtovan sekoituksen viettelevyyttä, uhkaa ja ironiaa, tavoittavat Brontën Heathcliffille ja koko romaanille ominaisen yhdistelmän hurjuutta ja ankaruutta, kuumeista energiaa ja mielikuvituksen kontrollia.

– Michael A. Andereggin (William Wyler, 1979) ja muiden lähteiden mukaan ST. Tekijätietoa päivitti AA 23.1.2003

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