Skip to main content

I don’t believe in phantoms sobbing through the night.

Wuthering Heights

(SPOILERS) This is the version that inspired Kate to ascend those lofty pop peaks. Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht (and an uncredited John Huston) ditch the generational plotting of Emily Bronte’s 1847 novel, and director William Wyler, in partnership with cinematographer Gregg Toland, ups the gothic atmosphere. But Wuthering Heights is all about Sir Larry, glowering with sociopathic venom.

Olivier credited Wyler – earning his second nomination – for tutoring him the hard way in the craft of the movie performance over the stage one (Larry admitted to having been full of hot air and condescension, the Wuthering Heights experience bringing him down to earth with a bump). The result was his first Best Actor nomination.

No one much loved the Wyler working experience, by the sound of it. David Niven – variously reported as having a “no-crying” clause he waved under the director’s nose and being plied with a menthol mist that elicited green goo from his nose rather than the elusive desired sobbing – had previously worked with Wyler on Dodsworth. He soon rued the reunion, subjected as he was to tens of takes for each scene. Also on the fraught front, Olivier (as Heathcliff) didn’t much like Merle Oberon (as Cathy) by the sound of it, resenting her getting the role over Vivien Leigh.

If anything, Oberon, under contract with Goldwyn, is the production’s chief weak link, failing to sufficiently inhabit or exude Cathy’s spiritedness. Consequently, it’s much easier to invest in the plight of poor Isabella Linton (Geraldine Fitzgerald), hoodwinking herself into falling for the manipulative Heathcliff, who is only out to inspire Cathy’s jealousy and get his own back for her marriage to Edgar Linton (Niven). There’s an awful lot of abuse hurled Heathcliff’s way during the picture’s first half, of the “You gypsy beggar!” variety, such that we really are right behind him feeling aggrieved. The increasingly pickled Hindley (Hugh Williams) is an especially staunch Heathcliff critic, but at various points pretty much everyone involved uses derogatory epithets. Such sympathy is quickly out the door when Heathcliff, rich and returned to the moor, starts behaving as callously as possible,

In tandem with this, Wyler makes Wuthering Heights a particularly dour and humourless affair. Even Niven has no opportunity to lighten the proceedings, with Edgar disapproving of Heathcliff, forbidding his sister to consort with him and grovelling at Cathy’s feet. Heathcliff is granted the occasional blackly comic line; when Hindley urges Isabella to kill her husband, Heathcliff enters with a “Well, that’s the first lucid talk I’ve heard out of Hindley for weeks. It’s not very Christian talk, but at least it makes sense”.

I can’t say I find the as-bad-as-each-other lovers, doing each other and those around them ill, thrust of Bronte’s novel that compelling (“Ellen, I am Heathcliff” realises Cathy at one point), but as long as there are plot intrigues to be mined, the picture remains reasonably engrossing. The tit-for-tat nature of the central relationship ultimately fails to stir strong emotions, however, which means those on the peripheries provoke more sympathy. The “happy ending”, as Heathcliff and Cathy’s spirits head off up the moor together, is particularly unearned by that measure.

Interesting to hear Leo G Carroll, best known his cultured establishment bastions in Hitchcock movies, doing a solid Yorkshire accent. Notable too that the younger versions of the leads are undiluted Americans. Goldwyn reputedly considered it the best of his films (and his film, rather than Wyler’s), so he must have been gleaning something very different from the picture to me. Something with acres of wrought overemphasis.

Because the melodrama here is ratchetted up to eleven. Accordingly, the biggest encumbrance, far from uncommon in classic Hollywood, is that Alfred Newman’s score is constantly overbearing, laying it on thick in every scene and consequently rather suffocating the proceedings. The positives of Wuthering Heights are part and parcel of such an approach however. Wyler and Toland imbue it with bags of atmosphere, and the black and white cinematography – earning Toland the sole win of the film’s eight Oscar nominations including Best Picture – is particularly vivid and vibrant. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’d rather sit with this version than Andrea Arnold’s lo-fi 2011 take.


Popular posts from this blog

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one.

Scanners (1981) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg has made a career – albeit, he may have “matured” a little over the past few decades, so it is now somewhat less foregrounded – from sticking up for the less edifying notions of evolution and modern scientific thought. The idea that regress is, in fact, a form of progress, and unpropitious developments are less dead ends than a means to a state or states as yet unappreciated. He began this path with some squeam-worthy body horrors, before genre hopping to more explicit science fiction with Scanners , and with it, greater critical acclaim and a wider audience. And it remains a good movie, even as it suffers from an unprepossessing lead and rather fumbles the last furlong, cutting to the chase when a more measured, considered approach would have paid dividends.

You seem particularly triggered right now. Can you tell me what happened?

Trailers The Matrix Resurrections   The Matrix A woke n ? If nothing else, the arrival of The Matrix Resurrections trailer has yielded much retrospective back and forth on the extent to which the original trilogy shat the bed. That probably isn’t its most significant legacy, of course, in terms of a series that has informed, subconsciously or otherwise, intentionally or otherwise, much of the way in which twenty-first century conspiracy theory has been framed and discussed. It is however, uncontested that a first movie that was officially the “best thing ever”, that aesthetically and stylistically reinvigorated mainstream blockbuster cinema in a manner unseen again until Fury Road , squandered all that good will with astonishing speed by the time 2003 was over.

We’re looking into a possible pattern of nationwide anti-Catholic hate crimes.

Vampires aka John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter limps less-than-boldly onward, his desiccated cadaver no longer attentive to the filmic basics of quality, taste, discernment, rhyme or reason. Apparently, he made his pre-penultimate picture to see if his enthusiasm for the process truly had drained away, and he only went and discovered he really enjoyed himself. It doesn’t show. Vampires is as flat, lifeless, shoddily shot, framed and edited as the majority of his ’90s output, only with a repellent veneer of macho bombast spread on top to boot.

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

Maybe I’m a heel who hates guys who hate heels.

Crimewave (1985) (SPOILERS) A movie’s makers’ disowning it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing of worth therein, just that they don’t find anything of worth in it. Or the whole process of making it too painful to contemplate. Sam Raimi’s had a few of those, experiencing traumas with Darkman a few years after Crimewave . But I, blissfully unaware of such issues, was bowled over by it when I caught it a few years after its release (I’d hazard it was BBC2’s American Wave 2 season in 1988). This was my first Sam Raimi movie, and I was instantly a fan of whoever it was managed to translate the energy and visual acumen of a cartoon to the realm of live action. The picture is not without its problems – and at least some of them directly correspond to why it’s so rueful for Raimi – but that initial flair I recognised still lifts it.

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.

You absolute horror of a human being.

As Good as it Gets (1997) (SPOILERS) James L Brooks’ third Best Picture Oscar nomination goes to reconfirm every jaundiced notion you had of the writer-director-producer’s capacity for the facile and highly consumable, low-cal, fast-food melodramatic fix with added romcom lustre. Of course, As Good as it Gets was a monster hit, parading as it does Jack in a crackerjack, attention-grabbing part. But it’s a mechanical, suffocatingly artificial affair, ponderously paced (a frankly absurd 139 minutes) and infused with glib affirmations and affections. Naturally, the Academy lapped that shit up, because it reflects their own lack of depth and perception (no further comment is needed than Titanic winning the big prize for that year).

You cut my head off a couple of dozen times.

Boss Level (2021) (SPOILERS) Lest you thought it was nigh-on impossible to go wrong with a Groundhog Day premise, Joe Carnahan, in his swaggering yen for overkill, very nearly pulls it off with Boss Level . I’m unsure quite what became of Carnahan’s early potential, but he seems to have settled on a sub-Tarantino, sub-Bay, sub-Snyder, sub-Ritchie butch bros aesthetic, complete with a tin ear for dialogue and an approach to plotting that finds him continually distracting himself, under the illusion it’s never possible to have too much. Of whatever it is he’s indulging at that moment.

I dreamed about a guy in a dirty red and green sweater.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) (SPOILERS) I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street a little under a decade after its release, and I was distinctly underwhelmed five or so sequels and all the hype. Not that it didn’t have its moments, but there was an “It’ll do” quality that reflects most of the Wes Craven movies I’ve seen. Aside from the postmodern tease of A New Nightmare – like Last Action Hero , unfairly maligned – I’d never bothered with the rest of the series, in part because I’m just not that big a horror buff, but also because the rule that the first is usually the best in any series, irrespective of genre, tends to hold out more often than not. So now I’m finally getting round to them, and it seemed only fair to start by giving Freddy’s first another shot. My initial reaction holds true.