Maggie A's Meanderings




February 20, 2011

4 Classic Novels that Are Way More Depressing than You Think They Are from the Movies -- Part II

Introduction (repeated from Part I)

There's a reason the phrase "Hollywood Ending" conveys a sense of happiness. That's because that's what Hollywood endings are all about. No one wanted to see Julia Robert's hooker character disappear back onto the streets in "Pretty Woman" so they changed the ending to a Hollywood one. The same thing goes for some of the greatest novels ever written. Never mind the stories in the novels have stood the test of time and are still being read today for a reason. When it comes to making a movie version, who knows better: the dead writer or a living Hollywood producer?

Hollywood's not going to pass up free source material and the novels are in the public domain, so there are multiple movie versions of each of these novels. I'm only going to compare the most well-known adaptation. But the same holds true for the other lesser-known adaptions that I've seen -- Hollywood was never faithful to the source material. In fact, that's why I finally had to read "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." With every version having a different ending, I didn't know who lived and who died until I read the actual novel. This "variation" from the source material can lead to some shock if you've seen the movie first and then go to read the novel. Hell, it can lead to some shock if you've read the novel first and then go see the movie expecting it to follow the novel!

Part I
Part II


3.  Wuthering Heights 

The 1939 Movie 

"Wuthering Heights" was not the most cheerful of movies, but it's downright Disney-ish compared to the actual novel where Heathcliff isn't a romantic hero, but a sadistic psychopath. The most famous version of "Wuthering Heights" is the 1939 version starring Laurence Olivier. It's considered one of the greatest romance films of all times. "Wuthering Heights" launched Laurence Olivier's movie career and got him his first Academy Award nomination. It cemented the image of Heathcliff as a tragic romantic hero into pop culture.

Heathcliff is an orphan adopted by the Earnshaw family. They live on the wild, desolate Yorkshire moors and already have two children: Hindley and Catherine (called Cathy in the movie version). Hindley doesn't like little Heathcliff and is mean to him. Cathy finds Heathcliff to be her soulmate, but at the same time, he's beneath her socially. (Yes, she's a snob.)  Cathy's also interested in a rich neighbor, Edgar -- he appeals to the snob in her. Heathcliff gets his nose out of joint and runs away. When he comes back three years later, Cathy's married to Edgar. Heathcliff, who has clearly never heard of the idea of "live and let live," decides to try to make everyone as miserable as he is. He succeeds so well he drives Cathy into her grave -- she dies in Heathcliff's arms while looking out at the moors. Heathcliff dies years later. The last shot of the movie shows the ghosts of young Cathy and young Heathcliff walking hand in hand across the moors, together at last.

The 1847 Novel as written by Emily Brontė 

In my copy of "Wuthering Heights" Catherine dies in childbirth on page 195. The book has 401 pages. That right there tells you the movie left out a hell of a lot. The first part of the book is the childhood of Heathcliff and Catherine and the love triangle of Heathcliff-Catherine-Edgar. Catherine loves them both, in different ways. Catherine is married to Edgar when Heathcliff returns, no longer a poverty stricken charity case, but a wealthy man. And you can be sure he didn't come by that money in any respectable way. Heathcliff is hellbent on making everyone pay, and age or innocence isn't a factor to him.  

These are the storylines in "Wuthering Heights" that the movie glosses over or leaves out. Basically, it's half the book including things that happened before Catherine dies. But if they included this half of the book in the movies, Heathcliff wouldn't be any sane person's idea of a great romantic hero.

There's no doubt that Catherine's brother, Hindley, was mean to Heathcliff when they were kids. And when he inherits the estate, he turns Heathcliff into a servant. After the death of his wife, Hindley degenerates into a drunken gambling addict, and Heathcliff gambles the family estate away from him. But he allows Hindley and his son, Hareton, to keep living there --  not out of niceness, but because you can't get revenge on someone who isn't there. When Heathcliff accidentally saved baby Hareton's life one day by reflexively catching the falling baby, he immediately regretted it and would have killed the baby except there were witnesses. Heathcliff enjoys seeing Hindley, this man who used to lord his position over him, reduced to being a drunk (who drinks himself to death shortly after Catherine dies), and Heathcliff has plans for the boy. Those plans are to degrade the boy and grind him into the dirt as far as he can. The boy never did anything to him, but, hey, he's the son of the man who teased and hit Heathcliff when he was a boy. Yeah, that really justifies ruining an innocent life. But in Heathcliff's psychopathic mind it does.

Heathcliff marries Edgar's sister, Isabella, out of spite. When they elope, he hangs her pet dog in front of her. Isabella, being young (only 18), had apparently read too many romance novels (if they had romance novels back then) because she thinks Heathcliff is a bad boy with a good heart and marries him even after the dog hanging incident. So she's stupid and naive. Doesn't mean she deserves what happens next -- after they're married Heathcliff abuses her. When speaking about how he treats his wife Heathcliff says, "I've sometimes relented, from pure lack of invention, in my experiments on what she could endure." Basically, the only time Isabella gets a break is when Heathcliff runs out of ideas of how he can torture her. Although we're never told the specifics of the abuse, we can guess from how Heathcliff treats his future daughter-in-law that he beats her and worse. A pregnant Isabella finally escapes from him. However, when she dies their invalid son, Linton, is returned to Heathcliff. The boy's terribly sick, but Heathcliff bullies his sick son to the point the kid is terrified of his father. (No one's going to be giving Heathcliff any "Father of the Year" awards or "World's Best Dad" coffee mugs.) Heathcliff only cares that the boy lives long enough for him to get his hands on the next person whose life he wants to ruin: Catherine's daughter, Cathy. When the son doesn't have long to live, Heathcliff actually kicks his dying son out of the house onto the moors and tells him he won't be let back in unless he brings Cathy back with him.

Cathy has more of a heart than Heathcliff. That's not hard to do -- a poisonous toad has more of a heart than Heathcliff. So Cathy goes back with the dying Linton. And Heathcliff literally locks Cathy up in his house and keeps her a prisoner, refusing to let her go see her dying father until she marries his son. (How the hell is that even legal?) This is what Heathcliff has to say about Catherine's daughter and his own son, "Had I been born where laws are less strict, and tastes less dainty, I should treat myself to a slow vivisection of those two, as an evening's amusement." Nice guy, Heathcliff. Once they're married, he's got control of the poor girl. Linton dies the month after the marriage. Heathcliff beats and bullies Cathy trying to break her spirit. He doesn't care that this is the love of his life's daughter -- he even arranges to cheat her out of her inheritance and leaves her penniless.  

Things aren't set right until after the Evil One, a.k.a. Heathcliff, is dead -- appropriately haunted to death by Catherine's ghost. While Heathcliff was alive it was gloom and darkness; once he dies, it's rainbows and puppy dogs. Cathy and Hareton regain what was rightfully theirs, fall in love, and everything is all right on their own little corner of the moors. Yet, oddly enough, Heathcliff is portrayed as the great romantic hero in the movies? Holy crap, have these people even read the book!?

Wuthering Heights
What every girl wants for her wedding!

4.   A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

The 1949 Movie 

The 1949 movie starred Bing Crosby so it had to be a musical. The movie's tagline was "It's laughter will ring through the centuries." The plot's self-explanatory from the title, but if you need one: a Connecticut Yankee, Hank Martin, from 1912 gets knocked on the head and is transported back in time to the days of King Arthur. There he uses his Yankee ingenuity to outwit the technologically impaired while falling in love with Alisande played by the beautiful Rhonda Fleming. Hank takes the king on a road trip to open his eyes to the need for social change in his country. In the meantime, the evil Merlin (Yes, I said evil Merlin. Merlin's the villain in this story.) tries to take over the kingdom. Merlin is thwarted by Hank's superior knowledge which really ticks him off. In the end, Hank gets sent back to the future without the love of his life, Alisande, but this being a Hollywood ending, he visits England and meets a woman who looks exactly like her.

The 1889 Novel as written by Mark Twain 

Mark Twain, America's Humorist, the man who wrote "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "The Adventures Tom Sawyer," was a comedy writer, so how depressing could a book written by him be? Plenty.

The same plot device is used to get Hank back in time from the 19th century: the blow to the head. There Hank falls in love with Sandy, and they have a baby girl. Sandy names their daughter for a special phrase Hank repeats in his sleep, "Hello-Central." (That was what you said to the operator on the phone back when all calls were manually connected.) Hank secretly tries to modernize the country and trains a devoted band of followers in the ways of 19th century manufacturing. Hank and Merlin have an ongoing dispute which Hank wins every time because Merlin is a big fake. Hank believes that the knights are the real power of the realm and decides to bring them down a few notches. So he has knights in shining armor riding around the countryside wearing billboards peddling stove polish and toothbrushes. It's comedic until you get towards the end, because even though Hank focused on the knights as the power of the land, the real power was the Catholic Church. In the end the Church essentially declares war on Hank and anything to do with him.  

Hank and 53 of his followers are trapped in a cave by 25,000 knights. Talk about being outnumbered. But they still manage to kill all the knights. (Electrocution and Gatling guns) So now Hank and his followers are trapped in the cave surrounded by the corpses of 25,000 knights. You could die from the smell alone. And that's exactly what his followers do: die from disease. Hank is wounded, and Merlin -- who sneaked in disguised as a woman and who must have sold his soul to the devil when we weren't looking because now he can do magic -- says a spell over Hank that sends him back to the future. We meet Hank again on his deathbed in a delirium, calling out for his long lost family: his wife Sandy and their beloved daughter Hello-Central. Great comedy.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Worse than 25,000 cans of spoiled ham

Go to Part I

Want to read more about movies? Check out "The Old Yeller Abyss," "Star Wars, Einstein and When Lucas Got It Right" or if you're looking for more dark humor read "The (Not So) Great Zombie Apocalypse."



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