2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Watch closely
"The Heiress" is William Wyler's screen adaptation of Henry James' novella, "Washington Square." For a modern viewer trained to seek out heros and villains in any story the structure of this film might be summarized thus: The insecure and none too bright young woman played by Olivia de Havilland does eventually get it through her thick skull that her father (played by...
Published on Jan. 21 2004 by Lyle Stevens
3.0 out of 5 stars AN EXCELLENT FILM (WITH RESERVATIONS)
I certainly enjoyed "The Heiress," but I felt that the makeup artists fell down on the job when they made up Olivia DeHavilland. She is a very beautiful woman, and, as Catherine, who was supposed to be homelier than a hedge fence, Olivia was still beautiful. So, although Olivia is a great actress, she still didn't convince me (thanks to those who made her up...
Published on Dec 28 2000 by Ercie Berwick
Most Helpful First | Newest First
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Watch closely,
"The Heiress" is William Wyler's screen adaptation of Henry James' novella, "Washington Square." For a modern viewer trained to seek out heros and villains in any story the structure of this film might be summarized thus: The insecure and none too bright young woman played by Olivia de Havilland does eventually get it through her thick skull that her father (played by Ralph Richardson) has a deep-seated contempt for her and that her suitor (played by Montgomery Clift) is after nothing but her fortune. Newly armed with this knowledge she is able to see her father's threat to disinherit her as the bluff it is and call him on it, and to close the door on Montgomery Clift's advances. Someone inclined to see the movie this way would thrill to our heroine's triumph over the two villainous men in her life while reserving a little sadness for the fact that she's resigned herself to a life of spinsterhood.
The film is well worth watching even if you choose to read the film this way because the performances by the three principal actors are a beauty to behold (de Havilland won an Oscar for her performance) and Wyler's cinematic story telling techniques are so accomplished. For instance, watch Ralph Richardson open and close those pocket doors between rooms. It lets Wyler move seamlessly from cut to cut while appearing to maintain the flow of a long scene while at the same time suggesting Richardson's controlling nature.
But a more careful look at the Clift and de Havilland characters is what gives this film the richness and subtlety of a five star movie. In the opening minutes of the film we see a short interchange between de Havilland and a servant in the household which reveals de Havilland to have a clever sense of humor. It's her insecurity with her father and with social situations with strangers that freezes her up and makes her appear much more dimwitted than she is. Likewise, shortly after Montgomery Clift appears at a party we see the revealing crack of insecurity in his facade of charm when he fetches de Havilland a drink and momentarilly thinks he's been ditched when he returns (nicely mirroring de Havilland's experience of being ditched by an earlier party companion). So what we see when we look closely is a woman with an insecure exterior who has an inner capacity for charm that dovetails with Clift's public charm, and in Clift a man with the potential to discover and appreciate those hidden charms even though his overwhelming initial motivation is that of a male gold-digger.
It's that vulnerable charm of Clift's that makes him much more than simply a cad. And Clift's subtle portrayal of that unexpected depth and vulnerability is what's so often missed by viewers. I think Clift was the greatest actor of his generation and the upwardly striving, vulnerable charmer role is suited for him perfectly (see his more famous performance in "A Place in the Sun"). It's that possibility that this imperfect man, for all his mercenary motives, might be de Havilland's best, though slight, hope to find a soul mate that makes that locked door between them at the end of the movie as tragic as it is.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Old Movies - You Can't Beat Them,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Heiress (DVD)
If you love old movies, this is for you!!! The perfomances by Olivia De Havilland and Montgomery Clift are amazing. All the characters were well cast and all contribute greatly to the success of this movie. I loved the ending. It was not what I had expected. Highly recommended!!!
5.0 out of 5 stars Great movie but,
This review is from: Heiress (DVD)
Fantastic movie. I saw it years ago and the ending still gives me chills but i haven't bought the dvd because the description says it's portuguese with french subtitles. Can anyone verify this?
5.0 out of 5 stars exceptional,
This review is from: Heiress (DVD)
The Heiress is a timeless classic and well worth the watch. It shows Olivia de Havelland and Montgomery Clift at their best. The story is believable of the way things were 150 years ago. Fantastic!
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Bolt the Door, Maria!',
THE HEIRESS is a surprisingly complex drama of paternal brutality, starry-eyed love, and bitter revenge. Director William Wyler adapted Henry James' short novel WASHINGTON SQUARE and during the film's nearly two hours managed to convey the collision of conflicting dreams. Each of the three major characters: Ralph Richardson as Doctor Sloper, Olivia de Havilland as his dowdy daughter Catherine Sloper, and Montgomery Clift as the mercenary Morris Townsend all dance a three-partnered minuet in which emotional ties clasp and unclasp in ways that are suggested more by gentle innuendo than by overt deed. Doctor Sloper is a uncaring brute who rules his house with vicious wit and the threat of withheld inheritance. To him, there are two kinds of men: those who have already made their mark in the world (like him) and those who have not (like Morris) but seek to obtain it deceitfully through marriage to plain but rich women (like Catherine). The more Sloper puts Catherine down with harsh barbs, the more he increases the inevitability that Catherine will someday rebel by latching onto the first glib male golddigger, thereby proving himself right all along. Sloper's problem is that his paternal tunnel vision does not allow the possibility that Catherine might be more than a one-dimensional stick figure forever doomed to spinsterhood. For Catherine, life is a gilded cage, plenty of the physical necessities, but not a whit of the emotional ones. The more she is starved for affection, the more she will reach out even to those men like Morris who are likely mercenary. One of the film's bitter ironies is that her father's oft repeated warnings about Morris's motivations might yet be valid. When Morris promises to elope with her, then abruptly changes his mind after finding out that Catherine will be disinherited, his disappearance results in one of filmdom's most tragic of underplayed scenes--that of her waiting forelornly for a doorknock that does not come. For Morris, his motivation as a gigolo is not crystal clear. He may very well be as mercenary as Doctor Sloper accuses, or he may humanely have concluded that it is better to dump Catherine at the mock alter of the Sloper door than to risk leaving her destitute.
THE HEIRESS is a movie of several memorable scenes, nearly all of which take place within the Sloper living room. When Morris fails to appear, Catherine expects a modicum of understanding from her father. Instead he delivers yet his most vicious of cutting remarks. Catherine replies that she would have married him anyway, knowing that he did not love her, if only he would have offered the illusion of warmth and human contact. The closing scene in which Catherine orders her maid 'Bolt the door, Maria,' shows that the passing of time has done more to harden her heart against a man who just may be as greedy as charged--or perhaps his earlier explanation that he wished not to impoverish her may be true. We never know his motivation, but THE HEIRESS makes clear hers. When she defends her decision to seek revenge against Morris, Catherine replies coldly, that of cruelty, 'I have been taught by masters.' The bolting of the door is the symbolic equivalent of the closing of her heart. It is no surprise that Morris's loud pounding on the Sloper door does not resonate with a heart that has learned only too well the lessons taught by Doctor Sloper.
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful,
By A Customer
Olivia de Havilland gives a great performance as Catherine, a young, naive, trusting, love-hungry heiress. She meets Morris, a good-looking young fellow who seems to be enamored of her. Catherine's father doesn't believe Morris's feelings are genuine and talks Catherine into a trip to Europe to forget him. It doesn't work and they return home. Her father threatens to disinherit her if she marries Morris. Catherine basically tells him to stuff it. She'll marry who she pleases and she doesn't want anything more to do with him. Unfortunately, she told Morris she was cutting her father out of her life, and didn't want his money. Morris takes off for parts unknown leaving Catherine waiting up all night for him to wisk her off to be married.
Did Morris really love Catherine and ran away because he didn't want her to disinherit herself? Or, was he really a gold-digger out for her money? Catherine grows to hate her father after Morris runs out on her. What her father told her had come true, or seemed to. She hated him for that. And she hated Morris for validating what her father had told her.
Catherine develops a hardness. She has become wiser, but not happier. She is no longer anyone's fool. Great ending.
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant,
Olivia de Havilland perfectly captures the character of Catherine Sloper from Henry James' book Washington Square. Her performace, which garnered her an Academy Award, was one of the best I've seen. She carries the movie powerfully, and her transition from a wilting flower into a self-assured woman is mesmerizing. Her performance alone is worth buying the video, though the movie itself is a treasure in its adaptation of James' masterpiece and the twists and tricks of loyalty and love. It's become one of my favorite movies.
5.0 out of 5 stars "I have been taught...by masters.",
It's a tour de force for Olivia de Havilland as she plays Catherine Sloper, the mousey, naïve daughter of a wealthy doctor (Ralph Richardson) in 19th century New York. Catherine has grown up with her father telling her how clumsy and unattractive she is compared to her late mother, so when a dashing, though penniless, young man (Montgomery Clift) comes to call, she falls head over heels. Big mistake.
De Havilland rightly won Best Actress of 1950, for her stunning portrayal of the meek and frightened girl who, older and wiser, becomes a steely and confident woman. Everything about her changes in the transformation, from her posture to her voice, and above all, her inner bearing. She's unforgettable. Richardson is also superb as the cruel father and Clift is perfectly cast as the oily suitor.
The magnificent gowns and detailed sets capture the period beautifully and the literate script overflows with memorable lines about harm done in the name of love. This is a stunning movie that can be enjoyed again and again.
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps one of the finest screen performances ever,
The recent unsatisfying film adaptation of James' WASHINGTON SQUARE starring Jennifer Jason-Leigh only shows how wise William Wyler was to film the Goetz's stage version rather than retain James's original storyline. James's little novel about an Old New York heiress, Catherine Sloper caught in a tug-of-war between her heartless father and her fortune-hunting suitor (Morris Townsend) ends with a very Jamesian ending: Catherine learns to grow beyond her father's and Morris's petty battle, and in so doing shows her superiority to both of them. In adapting this novel for the stage, the Goetzes decided that such an ending (admittedly sublime on the printed page) would be hard to do onstage, and instead retain the Balzacian melodramatic air James drew upon by allowing Catherine her vengeance on father and Morris alike. The result is spellbinding. William Wyler crafted out of this melodrama one of the most hard-to-forget films of the Hollywood era, a masterful little exercise in emotional cruelty that has been championed by (among others) Martin Scorsese, who regularly lists it as one of tyhe five films that most influenced his own work.
The sets are superb, and there's a lovely film score by Aaron Copland. But what really makes the film is the acting. There are only four major performers--Olivia De Havilland as Catherine, Sir Ralph Richardson as her father, Montgomery Clift as Morris, and Miriam Hopkins as Aunt Penniman--and all four give their best performances ever here; they seem to spur one another on to better work than you'd imagine them capable of doing. De Havilland is the one who most stands out: at first, though suitably old, she seems too beautiful to be effective as Catherine. But her fine portrayal of Catherine's crippling shyness makes her unattractiveness to both Morris and Dr. Sloper exceptionally believeable. When Catherine undergoes her awful education, De Havilland very bravelly allows herself to change a great deal so that while she's still Catherine you're aware of how radically she's changed. The highlight of the entire film is Catherine's showdown with her father, when she more than outmaneuvers him and utterly devastates him: De Havilland here does some of the acting the screen has ever seen. The scene begins with De Havilland's words "Morris jilted me," which she manages to deliver with about a hundred different levels of feeling, from shame at herself to almost bemused exasperation at Morris's shallowness to fury at her father. It ends with her dramatic (and surprisingly terrifying) declaration to her broken father, "That's it , Father--you'll never know, will you?", which leaves you aware not only of how thoroughly Catherine has beaten her father but at what a cost to her own soul. I can't imagine even one of the great stage actors doing more with this scene than De Havilland does. It's the performance of a lifetime.
5.0 out of 5 stars "Just About As Good As It Gets",
This film in its acting, direction, photography, and musical score is sheer perfection. The elegant haughtiness and razor-sharp wit of Ralph Richardson as Dr. Sloper enrich a characterization as polished as any of those that great actor ever gave. Olivia de Havilland for her part traces a grand arc, from the timid, cowering girl whose occasional sparks of wit and independence barely peep out to the ramrod-postured, acid-tongued, triumphantly self-possessed daughter "who has found her tongue at last." William Wyler's direction here turns every frame into a work of visual art. The opening out of James' tale to include a brilliantly witty, extended party sequence is a high point in screen adaptation. The glorious camera work in such scenes as those where the heroine and her aunt, sitting like figures in Greek tragedy, wait for Morris' arrival, the closing of parlor doors in the audience's face to terminate our presence at moments of intense private grief, and the images of the dreary flights of stairs the heroine must labor up in her misfortune, to have her on a level with their landings only
in the concluding shots - these linger in the memory as moments of classic cinema. Similarly, Aaron Copeland's score creates through authentic songs and dances the appropriate 19th Century background while underlining with original composition the moments of high romantic passion and rage.
The weaknesses of the film, in my view, stem directly from the stage adaptation of the James novella which in several places vulgarizes the story unduly. The film unfortunately reproduces these changes. Namely, we see a bitter Catherine who refuses to attend her father in his dying moments, a character far less stirring than the story's still dutiful, nursing daughter who nonetheless now makes clear to her too controlling father where his influence ends and her area of personhood begins. More important is the changed ending. Not to give this away, I'll simply point out that what was in James a story of the individual's education and growth is by this alteration reduced to a mere tabloid tale of vengefulness.
Nonetheless, as a film this work remains as one of the grand achievements. There was talk several years back of remaking it with Tom Cruise as Morris and having Mike Nichols as director. These worthies viewed the Wyler film and both decided a remake was unwise as they didn't see how they could improve on it. One wishes the director of the version that was remade had had the taste and intelligence of Cruise and Nichols.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
Heiress by William Wyler (DVD - 2007)