Wuthering Heights ,1970 A.I.P ( Twilight Time Blu-ray – limited pressing of 3,000 only)
Region free. Color . 1 hr 44 mins List Price: $29.95
AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES never won an Academy Award. It was too busy making money on low budget features. While the larger studios saw their profits dipping due to changing audience demographics and the lure of television, A.I.P was able to make films that would appeal to certain demographics, seeing trends and making films cheaply and quickly.
Teenage themed -movies, horror movies, and later rebel outsider films were popular with the younger crowds who were filling drive -ins.
Then Roger Corman threw off their formula. He made a horror film, yes but it was as expensive as two of their regular films, in color and wide screen.
It made money. Lots of it. Better, it got good reviews. AIP was getting respectability.
It was a heady experience to finally stop being the Rodney Dangerfield of studios.
Oh, they kept grinding out Beach blankets stuffed into a wild bikini on wheels two headed transplants, but they also would continue to do, for them, a prestige picture, usually with the name of Edgar Allan Poe attached.
The zenith of these films was MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (AIP ,1964) which was incredibly stylish (thanks to the magnificent cinematography of Nicholas Roeg).
AIP kept grinding out films, doing quite well but reviews were of the nature of “good for its kind”.
In 1970, they took a chance again on some “prestige” pictures, picking up for distribution the independent produced feature JULIUS CAESAR (1970) starring Charlton Heston, Jason Robards, John Gielgud, Diana Rigg, and many others. It flopped both financially and critically.
However, Louis M.” Deke” Heyward, who oversaw A.I.P. productions lensed in the U.K. (and whose career included the tv animated series WINKY DINK & YOU ,1953)pushed for something more ambitious.
Franco Zeffirelli ‘s ROMEO & JULIET (Paramount,1968) had been a huge cross over hit with both young audiences as well as their parents, and Heyward felt that he had a classic romance that would appeal to a similar cross over crowd. Also in 1970 , M.G.M. was going to release a big historical romance ,RYAN’s DAUGHTER, so A.I.P. probably felt that this would a trend worth taking part in.
With one of the largest budgets ever accorded an American International film (publicity bragged about 3 million dollars, equivalent to what United Artists spent on their 1971 prestige period film THE MUSIC LOVERS by Ken Russell. In comparison, another U.K. production from AIP in 1970, SCREAM & SCREAM AGAIN, cost about $350,000.).
Emily Bronte’s only novel, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, was published in 1847 with a pseudonym used for the author (“Ellis Belle”). Emily Bronte died the following year at age 30 from tuberculosis. Charlotte edited the novel and had the novel published again under her sister’s proper name in 1850. By then the name Bronte was known due to the other sister’s works, Anne’s AGNES GRAY (1847, under the pen name Acton Bell then under her own name in 1850) and Charlotte’s JANE EYRE (1947 under the name Currer Bell, then the following year in the United States by Charlotte Bronte)
The tragedy of Emily’s early death adds an air of tragic Romanticism that already permeates the novel. The work was received with mixed feelings, some due to its criticism of Victorian mores. It was, however, a big seller, and has become required reading in many college literature classes.
To me, revisiting the book recently, it seemed to me to be a story of a dysfunctional destructive relationship that would not be out of place in a 50 SHADES OF GRAY story! Her playing with his affections and his obsessiveness destroys them both, with events of mental and physical abuse that make a modern reader ponder, so one can imagine how readers of that more gentile time reacted.
Still ,the basic story stayed popular with readers ,and it’s basic structure served as a frame work for future popular novels as GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell (1936 ,MacMillan) REBECCA by Daphne Du Maurier(1938 ,Victor Golanz,U.K.) and DRAGONWYCK by Anya Seton (1944,Houghton Miffin ).Incidentally ,Twilight Time has just released a magnificent must have Blue Ray of the film of DRAGONWYCK https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/dragonwyck-blu-ray/
In 1939, often called the greatest year for movies, Samuel Goldwyn produced the version now best remembered telling of the tale, with director William Wyler guiding a superlative cast and crew through a stirring moving version of the tale. Laurence Olivier became a movie matinee idol (though he had starred in several films before as well as being a star of the stage in two countries) due to his brooding portrayal of Heathcliff. The director and star often clashed, but in the end, Olivier was glad that Wyler how to truly focus as a film actor. Merle Oberon embodied Cathy, David Niven the good but weak Edgar, Donald Crisp, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Flora Robson…. An embarrassment of acting riches. Add to that a literate screenplay by FRONT PAGE creators Charles MacArthur & Ben Hecht, a beautiful Alfred Newman score and cinematography by the magnificent Gregg Toland, it is little wonder that the film in 2007 was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.
Eliminated from this version was the son that Heathcliff fathered nor Cathy’s daughter, both of whom are major characters at the end of the novel. However, the ending of this film retains a powerful gothic and supernatural finale that leaves people weeping.
The BBC over the years has done various versions for tv and American television produced various adaptations , such as this heavily abridged production for CBS in 1950, starring a very stiff Charlton Heston as Heathcliff https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbiaEgjgJX8 .
The 1970 version had a screenplay by Patrick Tilley, who seemed to have had a limited career. An episode of an obscure U.K. tv series starring Patrick Allen called CRANE (1963-5, A.R.T.), additional dialogue for a 1968 caper film called ONLY WHEN I LARF(Paramount)and then this. Later he went on to write for Amicus /AIP the film THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977), the disappointing THE LEGACY (Universal,1978) and another supernatural obscurity, GUN OF THE BLACK SUN (2011).
Like many previous versions, the second half of the book is jettisoned to concentrate on the obsessive love/hate relationship of Heathcliff and Cathy.
Chosen to oversee this adaptation was former art director turned director Robert Fuest. Fuest had mostly done television, helming several episodes of THE AVENGERS (A.B.C.,1961-9). He changed his style for his directorial debut to a more subtle one in his superlative thriller AND SOON THE DARKNESS (1970, Associated British/EMI) before moving on to WUTHERING HEIGHTS. A.I.P must have liked what he did, as they let him go back to his flashier style in the brilliant ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES (1971) and its sequel.
Composer Michel Legrand gave the film an extra feeling of class, as he had worked on such major films as ICE STATION ZEBRA (MGM ,1968). Here, he writes a classical theme that underlines the tragedy and romance of the piece.
His choice of cinematographer John Coquillon had a wonderful feel for period, as he lensed AIP/Tigon’s WITCHFINDER GENERAL in 1968. The color and cinematography help create the sense of mood, of isolation and madness. Coquillon would go on to be a director of photography on several later Sam Peckinpah films, including STRAW DOGS (ABC/Cinerama ,1971).
The opening shot right away sets up the film. A close shot of a beautiful field and babbling brook, then the camera tilts up and, in the background, we see a funeral taking place. We observe the sad mourners as the body is lowered into the grave. One of the mourners looks up and the camera shows a lone horseman silhouetted against the gray barren sky. This is our introduction to Cathy (already dead) and Heathcliff (and aloof figure apart from the rest).
After the titles (by Maurice Binder, not what we expect from the dazzling eye of the designer of the magnificent James Bond openings), we flash back to a family awaiting the return of their father.
The children are awaiting gifts, and even the servant girl as been promised something special. However, when Mr. Earnshaw (the marvelous Harry Andrews) finally arrives, he has with him a small orphan boy, looking almost wildly feral, that he claims that he found in London. Mrs. Earnshaw (Rosalie Crutchley) is angry, feeling that the husband has in fact brought home the result of one of his affairs (adding a dark hint of incest to the rest of the tale, if true). Mr. Earnshaw says no, but that he has named the child Heathcliff, in memory of a son they had who died some time before.
Their son Hindley takes an instant dislike to Heathcliff, as he sees that a gift that his father has brought him is broken, blaming his new “brother”. The mother implores her husband that he not forget Hindley in his inheritance, and not favor the cuckoo in their family nest. Their young daughter Cathy seems fascinated by the young man.
Years later (the film, like the original tale, is set during the mid-1700s), Hindley (now played by Julian Glover) is master and treats Heathcliff (now portrayed by Timothy Dalton) as little more than a servant.
The resentment between the pair is palpable, but the only thing that keeps Heathcliff there is his love for Cathy (Anna Calder-Marshall). Fuest’s first shot of the now adult young woman hints already at her unstable nature, which will see grow as the story goes on.
When Hindley’s wife dies in childbirth, his already sadistic nature comes out full force, sending all his pain and anger towards Heathcliff. Hindley’s drinking exacerbates the problem.
Catherine accepts the proposal of wealthy neighbor Edgar Linton (Ian Ogilvy) but confides to servant Nelly (Judy Cornwall) that she still loves Heathcliff. However, because of the social stigma, she cannot marry someone below her station.
This drives Heathcliff to his vow of revenge, which ends up in destruction for the main characters, with Heathcliff cursing his love to haunt him forever.
While the 1939 adaptation had a sense of heightened almost operatic passion, the 1970 version due to it’s location filming, has a feeling of being more grounded. Therefore, though the film was rated G, the brutality seems more violent. Bucking the trend of many films of the time, the sex is not shown onscreen but that the destructive passion between the two leads is quite palpable, with Heathcliff becoming a brutal Stanley Kowalski in ruffles dealing with his mad paramour.
This was Timothy Dalton’s first leading film role, after making his screen debut in THE LION IN WINTER (Avco Embassy,1968) as the scheming King Phillip of France. He also played the weak Prince in the big budget CROMWELL(Columbia,1970) and the next year the weak Henry, Lord Darnley in MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS (Universal ,1971). Here, he is a brooding, barely contained wounded animal, who slowly comes undone due to his obsession. While Olivier in the 1939 version always seemed to be thinking, Dalton is almost animalistic, with his moments of passion turning quickly into wounded anger, lashing out at all.
Anna Calder-Marshall is fascinating in her portrayal of Cathy. As mentioned, she hints at the inner demons that are growing within her, so when we see her eyes when she reappears at the end to tempt Heathcliff to his death, her eyes (in close ups shot during reshoots to patch up studio cuts) have an evil madness that would fit in perfectly with any Roger Corman Poe villainess. Sadly, she did not do a lot of film and television (she was a marvelous Cordelia to Laurence Oliver’s Lear in the 1983 ITV tv adaptation), seemingly satisfied to be married to David Burke (one of Jeremy Brett’s two t.v. Dr Watsons) and mother to actor Tom Burke.
The film was the first A.I.P. motion picture to premiere at the RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL. Critical reviews were mixed, and though the film did decently at the box office, it was not enough for A.I.P., and so several planned classic story adaptations were dropped.
When the film was released on VHS, the color was muted, and the image seemed compressed. Later, when MGM took over the A.I.P library, they released a much cleaner version of the film to DVD (including one that was sold along with the cliff notes of the book!!).
TWILIGHT TIME, once again, has released what perhaps is the best version of this film that we will ever see. The color palette seems to be a proper gray, brown and gray tone, conveying the feelings of the rustic and lonely wild countryside. The film is presented in 1:85:1 widescreen in a 1080p transfer.
There are optional English subtitles that follow the dialogue and action and are quite easy to read.
Other extras include the isolated music score by Michel Legrand. Originally released on vinyl (on AIP’s short-lived AIR RECORDS, A-1039) and later a limited-edition CD from LA LA LAND, LLLCD 1087), you can now enjoy his beautiful score seeing how much it supports the imagery of the film.
The original theatrical trailer is also presented, where we are “introduced” to Timothy Dalton, and told Timothy Dalton is Heathcliff, Heathcliff is Timothy Dalton and Anna Calder-Marshall is Cathy while Cathy is Anna Calder-Marshall. Got that?
The greatest extra is the information packed running commentary by film historian Justin Humphreys (Interviews Too Shocking to Print, Bear Manor, 2016). While he gives some interesting background on the film’s history (including that director Curtis Harrington was originally developing the story before AIP moved him to WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO? (1971) and that Bryan Forbes of EMI recommended Fuest for the project, and that Ian Ogilvy and Hillary Dwyer are reunited after working on WITCHFINDER GENERAL), what is most fascinating is how he discusses the original cut of the film that seems no longer to exist.
Having a copy of the original screenplay, we are informed of sequences that makes us wonder why they were cut, while others we can understand their loss for clarity and running time. Sam Arkoff’s son does not think that a complete print exists, and that the original negative was cut to produce the version that stands. Humphreys also explains what is now missing, and that the voice overs were meant to patch over missing and reshot sequences.
The disc is region free, and like most releases from the company, are a limited edition pressing of only 3,000.
Highly recommended for fans of classic Gothic Dramas.
–Kevin G Shinnick