Wuthering Heights (1970) Blu-ray Review: Subtly Mind-Blowing

Even if you don’t include the many television adaptations, the number of times Emily Brontë’s one and only novel has been transformed into a movie for the big screen alone is not only staggering, it’s Wuthering. And since there are so many superior versions of Wuthering Heights ranging from the likes of Samuel Goldwyn to Luis Buñuel flying high within those ne’erending winds above us, there’s bound to be the occasional oddity plummeting down to the frozen English tundra below. In this case, a strange account of the timeless tale has fallen into our laps thanks to the folks at Twilight Time.

It isn’t the casting of this particular incarnation of Wuthering Heights that raises any immediate suspicion. The casting of two relatively unknown people ‒ that of Anna Calder-Marshall and future two-time James Bond lead Timothy Dalton ‒ as the story’s star-crossed Catherine and Heathcliff is generally only of interest to 007 fans. As is the appearance of Julian Glover ‒ the distinguished character actor who not only graced the 007 franchise (as a villain, naturally) 11 years later, but who also appeared in The Empire Strikes Back and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Were the sight of a future Bond and a future Bond villain squaring off long before either of them joined the series, Glover’s depiction of antagonist Hindley Earnshaw is the most startlingly sympathetic portrayal ever filmed. Weird? Yes. But it still isn’t what makes this version of Wuthering Heights so damned bizarre. Rather, that honor goes to the company that made it. Fueled by the still raging fire Paramount’s Romeo and Juliet ignited four years prior, this 1970 production marked the only time American International Pictures tried their hand at a bona fide Gothic romance.

This was, after all, the same company responsible for some of the greatest drive-in, horror, and exploitation movies ever released ‒ including Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, the Beach Party series, and a heap of juvenile flicks and blaxploitation features. Needless to say, a Brontë adaptation hailing from AIP is bound to raise an eyebrow or two from genre movie enthusiasts and literary scholars alike. The almost morbid-like fascination contained therein continues with director Robert Fuest, who later helmed And Soon the Darkness and both Dr. Phibes films with Vincent Price.

Feeling like an expanded SCTV skit where everyone played it straight for once just to prove they could, Fuest’s Wuthering Heights strips away a good half of its source material. It also changes the tone considerably, turning its protagonists into utterly loathsome beings and drastically altering the ending into something ethereal and eviscerated. Of course, all of that feels perfectly at home for an AIP flick, as does the heavy aura of sleaze encombing cinematographer John Coquillon’s dreary photography of the equally depressing English countryside.

Heck, this Wuthering Heights even goes so far as to include a theme song by noted composer Michel Legrand. Honestly, it’s so sublime, it’s almost surreal. Or perhaps it’s the other way around, I really cannot tell. But were all of those things not enough to pull you into the gravitational field of AIP’s Wuthering Heights, consider this magnificent supporting cast: Harry Andrews, Pamela Brown, Judy Cornwell, James Cossins, Rosalie Crutchley, Hilary Dwyer, Hugh Griffith, Ian Ogilvy, and the late Peter Sallis. AIP or not, that’s still an impressive cast of British greats which can’t be topped.

For reasons which have probably become quite apparent by now, American International Picture’s version of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights didn’t garner much interest at the American box office when it was released eight months after its June 1970 premiere in the UK. In fact, it was such a failure, AIP heads Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson wisely abandoned a previously-promised follow-up feature, Return to Wuthering Heights (one can only wonder what sort of wacky ideas they had in mind for the sequel!) ‒ along with the option to produce other classic literary adaptations.

But hey, they had to try, right? In fact, between that, the film’s jaw-droppingly impressive cast, and the inescapable feeling of weirdness the whole movie exhibits throughout, there’s just enough to possibly capture the eyes of drive-in movie aficionados and cinema snobs alike. There truly is nothing quite like this Wuthering Heights; a fact that is both frightening and captivating at the same time. Fortunately for all interested parties (remotely or otherwise), Robert Fuest’s Wuthering Heights has joined the High-Definition home video world thanks to Twilight Time.

Presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Wuthering Heights arrives on Blu-ray via an MPEG-4 AVC 1080p codec from MGM. The transfer is quite lovely throughout, and the DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack works majestically well for this particular story. Optional English (SDH) subtitles are included with this Limited Edition Twilight Time release, as which is reserved to only 3,000 copies. Special features for this AIP curiosity include an isolated score in DTS-HD MA 2.0, an audio commentary by film historian Justin Humphreys, the original theatrical trailer, and liner notes by Julie Kirgo.

Recommended for many, many conflicting reasons. Go on, give it a whirl. Who knows, it may even Heighten your perspective of filmmaking!

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Luigi Bastardo

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