AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Wuthering Heights
Director: William Wyler (Dir)
Release Date:   7 Apr 1939
Duration (in mins):  103-104
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Cast: Merle Oberon  (Cathy [Catherine Earnshaw])
  Laurence Olivier  (Heathcliff)
  David Niven  (Edgar [Linton])
 

Summary: In the mid-19th century, on the barren moors in Yorkshire, England, stands Wuthering Heights, an old house in which the dour Heathcliff and his servants live. One night, during a snowstorm, Heathcliff is visited by a young man named Lockwood, who is to be Heathcliff's new neighbor. Lockwood asks for a cup of tea and a guide to take him to his place at The Grange, but Heathcliff refuses to give him an escort and reluctantly allows him to stay the night. Late that night, Lockwood's fitful sleep is disrupted by a noisy window shutter, and as he closes it, he hears a voice scream the name "Cathy" and feels an icy hand touch his. When Lockwood relates the disturbance to his host, Heathcliff rushes outside, into the blizzard, calling Catherine's name. Perplexed by the bizarre occurrence and Heathcliff's strange behavior, Lockwood asks Ellen Dean, the housekeeper, to tell him about Catherine. Ellen relates the story, which began forty years previously, when Wuthering Heights was owned by Cathy's family, the Earnshaws: One day, upon his return from a trip to Liverpool, Cathy's father introduces his children to an orphaned gypsy child whom he has brought to live with them. While Cathy becomes friendly with the boy, whom her father names Heathcliff, her brother Hindley is contemptuous of his presence and throws a stone at him. After vowing to take revenge on Hindley in the future, Heathcliff joins Cathy on a trip to Peniston Crag, a remote location where they pretend to be the king and queen of their make-believe castle. Following the death of Mr. Earnshaw, Hindley assumes control of Wuthering Heights and forces Heathcliff to become his stableboy. Years pass, and Heathcliff continues to labor under the cruel treatment of Hindley, who is now drinking heavily and gambling. Heathcliff finds comfort and protection in his friendship with the sympathetic Ellen and in his love for Cathy, who meets him secretly at Peniston Crag. While returning home from one of their afternoons at the crag, Heathcliff and Cathy stop to peek into an elegant ball taking place at the nearby Linton mansion. They are soon caught, however, by the Lintons' guard dogs, which attack and injure Cathy. Cathy receives kind attention from the Lintons, but when they mistreat Heathcliff, she advises him to leave and come back for her when he has attained wealth. Time passes, and Cathy, who has been recuperating at the Linton estate, is now the sweetheart of the young Edgar Linton, heir to the family fortune. When Cathy and Edgar visit Wuthering Heights, they are surprised by the presence of Heathcliff, who tells Cathy that his love for her is too strong to permit him to go away. Because Edgar looks down on Heathcliff, Cathy yells at Edgar to leave the house. One night, Cathy tells Ellen that Edgar has proposed to her, and when Heathcliff overhears her say that because Heathcliff has sunk so low, marrying him would demean her, he runs off and does not hear her tell Ellen that she truly loves him and feels that she is Heathcliff. Realizing that Heathcliff heard only the insult, Cathy runs after him. After searching for Heathcliff throughout the night, Cathy collapses on the moors and is found the next day by Edgar, who takes her to his estate, where she recovers from pneumonia. After regaining her health, Cathy marries Edgar and befriends his lonely sister Isabella. Several years pass, and Heathcliff, who disappeared on the night she became ill, returns to England after making a fortune abroad and secretly buys Wuthering Heights by paying Hindley's gambling and drinking debts. Appearing before Cathy as the rich and distinguished gentleman that she wanted him to be, Heathcliff seeks Cathy's love, but she spurns him. Heathcliff takes revenge on Cathy by marrying Isabella and treating her badly. Months later, Cathy becomes gravely ill and, on her deathbed, summons Isabella to her side. Isabella refuses to go, but when Heathcliff learns of her illness he rushes to her side, which makes Isabella realize that her husband is still in love with Cathy. At Linton, while Edgar is out gathering heather for her, Cathy confesses her love for Heathcliff and after they kiss, he carries her to the window for one last look at the moors. While Cathy dies in his arms, Heathcliff prays that her spirit will visit him and not let him live in peace until they are reunited. As Ellen concludes her story of Cathy and Heathcliff's ill-fated love, Dr. Kenneth enters the house and tells her that he saw Heathcliff on the moors with a woman, but when he approached them, found only Heathcliff's dead body. In the distance, Heathcliff's and Cathy's spirits ascend the Peniston Crag. 

Distribution Company: United Artists Corp.
Production Company: Samuel Goldwyn, Inc.
Director: William Wyler (Dir)
  Walter Mayo (Asst dir)
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn (Pres)
  Samuel Goldwyn (Prod)
Writer: Charles MacArthur (Scr)
  Ben Hecht (Scr)
  John Huston (Contr wrt)

Subject Major: Brothers and sisters
  Class distinction
  Courtship--Aggressive
  Foundlings
  Revenge
  Romance
  Unrequited love
 
Subject Minor: Adoption
  Alcoholism
  Balls (Parties)
  Blizzards
  Children
  Death and dying
  Debt
  Dogs
  England
  Family relationships
  Ghosts
  Grief
  Housekeepers
  Jealousy
  Marriage of convenience
  Moors and heaths
  Neglected wives
  North York Moors (England)
  Nursing back to health
  Physicians
  Pneumonia
  Romantic rivalry
  Servants
  Sisters-in-law
  Stableboys
  Weddings

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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