Friday, August 5, 2011

The Heiress (1949)

"Yes, I can be very cruel....
I have been taught by masters."

- Eternally blinded by the highly romanticized memory of his late wife, wealthy New York Doctor Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson) has long lost any hope that his enormously shy daughter, Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland), will ever get married. Then one day, instead of ignoring or ditching her like most men had been doing, a young Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) comes calling on Catherine with an immovable eagerness. However, instead of being overcome by joy as his daughter finds true love, Dr. Sloper is skeptical from the start. Since Morris has no money or career to speak of, Dr. Sloper suspects Morris of being interested in Catherine only for the wealth she would gain in the future and is therefore greatly opposed to the whole situation. But Catherine's world gets turned upside-down as things grow far more complicated and revealing when she and Morris decide to tie the knot.

Superbly directed, acted, scored (by American music legend Aaron Copeland), and written (adapted by Augustus and Ruth Goetz from their play and the Henry James novel Washington Square), The Heiress (1949) is a great period character drama. Rightfully winning the Academy Award for Best Actress, Olivia de Havilland gives an unforgettable performance as Catherine Sloper. Overcoming (and probably feeding off of) bad on the set vibes, courtesy of the jealousy and egos of her co-stars, de Havilland brings her quiet, sweet, and a little awkward Catherine Sloper character to life with great poise - changing along with the development of her character.

The only problem with the film as I see things - and an unfortunately significant problem with the film - is Montgomery Clift's performance as Morris Townsend. From opening to close, Clift is not bad enough to make you cringe but he teeters on the border of terrible and average, giving a performance that is as stiff as a stop sign and as weak as a sick kitten. In addition to this, he is not convincing whatsoever in all his "shalt"s, "yearn"s, and his other deliveries of the 19th century dialogue. Suddenly Errol Flynn does not sound so bad after seeing Clift in the role....

Still, Clift can only do so much to hurt the film overall. With its interesting story, great look, and fantastic performance from Olivia de Havilland, The Heiress (1949) is a must see drama.

CBC Rating:  8/10

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