Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 17 July 2015

1949: The heiress

THE HEIRESS: William Wyler's 1949 classic is the very definition of the well-made picture, and is a perfect 1940s golden age movie. It still fascinates and enthralls now. Olivia de Havilland may well be too good-looking to play the rather plain Catherine Sloper of Henry James's novel "Washington Square", but she certainly conveys the character's gaucheness and reserve, while Ralph Richardson as her wealthy surgeon father delivers one of his best performances - one cannot take one's eyes off him. Then there is Montgomery Clift, in maybe his best role to date, as Morris Townsend, a poor young man with an eye for the finer things in life ...

A young naive woman falls for a handsome young man who her emotionally abusive father suspects is a fortune hunter.

The Slopers (the house also incudes Sloper's widowed sister Lavinia) live in an opulent house at 16 Washington Square in 1860s New York. Catherine is a plain, simple, awkward and extremely shy woman, lacking in social graces, who spends all her free time doing embroidery. Catherine's lack of social charm and beauty - unlike her deceased mother - is very obvious to Dr. Sloper, forever comparing her to her late mother. The first man ever to show Catherine any attention is the handsome Morris Townsend, who she met at a family party .... Is Morris though a fortune-hunter? Maybe he would love Catherine (and her fortune)?  Dr Sloper is not convinced and Catherine comes to realise how he really feels about her and retaliates in kind.

Wyler directs it all perfectly, from the play adapted from the Henry James novel, and it has a perfect score by Aaron Copland. How the plot works out, with Morris leaving and then returning, Catherine waiting in vain to elope with him, and then grimly taking up her place back in her father's house, as her resentment boils over, Lavinia trying to get him back in her favour, her father's illness and death as Catherine suggests he change his will to disinherit her .... and then Morris's return and Catherine's final resolution, are all marvellous to watch.  Like those versions of THE ASPERN PAPERS or THE TURN OF THE SCREW (THE INNOCENTS) Henry James is very well served here 

Dr. Sloper may be right about Morris and only wants to protect his daughter, or maybe his actions are those of a vindictive man who blames her for the death of his beloved wife (in childbirth). Morris could be a fortune hunter, or he could be a man who does care for Catherine, in his own way, and would make her happy. 
It is a perfect Wyler picture with the three leads (and Miriam Hopkins as Lavinia) all at their peaks. There was a later remake, but I felt I did not really need to see it - despite having Albert Finney as Sloper and Maggie Smith as Lavinia in the cast. 

No comments:

Post a Comment