The project seems to have instigated by Louis M. "Deke" Heyward, AIP's point man in the U.K., whose British-U.S. co-productions for AIP were generally lackluster, with only The Conqueror Worm/The Witchfinder General (1968) and The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) standing out. Adaptations of classic literature were in vogue at the time, particularly on the heels of the Franco Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet (1968). AIP perhaps thought, like that film, a new film of Wuthering Heights would appeal to their teenage base and, besides, it did have ghosts, albeit poltergeists far removed from The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini.
Despite an unusually prestigious release, the movie even opening at New York's famed Radio City Music Hall, it was neither a critical nor commercial success, and AIP's plans to adapt other classic novels were quietly scuttled.
Nevertheless, their Wuthering Heights is actually pretty good for what it is. In some respects it's more faithful than the far better regarded 1939 film directed by William Wyler. The cast is excellent, and better suited to their parts than those in the 1939 film version. It lacks the Hollywood polish of that adaptation but is more historically authentic and the budget, reportedly $2-3 million but probably closer to $1 million, is adequate.
As with Wyler's film, this version of Wuthering Heights dramatizes only the first sixteen of the novel's thirty-four chapters, omitting entirely the subsequent generation of characters, and in so doing alters the ending from Brontė's original story.
In the late 1700s, Mr. Earnshaw (Harry Andrews) returns home to Wuthering Heights following an arduous two-day ride from Liverpool. To everyone's surprise he has brought back a young homeless boy he names Heathcliff. He's decided to adopt Heathcliff, to replace the son he and his wife (Rosalie Crutchley) lost some time before, presumably to disease. Earnshaw's daughter, Catherine, and Heathcliff become inseparable, but Hindley, the older Earnshaw son, resents the boy's presence.
Some years later both parents are dead and Hindley (now played by Julian Glover), married to Frances (Morag Hood), becomes the new master of Wuthering Heights. The now adult Heathcliff (Timothy Dalton) is banished to the barn and only allowed to remain as a lowly servant.
Despite his diminished status, Heathcliff continues spending time with Catherine (now played by Anna Calder-Marshall), an unorthodox relationship that's partly childlike, partly romantic. Frances dies soon after giving birth, causing Hindley to descend into drunken hedonism.
Catherine becomes increasingly attracted to their neighbors, the Linton family, landed gentry. Beguiled by their elegant lifestyle, this causes a growing rift between her and Heathcliff. Eventually the Lintons' heir, Edgar (Ian Ogilvy), proposes marriage to Catherine. She accepts but confesses to Nelly Dean (Judy Cornwell), the Earnshaw's longtime servant and the story's narrator, that her heart belongs to Heathcliff, a man she cannot marry because of his servant class status.
Robert Fuest directed. A former production designer-turned-television director (particularly numerous episodes of The Avengers), Fuest's main contributions to Wuthering Heights are evocative expressions of loneliness and isolation through his and cinematographer John Coquillon's lensing of the stark North Yorkshire landscape. Peculiarly enough, his later, much-maligned horror film The Devil's Rain (1975) created similar feelings of dread, albeit in a desert setting.
I never much cared for Wyler's film, believing Merle Oberon (as Catherine) and especially Laurence Olivier (as Heathcliff) miscast. Heyward said at the time, "The last version portrayed him as a regular nice guy and her as sweetness and light. That was not the truth and Hollywood now goes in for the truth. Heathcliff was a bastard and Cathy a real bitch and that's how they'll be in this film."
That's not inaccurate. It's pretty hard to accept the notion of a young Olivier covered in grime and sleeping in a barn, but Dalton looks like he belongs there. Likewise, Anna Calder-Marshall's mesmerizing Catherine projects an ethereal eccentricity, like a woman whose emotions and loyalties are continually short-circuiting. This Wuthering Heights largely rejects the romanticism of the 1939 version, a distortion, really, of Brontė's themes, that nevertheless influenced most subsequent adaptations and percetions of the work generally. In this version, even Hindley subtly, gradually, becomes more sympathetic during the film's second half. The 1939 film also incorrectly set the film in the middle nineteenth century, supposedly because producer Samuel Goldwyn preferred the fashions of that period to the authentic Regency styles of earlier that century.
Beyond the fine principal performances of Calder-Marshall, Dalton, and Julian Glover, Judy Cornwell is especially good as Nellie, who unlike other adaptations secretly is in love with Hindley, a device that adds to the film's effectiveness. In smaller roles, Witchfinder General stars Ogilvy and Hillary Dwyer [Heath] (as Isabella Linton) are good, as are all the younger players, while great veteran character actors like Harry Andrews, Rosalie Crutchley, Hugh Griffith (as Dr. Kenneth), Aubrey Woods (as Joseph, another Earnshaw servant) and many others have fine moments.
Adding class to this atypical AIP production, Michel Legrand was brought in to write the film's excellent score, while Maurice Binder designed its titles.
Video & Audio
A Twilight Time release licensed from MGM, Wuthering Heights is presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen in 1080p. The transfer is reasonably good though not particularly noteworthy. The 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is fine, however, supported by optional English subtitles, and the disc is region-free. This is a limited edition release of 3,000 units.
Supplements include a most welcome isolated music track of Legrand's fine score and an audio commentary track by film historian Justin Humphreys. A trailer is also included, along with Twilight Time's usual booklet essay by Julie Kirgo.
Not at all bad, AIP's film of Wuthering Heights (boy, does that sound weird) is perfectly respectable; not perfect, but in many ways extremely well done. Highly Recommended.