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

The Illumi-what-i?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) (SPOILERS) In which Sam Raimi proves that he can stand proudly with the best – or worst – of them as a good little foot soldier of the woke apocalypse. You’d expect the wilfully anarchic – and Republican – Raimi to choke on the woke, but instead, he’s sucked it up, grinned and bore it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so slavishly a production-line Marvel movie, both in plotting and character, and in nu-Feige progressive sensibilities, there was no chance of Sam staggering out from beneath its suffocating demands with anything more than a few scraps of stylistic flourish intact.

Ziggy smokes a lot of weed.

Moonfall (2022) (SPOILERS) For a while there, it looked as if Moonfall , the latest and least-welcomed – so it seems – piece of apocalyptic programming from Roland Emmerich, might be sending mixed messages. Fortunately, we need not have feared, as it turns out to be the same pedigree of disaster porn we’ve come to expect from the director, one of the Elite’s most dutiful mass-entertainment stooges, even if his lustre has rather dimmed since the glory days of 2012.

What’s so bad about being small? You’re not going to be small forever.

Innerspace (1987) There’s no doubt that Innerspace is a flawed movie. Joe Dante finds himself pulling in different directions, his instincts for comic subversion tempered by the need to play the romance plot straight. He tacitly acknowledges this on the DVD commentary for the film, where he notes Pauline Kael’s criticism that he was attempting to make a mainstream movie; and he was. But, as ever with Dante, it never quite turns out that way. Whereas his kids’ movies treat their protagonists earnestly, this doesn’t come so naturally with adults. I’m a bona fide devotee of Innerspace , but I can’t help but be conscious of its problems. For the most part Dante papers over the cracks; the movie hits certain keynotes of standard Hollywood prescription scripting. But his sensibility inevitably suffuses it. That, and human cartoon Martin Short (an ideal “leading man” for the director) ensure what is, at first glance just another “ Steven Spielberg Presents ” sci-fi/fantas

All I saw was an old man with a funky hand, that’s all I saw.

The Blob (1988) (SPOILERS) The 1980s effects-laden remake of a ’50s B-movie that couldn’t. That is, couldn’t persuade an audience to see it and couldn’t muster critical acclaim. The Fly was a hit. The Thing wasn’t, but its reputation has since soared. Like Invaders from Mars , no such fate awaited The Blob , despite effects that, in many respects, are comparable in quality to the John Carpenter classic – and are certainly indebted to Rob Bottin for bodily grue – and surehanded direction from Chuck Russell. I suspect the reason is simply this: it lacks that extra layer that would ensure longevity.

Are you telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor?

The Exorcist (1973) (SPOILERS) Vast swathes have been written on The Exorcist , duly reflective of its cultural impact. In a significant respect, it’s the first blockbuster – forget Jaws – and also the first of a new kind of special-effects movie. It provoked controversy across all levels of the socio-political spectrum, for explicit content and religious content, both hailed and denounced for the same. William Friedkin, director of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay based on Blatty’s 1971 novel, would have us believe The Exorcist is “ a film about the mystery of faith ”, but it’s evidently much more – and less – than that. There’s a strong argument to be made that movies having the kind of seismic shock on the landscape this one did aren’t simply designed to provoke rumination (or exultation); they’re there to profoundly influence society, even if largely by osmosis, and when one looks at this picture’s architects, such an assessment only gains in credibility.

That, my lad, was a dragon.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (SPOILERS) It’s alarming how quickly Peter Jackson sabotaged all the goodwill he amassed in the wake of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A guy who started out directing deliciously deranged homemade horror movies ended up taking home the Oscar for a fantasy movie, of all genres. And then he blew it. He went from a filmmaker whose naysayers were the exception to one whose remaining cheerleaders are considered slightly maladjusted. The Desolation of Smaug recovers some of the territory Jackson has lost over the last decade, but he may be too far-gone to ever regain his crown. Perhaps in years to come The Lord of the Rings trilogy will be seen as an aberration in his filmography. There’s a cartoonishness to the gleeful, twisted anarchy on display in his earlierr work that may be more attuned to the less verimilitudinous aspects of King Kong and The Hobbit s. The exceptions are his female-centric character dramas, Heavenly Creat

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Part I (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989) (SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch , or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins . Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon.  It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy ( Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Bi

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the