Name Occurs Before Title
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7 Apr 1939
Hollywood premiere: 24 Mar 1939
5 Dec 1938--early Mar 1939
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(Cathy [Catherine Earnshaw])
Leo G. Carroll
(Cathy, as a child)
(Heathcliff, as a child)
(Hindley, as a child)
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.
Samuel Goldwyn, Inc.
United Artists Corp.
(Gen press rep)
Based on the novel
by Emily Brontë (London, 1847).
Passed By NBR:
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Brothers and sisters
Death and dying
Marriage of convenience
Moors and heaths
North York Moors (England)
Nursing back to health
According to an Aug 1936
news item, producer Walter Wanger, who owned the film rights to
previous to Samuel Goldwyn, planned to film the story with Anatole Litvak directing and Charles Boyer and Sylvia Sidney starring. An Oct 1937
article noted that after two years on his production schedule, Wanger decided to abandon
and put the rights, along with Charles MacArthur's and Ben Hecht's script and some backgrounds already planned or constructed by art director Alexander Toluboff, up for sale. The article also noted that before Wanger decided to sell
, he had signed Harold Young to direct the picture. M-G-M put in its bid for the rights, but it was Goldwyn who eventually acquired the property. According to a biography of director William Wyler, Goldwyn initially refused to buy the story, stating that he thought it was "too gloomy" and that he did not like stories "with people dying in the end." Wyler's biography also notes that while Goldwyn was considering the property, Bette Davis tried to convince producer Jack Warner to buy the script for her. According to
, soon after buying the rights to the script, Goldwyn began negotiations for English actor James Mason to star. A Jun 1938
news item noted that Tyrone Power was sought for the lead. An Oct 1938
news item indicates that Goldwyn had signed Joseph Calleia for "an important role," but he did not appear in the released film.
Contemporary news items note that Brontë societies worldwide wrote Goldwyn and urged him to remain as faithful in detail as possible to the original novel, and protested the use of any one of a number of replacement titles for the story that were rumored to have been considered. Titles reportedly considered by the Goldwyn sales office were
Fun on the Farm
He Died for Her
. Although the script remained faithful in many respects to the novel, it covered only the events pertaining to the first generation of characters in the novel. The time period of the story, according to modern sources, was changed from the late eighteenth century to 1841 because Wyler did not like the dresses of the earlier period. Goldwyn's biography notes that he and Wyler quarreled often during production, a situation that reportedly grew most serious when Goldwyn insisted that Wyler reshoot the ending. Not satisfied with an ending in which both the hero and the heroine die, Goldwyn asked Wyler to add a final scene showing Heathcliff and Cathy reunited in Heaven. When Wyler balked at the producer's demand and refused to comply with it, Goldwyn suspended Wyler and threatened to hire a new director to film the scene. Goldwyn eventually got his way and the superimposed image of Heathcliff and Cathy ascending towards Heaven together was used as the final shot.
A Jan 1939
article indicates that some filming took place in the Canejo Hills, about fifty miles from Hollywood, where a set resembling the Yorkshire moors surrounding Wuthering Heights was constructed. A modern source notes that some shooting took place at Chatsworth, CA. Although a
pre-release news item refers to noted still photographer Robert Coburn as a cameraman, along with Gregg Toland, the exact nature of Coburn's work on the film has not been determined. Coburn accompanied Toland to Lone Pine, CA, where cloud and rain effects were to be filmed.
pre-release news items also note that high winds on the location shoot caused Merle Oberon to injure her ankle, and that her injury precluded her appearance in long shots.
Modern sources indicate that actor Robert Newton was originally tested for the part of Heathcliff, and that Ronald Colman and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. were considered for the part.
was the first film on English actress Flora Robson's contract with Goldwyn. According to modern sources, Laurence Olivier, who was seeking a divorce from his wife Jill Esmond at the time, insisted that his girl friend, Vivien Leigh, be cast in the part of Cathy. Goldwyn, however, remained firm in his decision to cast Oberon, whom he had under contract. Leigh was eventually cast in
Gone With the Wind
marked Oberon's last film for Goldwyn and was the second of two Olivier-Oberon pictures, the first of which was the 1938 film
The Divorce of Lady X
The film received an Academy Award for Best Cinematography and was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Best Picture, Best Actor (Olivier), Best Supporting Actress (Geraldine Fitzgerald), Best Director, Best Screenplay, Interior Decoration (James Basevi) and Original Score.
was named Best Picture of the Year by the New York Film Critics and also placed fourth on
's Ten Best Pictures of 1939 critics' poll. A 1979
article quotes Olivier as saying that
"was a lousy picture," and notes that the actor said that he would not watch it on television. The film was re-issued in 1989 to commemorate its fiftieth anniversary and in honor of Olivier's death.
Other film adaptations of Brontë's novel include the 1920 British Ideal Films production, directed by A. V. Bramble and starring Milton Rosmer and Anne Trevor; the 1953 Mexican film
Abismos de Pasión
, directed by Luis Buñuel and starring Jorge Mistral and Irasema Diliàn; the 1970 American International Pictures production, directed by Robert Fuest and starring Timothy Dalton and Anna Calder-Marshall; the 1985 French production
, directed by Jacques Rivette and starring Lucas Belvaux and Fabienne Babe; the 1988 Japanese film
Arashi ga oka
, directed by Yoshishige Yoshida and starring Yusaku Matsuda and Yûko Tanaka; and the 1992 Paramount Pictures production, directed by Peter Kosminsky, starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche, and featuring singer Sinéad O'Connor as Emily Brontë. The Paramount film, unlike previous adaptations, covered the entire Brontë novel.
An operatic adaption of
, written and composed by Carlisle Ford, was performed by the New York City Opera Company and starred John Reardon and Phyllis Curtin. The opera had its world premiere in Santa Fe, NM, on 16 Jul 1958. Many stage versions of
have been produced, including England's Royalty Theatre production, which opened in London on 3 Jun 1934 and was directed by Olive Walter and R. Eric Lee and starred R. Eric Lee and Betty Hardy; and New York's Longacre Theatre production, which opened on 27 Apr 1939 and was directed by Stewart Chaney and starred John Emery and Edith Barrett. Television adaptations of Brontë's novel include the Kraft Theatre production, starring John Baragray and Louisa Horton, which aired on the NBC network on 24 Nov 1948; the Studio One production, directed by Paul Nickell and starring Charlton Heston and Mary Sinclair, which aired on the CBS television network on 30 Oct 1950; and the DuPont Show of the Month production, directed by Daniel Petrie and starring Richard Burton and Rosemary Harris, which was televised on the CBS network on 9 May 1958. A musical adaptation set in contemporary Los Angeles, directed by Suri Krishnamma and starring Erika Christensen, Mike Vogel and Katherine Heigl, aired on cable's MTV on 14 Sep 2003. Three Lux Radio Theatre adaptations of
were produced. The first, featuring Barbara Stanwyck, Brian Aherne and Ida Lupino, was broadcast on 18 Sep 1939; the second, also starring Lupino, was broadcast on 4 Nov 1940; and the third, featuring Merle Oberon and Cameron Mitchell, aired in 1955.
25 Mar 39
28 Mar 39
4 Aug 36
25 Oct 37
2 Oct 38
3 Oct 38
13 Oct 38
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30 Nov 38
9 Dec 38
4 Mar 39
25 Mar 39
Motion Picture Daily
28 Mar 39
Motion Picture Herald
1 Apr 39
New York Times
New York Times
14 Apr 39
29 Mar 39
Display Movie Summary
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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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