William Wyler’s beautiful and romantic 1939 drama Wuthering Heights, which was adapted from Emily Bronte’s sprawling novel, is a tragic love story set against the plaintive background of the Yorkshire moors. At the center of the drama is Heathcliff, a gypsy boy who is picked up on the streets of Liverpool by the wealthy aristocrat, Mr. Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights. As Heathcliff grows into manhood (Laurence Olivier), and after the death of his first master, he now finds himself forced to live as a servant/stable boy by Wuthering Height’s new master, Hindley Earnshaw (Hugh Williams). The once wild gypsy Heathcliff, who is now an incredibly rugged and handsome man, happens to catch the eye of Hindley’s sister, Cathy (Merle Oberon), a girl whom Heathcliff played with frequently when they were children. Cathy and Heathcliff’s love for one another is evident, but eventually Cathy succumbs to what society dictates of her and she throws away Heathcliff (who soons disappears) in favor of another man, Edgar Linton (David Niven). Now as Edgar’s bride, Cathy befriends Edgar’s lonely sister, Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Heathcliff eventually returns to Cathy as a wealthy man and purchases Wuthering Heights from the now financially-ruined Hindley. Despite his affection for her, Cathy again rebuffs Heathcliff, pushing him into the arms of Isabella. Heathcliff treats Isabella poorly and she soon learns what she feared most- that her husband has always loved Cathy. A tragic illness befalls Cathy and at her bedside, she reunites with Heathcliff and professes her love to him.
Wuthering Heights was one of 10 films nominated for Best Picture in 1939. The film garnered an impressive eight Academy Award nominations (securing Laurence Olivier his first of 10 career nominations) and it was the winner of one (Best Cinematography). One of the film’s nominations went to Geraldine Fitzgerald, nominee, (153), for her role as Heathcliff’s second choice wife, Isabella. Besides Olivier, Fitzgerald turned in one of the most memorable performances in the film. Fitzgerald’s Isabella is something to behold because she effectively shows her devastating transition from naive young girl, to coquettish nymph, to sullen, down-trodden wife with a quiet brilliance. Fitzgerald eventually lost the Best Supporting Actress Oscar to Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind.