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Plot: In the mid-1800's, the wealthy Sloper family - widowed surgeon Dr. Austin Sloper, his adult daughter Catherine Sloper (Dr. Sloper's only surviving child), and Dr. Sloper's recently widowed sister Lavinia Penniman - live in an opulent house at 16 Washington Square, New York City. They have accrued their wealth largely through Dr. Sloper's hard work. Despite the lessons that Dr. Sloper has paid for in all the social graces for her, Catherine is a plain, simple, awkward and extremely shy woman who spends all her free time alone doing embroidery when she is not doting on her father. Catherine's lack of social charm and beauty - unlike her deceased mother - is obvious to Dr. Sloper, who hopes that Lavinia will act as her guardian in becoming more of a social person, and ultimately as chaperon if Catherine were ever to meet the right man. The first man ever to show Catherine any attention is the handsome Morris Townsend, who she met at a family party. Catherine is initially uncertain as to Morris' intentions, never having been called on before by a gentleman, but she quickly falls in love with him, as he does with her. They plan to be married. Being a romantic, Lavinia does whatever she can to advance their relationship. However, Dr. Sloper does not trust Morris, believing him to be a fortune hunter who is only interested in Catherine for her sizable inheritance. His beliefs are strengthened after a candid discussion with Morris' sister, Mrs. Montgomery. Dr. Sloper does whatever he can to prevent the two from getting married - the entire reason for his disapproval which he does not fully disclose to either Catherine or Morris - including taking Catherine away for an extended European vacation. Ultimately, incidents with both her father and Morris permanently change Catherine's view of life. Runtime: 115 mins Release Date: 09 Feb 1949
Certainly among the finest literary adaptations, "The Heiress" was based on Henry James's novel, "Washington Square" and features arguably Olivia de Havilland's finest screen performance. Morris Townsend , a handsome young man with ambiguous motives pursues Catherine Sloper, a plain spinster, who is slightly past marriageable age and possesses limited social skills. The young woman, who is the heiress of the title, is vulnerable prey for a penniless fortune hunter.However, Montgomery Clift plays Townsend in an enigmatic manner, and viewers can debate his true <more>
intentions. Catherine's father, played by Ralph Richardson, and her Aunt Lavinia, played by Miriam Hopkins, take opposite sides in Townsend's pursuit of Catherine. Although both her father and her aunt appear to see through the handsome suitor, Aunt Lavinia is practical and sensitive to her niece's emotional needs, and she counsels compromise in pursuit of happiness, if only fleeting. However, Catherine's father is unyielding and essentially unloving in his opposition to the match. Throughout, Dr. Sloper compares his daughter's virtues to those of his late wife, and Catherine comes up lacking in every quality that he values. Sloper threatens to disinherit his daughter if she marries the suitor.Montgomery Clift may appear shallow and transparent to some, but in essence those are the traits of his character. While Morris is slick and obviously fawning, he is not intelligent enough to be totally deceptive. Only someone as naive and needy as Olivia could fail to grasp that Morris may want something more than her love. Olivia de Havilland transcends her other performances and skillfully and convincingly evolves from a shy, introverted girl into a strong, vengeful woman. De Havilland has often portrayed women who appear genteel and soft on the outside, but whose hearts and backbones can harden into pure steel e.g. Gone with the Wind; Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte , and Catherine Sloper is the finest of those roles. With able support from Richardson and Hopkins, Clift and de Havilland make the most of an outstanding screenplay, which was adapted from a stage play. William Wyler directs with a sure hand, and the atmospheric cinematography captures 19th century New York life. Period films are often unraveled by their hairstyles, which generally owe more to the year in which the film was made rather than that in which the story is set. However, even the coiffures excel in "The Heiress." De Havilland's hair looks authentic 19th century and underscores Wyler's fastidious attention to detail.With an award-winning de Havilland performance, a handsome Montgomery Clift on the brink of stardom, and an engrossing Henry James story, "The Heiress" is one of the finest films of the 1940's. Without qualification, the film holds up to and merits repeat viewings if only to better argue the underlying motives of Clift and the fateful decision that de Havilland has to make.
Brilliant superb astonishing movie (by jacmuller2004)
I had the pleasure to watch again "The Heiress" 1949 movie tonight, and it is absolutely brilliant! ; what a gem! the script, the directing, set designs, lighting, but above all the acting, are all extraordinary. The performances by the three main characters are simply superb. Olivia De Haviland is utterly convincing in her transition from a, not so young, unwanted and unloved woman, into 3 different phases of her personality as the plot unfolds ; all her acting is beautiful. Montgomery Cliff delivers a great performance and mastery at portraying deceit with a charming smile. Ralph <more>
Richardson commands respect and holds an air of definite authority as Catherine's father. His aristocratic demeanor is also very well portrayed for a prominent New York gentleman of the late 1800's. The human tragedy of miscommunication between beings unfolds with impeccable timing. The film by today standards may be considered as slow, but underneath is found a study of characters that runs very deeply. The contrast between the real Love and the pretense is striking. You cannot help but feel sorry for the way the characters are held captives to a set of stiff conventions and untold feelings. A human tragedy at its best.
"The Master" in WASHINGTON SQUARE (by theowinthrop)
Because he so identified with England in his last thirty years and even became a British citizen during World War I people tend to forget that Henry James was an American - as American as his celebrated psychologist/philosopher brother William the "good" James Boys, as opposed to their non-relatives Frank and Jesse , and his fellow Gilded Age novelists Sam Clemens/"Mark Twain" and William Dean Howells. His early writings, including "The American", "The Portait Of A Lady", and "The Europeans" were written while he was an American citizen. <more>
His later classics, "The Spoils Of Poynton", "What Maisie Knew", "The Ambassadors", "The Golden Bowl", and "The Wings Of The Dove", were written when he resided in England. The novels he wrote through 1897 "What Maissie Knew" being the last of these were short and controlled in terms of descriptions. But his final set of novels beginning with "The Ambassadors" had a more flowery writing, as James struggled to find "le mot juste" in every description. Many like this, but I find it a peculiar failure. It takes him three pages of description in "The Wings Of The Dove" to show Mily Theale is looking down from an Alpine peak to the valley thousands of feet below."Washington Square" was written in the late 1870s, and was based on an anecdote James heard about a fortune hunter who tried to move in on one of James' neighbors in Manhattan. The neighbor, when a young woman, was wealthy and and would be wealthier when her father died she was an only child . The father did not think highly of the daughter's choice of boyfriend, and a war of wills between the two men left the young woman scarred. James took the story and fleshed it out.One has to recall that while ultimately this is based on James' great novel, the film proper is based on the dramatization by the Goetzs. So there are changes one of which I will mention later . But the basic confrontation between the father and the suitor remains true. On stage the father was played by Basil Rathbone, and in his memoirs "In And Out Of Character" , Rathbone makes a case that Dr. Sloper his role was not the villain in the novel - it was Sloper who was trying to protect his naive daughter Catherine from the clutches of fortune hunting suitor Morris Townshend. It's a nice argument, and one can believe that Rathbone/Sloper was less villainous than Morris. But his desire to protect Catherine does not prevent his cold and aloof treatment of her - he has little respect for her personality. This is tied to the Doctor's constant mourning of his wife Catherine's perfect mother . It enables Dr. Sloper to compare and belittle his daughter.The Goetz play and screenplay show as does the novel that the battle of wills between the two men only hurts poor, simple Catherine. There are only two major changes from the novel. First, in the novel Dr. Sloper does not discover how his contempt for his child loses her love. He only sees that Catherine will not see reason about what a loser Morris is. So he does disinherit her she only has her mother's fortune of $10,000.00 a year, not her father's additional $20,000.00 . Secondly, when Morris does return in the end in the novel, years have passed, and he is a querulous fat man. The dramatic high point when Catherine locks the door of the house on Morris is not in the novel.Olivia De Haviland's performance as Catherine is among her most sympathetic and satisfying ones, as she tries to navigate between two egotists, and manages to avoid a shipwreck that neither would totally disapprove of for their own selfish reasons . Her second Oscar was deserved. Ralph Richardson's Sloper is a curious combination of cultured gentleman, egotist, and caring father, who only realizes what his behavior costs him when he is dying and it is too late. Montgomery Clift's Morris is a clever scoundrel, able to hide his fortune-hunting tricks behind a mask of care and seeming devotion to Catherine. Only when he learns that she has broken with her father does Morris show his true colors - suggesting that a reconciliation may still be possible. Finally there is Miriam Hopkins as Aunt Penniman, a talkative blood relative who does have a sense of reality and romance in her - she does try to make a case with Dr. Sloper that he accept Morris for Catherine's emotional happiness, but Sloper rejects the idea because he distrusts Morris so much. These four performances dominate the film, and make it a wonderful, enriching experience - as only "the Master's" best writings usually are.
Henry James novel of spinster daughter of wealthy doctor being wooed by a fortune hunter is meticulously brought to the screen by Wyler and a stellar cast. The beautiful de Havilland, made to look plain and dull, is quite good in her Oscar-winning title role. Also fine are Clift as the gold digger and Hopkins as de Havilland's understanding aunt. However, the best performance is given by Richardson as the cold, domineering father who wants to protect his daughter but also despises her meek existence. Brown, who plays the maid, looks like a young Grace Kelly. The cinematography is <more>
Terrific melding of story, acting, and directing--a gem!! (by secondtake)
The Heiress 1949 Another gem from William Wyler. This is the director of so many sparkling, flawless interpersonal dramas it's hard to believe he isn't lionized alongside more famous greats. The problem as he admits in interviews is he had no real style of his own. And yet, as the years go by, his "style" begins to clarify a little. Watch "The Little Foxes" or "Detective Story" or this one, "The Heiress," and you'll see an astonishing, complex handling of a small group of people with visual clarity and emotional finesse.There is no <more>
overacting here, and no photographic flourishes to make you gasp. There are no murky shadows or gunfights or even ranting and raving. No excess. What you have here is terrific writing thanks in part to Henry James who wrote the source story, Washington Square and terrific acting.The three leads are all first rate actors, surely. Montgomery Clift a young and rising star, Olivia de Havilland already famous for earlier roles including a supporting one in "Gone with the Wind" , and the terrific stage actor Ralph Richardson, who received an Oscar nomination for his role. It is de Haviland who is the heiress of the title, and she does tend to steal the show with a performance that you would think would tip into campy excess but which just veers this side of danger and makes you feel for her scene after scene. And she took the Best Actress award for it.A good director manages to bring the best from the actors, which Wyler clearly does. But he also finds ways to make those performances jump out of the film reality into the movie theater. His fluid, expert way of moving actors around one another, of having them trade positions or look this way or that as they deliver some intensely subtle comeback line, is really astonishing. And easy to miss, I think, if you just get absorbed in the plot. So watch it all.The story itself is pretty chilling and oddly dramatic dramatic for Henry James, not for Wyler, who likes a kind of soap opera drama within all his focused restraint . The heiress de Havilland is being pursued by a fortune hunting and rather handsome man Clift and she doesn't realize his love isn't for real. But the father, with his slightly cruel superiority, sees it all and tries to subtly maneuver his daughter to safety. The result is a lot of heartbreak and surprising twists of motivation.By the end almost anything can happen, within this upper class world of manners and appropriate reactions, and de Havilland rises to the challenge. It's worth seeing how. Terrific stuff from the golden age of the silver screen, for sure.
"To have such a dull girl disgrace his name" (by Steffi_P)
There are two sides to every great piece of acting. The way it is performed, and the way it is presented. It's a rarely acknowledged and little understood facet of film-making, but a truly excellent performance is to some degree a collaboration between the actor and the director.In the Heiress, we see Olivia de Havilland in what is probably her finest work. De Havilland's entry into motion pictures was not especially auspicious. Her earliest roles required little other than that she look simple and pretty, more often than not as the supplicant object of Errol Flynn's affections. <more>
However, unlike many leading ladies in such a position, she emerged as a serious and talented dramatic actress. The Heiress still presents her with quite a challenge though. For a start, she is playing a woman ten or twelve years younger than herself. This is achieved not so much by the makeup department, but by de Havilland's capturing of the mannerisms of a flighty youngster. She conveys Catherine's awkward shyness not just through facial expressions and vocal delivery, but in every move and gesture she makes, even the way she dances. But the role also poses difficulties in that the character develops considerably, toughens up and has her heart hardened. Again, de Havilland rises to the challenge to give a sharp but convincing portrayal of Catherine exchanging her naiveté for cynicism.So many top class players have been sold short by their directors. The best directors will not allow you to notice this, but much of how we perceive a good performance is in how our attention is drawn to it, how long the takes are held for, and which aspect of a performance we see. William Wyler, director of the Heiress, was among the best and also the boldest. One of the things that is great about Wyler is that he is fully willing to show the story entirely from the woman's point of view – something not all male directors seem capable of. Wyler makes it clear that this is not the story of a penniless chancer who seeks the hand of a rich woman, or an ageing doctor who is torn over disinheriting his daughter. This is Catherine's story, and the audience must feel it from her point of view.How does Wyler make this clear? Very simply, by making de Havilland the almost constant the centre of attention. Some directors will put us in a character's shoes with lots of point-of-view shots, but Wyler is cleverer than that. In many of the earliest shots, we see Catherine physically overshadowed by people around her, talking over her and acting as if she weren't there. Wyler shows this, but through his framing, keeping de Havilland clear at the centre even though others are in the foreground, he keeps us focused on her face. He makes us see not only that she is in this situation, but also how she feels about it. In many of the shots of her talking to Montgomery Clift, the camera stays at his back, rarely changing angle. This keeps him as a physical presence whose face we never see, and focuses us entirely on her reactions. You see, Wyler recognises not only that it is important to notice certain things, but also that it could be a distraction to see others. By only catching occasional glimpses of Clift's handsomeness and never dwelling on his expressions, we remain in line with Catherine's idealistic conception of him.Like twinkling satellites around de Havilland's stellar performance, the Heiress also features a fine supporting cast. Montgomery Clift gives a graciously low-key performance, making no attempt to steal the limelight, only to appear credible and attractive . Ralph Richardson is restrained and naturalistic, but still shows the decorum and imperiousness that marks his more theatrical roles and, by the way, if you are stuck for a way to describe his beard, Wyler's apparent instruction to the makeup team was "It must be round, but square" . Miriam Hopkins for once gives a decent dramatic performance – a nice change for someone who normally only fitted into the ethereal exaggeration of comedies and musicals, but faltered in anything more substantial.The only thing I would like to have seen different about the Heiress would be for the producers have stuck to some of their original casting choices, and had Basil Rathbone as Doctor Sloper, and Errol Flynn ! as Morris. Not that I have anything against Richardson or Clift, but it would have been great fun to have seen the old hero-heroine-villain dynamic of Captain Blood and Adventures of Robin Hood reunited in these very different circumstances. And I'm sure under the direction of William Wyler Rathbone and Flynn would have turned in very worthy performances, quite possibly the best of their career. And so long as they were opposite Olivia de Havilland – who is truly irreplaceable in this role – the drama could not suffer.
I have seen this film many times and each time draw a new facet from the Catherine - Dr Austin Sloper - Moris Townsend non-love triangle. But it is my opinion after all these years that everybody underrates Catherine. Many children grow up in the shadow of an esteemed parent whose legend reaches near mythical proportions. Certainly that's Catherine's misfortune. While her mother was not a world famous starlet, she was worshiped by Dr Austin Sloper and even rambling air-headed Aunt Pennyman cautions Dr Austin that he has elevated Catherine's mother to near Goddess stature to which <more>
no woman dare compare.Yet in spite of his open wound constantly gnawing at him whenever Catherine cannot ascend to her mother's level, Dr Austin sees himself as a pure rationalist, one who even contrives to control his own death and the security of Catherine's fortune thereafter.But here's how everyone underrates Catherine: everyone looks at the hard lesson she's dealt without excusing her youthful inexperience and almost no one sees how she's able in the ante-bellum period to be an independent woman, to run a household, give commands to subordinates including the interfering Aunt Pennyman and interact with Maid Moriah called Maria in the credits but consistently pronounced Moriah in the film taking charge without talking down to her. Her true voice comes out in the foiled elopement but it is her father's voice: rationality and command.Her father was waiting in vain for her mother reincarnate.She is her father's daughter, without the musical talent of her mother or her mother's sociability then called gaiety in times spoken of. Catherine even inherited her surgeon father's talent for stitch-work which is put to embroidery.The costuming and music is fantastic. The love song though composed for this film sounds like a tune from the ante-bellum era.
A fine adaptation of an excellent play, with a subtle and precise view of human nature worthy of Henry James (by J. Spurlin)
Catherine Olivia de Havilland is a thoroughly ordinary girl with one thing commend her—her money. That's the view of her father Ralph Richardson , who believes he is cruel only to be kind. He takes a dim view of the handsome and charming man Montgomery Clift who courts her. Surely this idler's only possible motive for proposing marriage is to get her money. Catherine's aunt Miriam Hopkins may agree, but believes the two should marry anyway. Catherine is deeply in love, but her fiancé will forever change her view of herself, of her father and of human nature as a <more>
whole.William Wyler directs Augustus and Ruth Goetz's adaptation of their own play, suggested by Henry James's "Washington Square," and it's a fine job by all. We rarely see such a subtle and precise view of people, presented in a way that allows us to draw our own conclusions about them. Is the father villainous and cruel? Is the fiancé a fortune hunter? Do we approve or disapprove of Catherine's decisions throughout the film? We're not told what to think.De Havilland is fine at conveying the various shades of her many-faceted character. Richardson is excellent, making the most of his mellifluous voice and superb manners. Clift is good, though his diction is lazier than that of his co-stars'. I find Clift smug and unappealing, which doesn't detract from this particular character. Miriam Hopkins, a former leading lady, aged into character parts, gives a performance rich in detail and humor. Highly recommended.
Revenge is a dish best served on Ice...!! (by penwil09)
This is one of the GREAT classics,that will take it's place among those too few others during the 40s. The movie is set in the 1840s, with an unmarried daughter living with her Physician father, and since she's kind of "homely", doesn't get many gentleman suitors. I don't agree with the previous commentary, about her Father being cruel, he's just being a father looking out for his naive daughters' best interest, because back then,just like today, when these "homeless romeos", see an easy "meal ticket", they will do anything to hop on the <more>
"gravy train". And she should have trusted her Father,being a man,knows how men think. Sure he was not the overly affectionate type of man, but what a "Diplomat", in taking her abroad, trying to "cool" her & his heels,a bit. They must have edited the film I saw, because I didn't see any "overt" references being made by her Father except in one scene,comparing her to her Mother. Anyway,she finds out what kind of "gold-digger" Morris is,just like her Father warned.And the climatic ending is SUPERB...!!! This film is definitely a collectors item.