Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 2, No. 15. July 26, 1939
Don't believe it! Sam Goldwyn has not done it again. He hasn't, as Alexander Woolcott says, "treated our Emily right." Not that the Great Goldwyn has made a complete failure of the Bronte classic. Rather has he so sought the aid of a galaxy of actors and actresses, his director. William Wyler, and a large technical staff, that in this film transcription of Emily Bronte, the genius of Goldwyn has been buried under a crust of convention that conceals too the genius of Emily Bronte. Consequently "Wuthering Heights" seemed somewhat of a cross between the extravagant emptiness of his "Marco Polo." the hideous patchwork of many hands, and the realism and pathos of Goldwyn's individual masterpiece, "Stella Dallas."
Into a story poorly adapted for the screen by Hecht and Macarthur, Sam has thrust Laurence Olivier and injected Merle Oberon. The capable Olivier merits praise for his performance but Merle Oberon fails to satisfy the demands made upon her by the role of Cathy. She splits her role in two, portraying in some scenes a Cathie that is the passionate, admiring lover of a princely Heathcliff, in others a Cathie that is the selfish, satisfied mistress of the Grange. Nowhere does she succeed in her attempts to weld the two opposing figures into the one character. Mind you, the task is hard, the attempt creditable, but her study has no unity, her emotion seems untrue. Her struggles with this complex character even seemed to lessen appreciation of Laurence Olivier's superb interpretation of the sultry Heathcliff. Indeed, both were handicapped in their many love scenes by an almost incredible fault in such a film—the everlasting accompaniment of a walling fiddle that intruded from the musical background, stood on a par with the players' voices and almost ordered the audience to sob and sniffle.
Discounting these defects were the unsurpassed artistic settings of James Basevi, the masterly photography, the skilful and tense opening. But not these, not even Laurence Olivier, nor those beautiful shots of wind in the heather of lovers beneath their castle crag, of horses racing against the grey sky, nor that atmosphere of obsessing vengeance, of passion nurtured in cold wind and cruel rain, of love frozen by life—none were enough to redeem "Wuthering Heights." Not enough to redeem it from raise emotion, poor adaptation, that plaintive violin, and Merle Oberon.