In 2007, Wuthering Heights was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
- Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff
- Merle Oberon as Catherine Earnshaw Linton
- David Niven as Edgar Linton
- Flora Robson as Ellen Dean
- Donald Crisp as Dr. Kenneth
- Geraldine Fitzgerald as Isabella Linton
- Leo G. Carroll as Joseph
- Hugh Williams as Hindley Earnshaw
- Miles Mander as Lockwood
- Cecil Kellaway as Earnshaw
- Cecil Humphreys as Judge Linton
- Sarita Wooton as Cathy - as a Child (as Sarita Wooten)
- Rex Downing as Heathcliff - as a Child
- Douglas Scott as Hindley - as a Child
ProductionThe project was initially intended as a vehicle for Merle Oberon, who was under contract with Goldwyn at the time. However, when Laurence Olivier was cast as Heathcliff, Vivien Leigh wanted to play the lead role alongside her then lover and future husband. Studio executives felt the role could not go to an actress who was largely unknown in America, but they did offer Leigh the part of Isabella Linton. She declined, and Geraldine Fitzgerald was cast. Leigh was cast in Gone with the Wind that same year, which won her an Academy Award for Best Actress; Merle Oberon did not receive a nomination for her performance.
There were clashes on the set between actors and the director. Both of the leading players began work on the film miserable at having to leave their loved ones back in the United Kingdom; Olivier missed his fiancée Vivien Leigh and Oberon had recently fallen in love with film producer Alexander Korda. Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier also apparently detested each other. Witnesses recall Oberon scolding Olivier for accidentally spitting on her during a particularly romantic balcony scene. Oberon shouted back to Wyler, "Tell him to stop spitting at me!" Olivier retorted by shouting, "What's a little spit for Chrissake, between actors? You bloody little idiot, how dare you speak to me...?" Oberon ran crying from the set after the outburst, and Wyler insisted Olivier apologize to her, which upset Olivier greatly.
Olivier also found himself becoming increasingly annoyed with William Wyler's exhausting style of film-making. After countless takes of one scene, he is said to have exclaimed, "For God's sake, I did it sitting down. I did it with a smile. I did it with a smirk. I did it scratching my ear. I did it with my back to the camera. How do you want me to do it?" Wyler's retort was, "I want it better." Olivier in later years was more kind in his opinion about Wyler. In both his autobiography and his book On Acting, he credits William Wyler with teaching him how to act in films, as opposed to on the stage, and for giving him a new respect for films. Olivier had tended to "ham it up", as if he were playing to the second balcony, but Wyler showed him how to act more subtly.
In the final sequence of Wuthering Heights, the spirits of Heathcliff and Cathy are seen walking together hand-in-hand, obviously in love. This scene is not found in the book and, according to literary critic John Sutherland, was likely the stark opposite of what Brontë intended the reader to understand. He contends that a contemporary reader would not have seen Cathy's ghost's actions as a gesture of undying love for Heathcliff but one of towering, protective rage; Cathy haunted Heathcliff to death only to prevent him from cheating her daughter out of her inheritance. Director Wyler hated the idea of the after-life scene and didn't want to do it but producer Samuel Goldwyn vetoed him, and the scene was added after primary filming was complete. As Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon had already moved on to other projects, doubles had to be used. Goldwyn subsequently claimed, "I made Wuthering Heights, Wyler only directed it." Goldwyn claimed that Wuthering Heights was his favorite of all his productions. Sutherland writes that this change to the ending has influenced how students view the novel and especially Cathy, who comes across as more passive and accepting of abuse than Brontë may have envisioned.
David Niven remembers the filming of Merle Oberon's deathbed scenes (recorded in his bestselling book The Moon's a Balloon) as less than romantic. He had been given a substance to help it appear as if he were crying, which instead had the effect of making "green goo" come out of his nose.
Awards and honors
- 1939: NYFCC Award for Best Picture of the Year
- 1939: Academy Award for Best Cinematography (in a black-and-white film; Gone With the Wind won in the same year for its color cinematography)
- 1939: Academy Award for Best Actor (Laurence Olivier)
- 1939: Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Geraldine Fitzgerald)
- 1939: Academy Award for Best Art Direction (James Basevi)
- 1939: Academy Award for Best Director
- 1939: Academy Award for Best Original Score
- 1939: Academy Award for Best Picture
- 1939: Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay