Cinema: The New Pictures: Apr. 17, 1939

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Wuthering Heights (United Artists-Sam Goldwyn). "A minor sensation has been caused by the announcement that the Hollywood film version of 'Wuthering Heights' is to be called Wuthering Heights. . . . The decision . . . [was] made by no less a person than Mr. Sam Goldwyn. Mr. Goldwyn is a legendary figure who has a fine autocratic way with the English language and chronology and things like that. . . . Still, the title is not everything; and its retention does not—witness among many others the conspicuous case of Bengal Lancer—at all imply that the film will be even remotely identifiable with the book."

These disdainful words appeared last August in a London Times editorial. Last week they might well have been eaten by their author. As produced by Mr. Goldwyn, directed by William Wyler and acted by Merle Oberon, Lawrence Olivier, David Niven and Flora Robson, Wuthering Heights is not only readily identifiable with the book but one of the season's distinguished pictures.

As cinematerial, Wuthering Heights might seem as farfetched a prospect as any book yet pillaged. It is crammed with neurotic, 19th-Century gloom, ridden with implications of incest, short on action, careless of conventional morality. As additional drawbacks, Mr. Olivier, entrusted with the crucial role of Heathcliff, boasts that he dislikes working for the movies and only does it for money; Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, preparing for their labors on Gunga Din, could barely be persuaded to leave their marathon backgammon game long enough to write a script. The script turned out brilliantly. Olivier's work as Heathcliff is a speaking tribute to the efficacy of the profit motive.

Before making the picture, Producer Goldwyn, a stickler for detail, landscaped 540 California acres into a Yorkshire moor. He imported eight British actors, a dialect expert to see that their accents matched, 1,000 panes of hand-blown glass for interior shots and 1,000 heather plants for outdoors. He did not attempt to send for Emily Bronte. In spite of this oversight, there is not much she could have done to improve this screen translation of her masterpiece.

Man of Conquest (Republic). This week's addition to the cinema's rapidly growing biography shelf is a lively portrait of General Sam Houston, Governor of Tennessee (1827-29), victor over Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna, and President of the Republic of Texas.

As a subject for polite, Hays-worthy cinema treatment, Sam Houston presented able Screenwriter Wells Root and his collaborators with notable problems. Houston's career as Governor was terminated abruptly when, for reasons which have never been completely explained, he left his first wife and the Governor's mansion almost simultaneously, three months after his marriage. In this picture, Houston (Richard Dix) is deserted by his bride and resigns later to spare her unpleasant publicity. The years when he lived among the Cherokee Indians, who called him "Big Drunk," are glossed over in a few sequences showing him as the red man's ambassador to his friend, Andrew Jackson.

It would take more than such trivial euphemisms to dim the vitality inherent in Houston's story. That vitality emerges on the screen as loud as a war whoop and as earthy as the badlands.

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