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WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939)

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It’s strange to think that what has often been called the definitive interpretation of Emily Brontë’s tale of doomed love on the British moors departed so much from her novel in so many ways. When Samuel Goldwyn hired Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur to adapt the book, they knew they were wrestling with a sprawling, unwieldy narrative. They cut more than half the novel—an entire generation descended from Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and Cathy (Merle Oberon)—and moved the action from the late 18th to the mid-19th century. Yet the film perfectly captured the feel of the original source. Part of that was Gregg Toland’s cinematography, who used high-speed film and high-intensity lights to create a candlelit look that won him an Oscar. Composer Alfred Newman also captured much of the story’s romance in his poignant music. The other major contributor to the film’s power was Olivier. Although he hated director William Wyler’s practice of demanding repeated takes with no specific notes, he would later say it wore down his stage-based over-acting. He also used a psychological approach to Heathcliff, the outsider who makes good to avenge Cathy’s rejection of him. Instead of playing a stereotypical dreamy lover, he brought a brooding intensity to the film that audiences still find incredibly sexy today. (d. William Wyler, 104m, DCP)

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