Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Heiress (1949)

Spanish film poster.

Director: William Wyler
USA 1949
115 min

See it on YouTube here.

The Heiress is a story about the troubles of being wealthy, and not knowing if you're wanted for love or for a thicker wallet.

It's New York in the middle of the 19th century, and Catherine Sloper (De Havilland) lives with her dominating father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Richardson). Catherine is a kind-hearted woman, but shy and clumsy - and her father doesn't encourage her more by constantly comparing her to her deceased mother. It is obvious that Dr. Sloper has altered the memory of his wife into something of a goddess, so no matter how hard Catherine tries she will never fulfill his expectations.

One day Catherine meets a debonair, but poor, gentleman at a ball - Morris Townsend (Clift). Townsend put a lot of effort in courting Catherine, and soon they are engaged. Even though Catherine's aunt Lavinia (Hopkins) is head over heels happy for the couple, Dr. Sloper is resentful. He is convinced that Townsend is nothing else but a gold digger, and he tells Catherine so in the most brutal way: [paraphrasing] "What do you think he loves about you? Your looks? Your charms and your wit?" In other words, he's a complete jackass.

For once Catherine stands up against her father, and decides to get married to Townsend anyway. He is pleased to hear that she wants to get married right away, but when he hears about her quarrel with her dad he gets concerned. She responds happily that she doesn't care for inheritance - they can manage without it.
They decide that he will pick her up later at her house, so they can run away and get married. He does not show up.

Scene: This will give you a good idea of the film - just hear that horrible Dr. Sloper's go on about his worthless daughter. We also see Montgomery Clift make an entrance.

Now to the actors:

Olivia De Havilland never stops to amaze me as an actress. Few actresses can express so much by doing so little. In The Heiress De Havilland makes two major transformations of her character through the movie. First the shy and insecure Catherine (blank face, melting in with the background). Then to the madly in love Catherine (glittering eyes, lively face), and then over to the jilted Catherine (hardened features, vengeful eyes). It's amazing.

Miriam Hopkins is completely lovable as the rather unintelligent and hopelessly romantic aunt. Hopkins is another one of those actresses we seldom see in Hollywood today - those who, as they age, choose parts according to their own age.

Montgomery Clift is perfect for the part of the young gentleman who is careless with money, but very careful in the search for resources. Unfortunately I read that Clift often sneered at De Havilland and the way she acted, and that makes me sour. Luckily I didn't care much for him anyway. But he's a good actor, nonetheless.

Ralph Richardson is a talented actor, and he plays his part well enough. But after having read Basil Rathbone's own statement that he had played the part of Dr. Sloper on Broadway, and was really depressed not getting the part in the film adaption, I can't help but seeing him in the role. And I know that he would have made the part unforgettable. Perhaps he would have stolen the scenes from De Havilland, but that is something Richardson deliberately did with his improvisations.

Now I start to gossip Hedda Hopper style. Enough with that, I will summarize for you:
  • De Havilland and Hopkins are irreproachable. De Havilland won her 2nd Oscar.
  • I don't care much for Clift or Richardson, even though they did a good job.
  • William Wyler is one heck of a director.
  • The script is clever and well written.
  • The Oscar-winning musical score is grand.
  • The b/w photography and the playfulness with lighting and shadows are a feast for the eyes.
  • Basil Rathbone should have played Dr. Sloper.

Some funny trivia for you: Ginger Rogers was presumably offered this part, but declined. Just as the other De Havilland roles in The Snake Pit [post] and To Each His Own.
And here's a colorized publicity photo by moi, and some more amazing film posters:

Danish poster.

Italian poster.

French poster.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

This movie always leaves kind of sad...Olivia was great in this. Deserved the Oscar...and I wouldn't have minded seeing Clift nominated.

Lolita said...

I absolutely love the ending - I cheered! :)

Millie said...

Haha, Lolita! I'm exactly like you! I literally start cheering at the end! It's just so amazing. In fact, I listed it as my second favorite female revenge scene ever...on a list I do a couple months ago! It just feels so good! And to end with nothing but old Montgomery pounding on the door, well...

Of course, I want Olivia to find love, but I mean Montgomery is so annoying (it's even worse with the mustache)!

Great review!

Lolita said...

Oh, let me know the number one!
Yes, Montgomery can stand there banging on the door all night, I wouldn't give a rat's ass. Olivia will sure find her love now that she has a little more confidence ;)

Kate Gabrielle said...

I'm with you and Millie- I was happy with the ending! I was a little upset that she was just resigning herself to be an old maid (she seemed so bitter that she could never trust any man, ever again, even if he really did love her) but I was glad she got to jilt Montgomery Clift!

And UGH! What an awful mustache!!! Some men just shouldn't wear them (eh-hem, Montgomery Clift.)

By the way, I love the new picture on your header-- you have a cigarette holder!!

Mykal said...

Lolita: This film is one of my favorites, and I have to admit I am a Montgomery Clift fan (although I normally have a bit of a hard time with the "method" actors). But you are right (as usual), the best show here is deHavilland. She became so cold and hard at the end, it was actually frightening. What a powerhouse performance. She makes us believe in her character every step of the way, how this woman would only, ever, give her heart once - and then it would be completely. And if she was betrayed, she would never offer it again.

Am I the only one that thought the Clift character didn't quite deserve his aweful fate? I think she should have given him another chance. I believe he had learned his lesson. I think she could have re-kindled her love for him had she let him in.

Great post, and great movie choice. -- Mykal

Lolita said...

Kate Gabrielle:
I just think that Catherine learned to be more skeptical with her choice of men - part the good ones from the bad ones! But if Montgomery Clift was the last man on Earth, I guess I'd rather be an old maid myself. Especially if he had that moustache. (And I'm the one woman who usually loves them!)
Thanks, Kate G! I've changed headers a little too often lately, but I think I will stick with this one!

I couldn't have put it better! You should write my film reviews instead, hehe.
I think he deserved his fate! He was a pig. If he HAD changed, he would at least given some explanation to why he didn't write a letter or so. No, he deserved being jilted.
And thank you, Mykal!

Millie said...

Hahahaha! I know! She surely will!

It's kinda like that imaginary dream of mine, that Audrey Hepburn is waiting for Gregory Peck outside the palace (in Roman Holiday). We just don't see it, because the credits are rolling...;-D

My number one was Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight...with the knife and the whole "mad woman" speech! AMAZING!

Mary said...

I saw this several years ago, but have forgotten everything about it. It looks great, so I'll have to watch it! I love Olivia deHavilland!

Tom said...

Wow! That is the most beautiful photo of Ms. De Havilland that I've ever seen!

RC said...

I need to check this one out, I enjoy Clift's acting a great deal!

Lolita said...

Oh, I love that scene! Charles Boyer has tortured her mentally so much, he deserved being a little freaked out!

I love De Havilland more and more for every movie I see her in - such a brilliant actress!

I think so too - I tried not to exaggerate the colorizing so I wouldn't destroy the portrait!

You will not be disappointed - he even learned to play the piano for just one scene!

panavia999 said...

I forgot about Rathbone playing Dr. Sloper on Broadway. He would have been just as good in the film, though I can't fault Richardson at all. Rathbone was certainly versatile.
I first saw the film as a teenager. I liked her "revenge" at the end. I thought she'd got some spunk after all - Morris certainly didn't deserve any sympathy. My mother lectured me for being too harsh. I guess she felt like the silly aunt. (I wasn't convinced.)

Christopher said...

terrific movie..I always found DeHavilland strangely attractive in this a deathly looking way..I probably mentioned that elements in this story along with Now Voyager and Vertigo,were blended to form an excellent mexican telenovela called La Otra(The Other Woman)about Dopplegangers,one good one bad..naturally..

Tom said...

The color portrait is absolutely stunning, I can't say it enough. You did a great job on it.

Lolita said...

I guess your mother don't belong to the burn-your-bras-generation? It feels obvious when watching the film today that the revenge was in its place! And I love Rathbone too much to not want him as Dr. Sloper :)

De Havilland is always strangely attractive! She is a natural beauty, but she has some kind of wisdom to it that makes her irresistible.
Do you know where one can get ahold of La Otra?

Thank you so much - I try my best to be discreet with the colorizing, not to eliminate the original b/w feeling :)