|Directed by||William Wyler|
|Screenplay by||Augustus Goetz |
|Based on||The Heiress|
by Augustus Goetz
|Produced by||William Wyler|
|Edited by||William Hornbeck|
|Music by||Aaron Copland|
|Color process||Black and white|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$2.3 million (US rentals)|
The Heiress is a 1949 American romantic drama film directed and produced by William Wyler, from a screenplay written by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, adapted from their 1947 stage play of the same title, which was itself adapted from Henry James' 1880 novel Washington Square. The film stars Olivia de Havilland as Catherine Sloper, a naive young woman who falls in love with a handsome young man despite the objections of her emotionally abusive father who suspects the man of being a fortune hunter. Montgomery Clift stars as Morris Townsend, and Ralph Richardson as Dr. Sloper.
The Heiress premiered in Los Angeles on October 6, 1949 and was theatrically released by Paramount Pictures on December 28, 1949. Although a box office failure, grossing $2.3 million on a $2.6 million budget, the film garnered critical acclaim, with reviewers praising Wyler's direction, its screenplay and the performances of the cast. The film received a leading eight nominations at the 22nd Academy Awards, including for the Best Picture, and won four awards (more than any other film nominated that year); Best Actress (for de Havilland), Best Original Score, Best Production Design, and Best Costume Design. In 1996, The Heiress was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Universal Pictures, through its EMKA division, currently handles distribution of the film.
In New York City, sometime in the 1850s, Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) is a plain, painfully shy woman whose exacting and emotionally detached father, physician Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson), makes no secret of his disappointment in her. Catherine, as her father painfully reminds her, has limited talent and cannot "hold a candle" to her deceased mother. Sloper is terribly bitter about losing his charming and beautiful wife, whom he feels fate replaced with a simple, unalluring daughter. However, Catherine is devoted to her father and too innocent to fully comprehend his mistreatment or its reasons. Catherine enjoys quiet pursuits, such as caring for her father and embroidery, and seldom ventures out socially.
Catherine's gregarious Aunt Lavinia Penniman (Miriam Hopkins) moves into the household after becoming widowed and attempts to prod Catherine into being more social and find a husband. When she meets the handsome Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) at a ball, Catherine is taken by the attention he lavishes upon her, attention she's never received before and desperately wanted. At first uncomprehending and reluctant to accept his advances, she flourishes under his affections. Catherine falls madly in love with Morris, and they plan to marry.
Catherine is of age, receiving $10,000 per year from her mother's estate, and is expected to receive an additional $20,000 per year on top of this after her father's passing. Dr. Sloper believes Morris, being far more attractive and charming than Catherine, but poor and with few prospects after he wasted his own inheritance, is an idler courting Catherine only to get her sizable income. Aunt Lavinia favors the match regardless, being both romantic and pragmatic enough to view this as Catherine's chance at a happy married life. Morris is genuinely fond of Catherine's honesty and kindness despite his largely monetary motivations, and treats her with respect, unlike her father.
A frank discussion with Morris's sister confirms Dr. Sloper's opinion of Morris as a gold digger. The doctor tells the young couple he believes Morris is attempting to dupe plain, gullible Catherine. The doctor takes his daughter to Europe for an extended time to separate them. Still, she cannot forget her betrothed, especially since he frequents the house to visit Aunt Lavinia in their absence, who enables the two to keep in contact. When they return to New York, Dr. Sloper threatens to disinherit his daughter if she marries Morris, and they have a bitter argument in which the doctor makes his disdain and distaste for her abundantly clear. She finally realizes how poorly he really views her.
Catherine and Morris make plans to elope with the help of Aunt Lavinia. Catherine tells Morris that, even if her father didn't disinherit her, she never wants to see him again and she would refuse his money. According to their plan, Catherine eagerly packs her bags and waits for Morris to come and take her away to happiness. She is impatient to cut off all contact with her father and desperate to prove him and Aunt Lavinia incorrect: Someone does love her, not her money, and she has not been stupid to think so. Her confidence is shaken when Lavinia tells Catherine she shouldn't have let Morris know she was rejecting her inheritance. Catherine waits all night, but he never comes. She drags her luggage back upstairs and puts her belongings away.
Catherine is heartbroken and grows cold, now painfully aware of her father's opinion of her, but trapped caring for him nonetheless. Soon afterward, Dr. Sloper reveals he is dying. He tells Catherine that he is proud she resisted Morris, but Catherine vengefully tells her father she still loves Morris and dares him to change his will if he is afraid they will waste his money after he dies. He does not alter the will and dies, fretful, leaving her his entire estate. Catherine refuses to see him on his deathbed.
A few years later, Catherine has a visit from her cousin, and she is a different person, wearing fashionable clothes, being easy in her manner and becoming lovelier, now that her face is no longer a mask of tension and sadness. Morris returns from California, poorer, having made nothing of himself, and having even fewer prospects for his efforts. Aunt Lavinia arranges for Morris to visit Catherine. He finds Catherine wealthy and unmarried and is more attracted to her than before. He claims that he only left her behind because he could not bear to see her disinherited by her father and is quick to proclaim his love for her and his desire for her affections. Aunt Lavinia is thrilled for her niece, thinking this is Catherine's last chance. Catherine ignites Morris's hopes when she requests that he recreate their previous plan to elope. She gives Morris a gift of ruby buttons that she had bought for him in Paris. Morris eagerly promises to come back for her that night, and she tells him she will start packing her bags. As she goes upstairs, Morris greedily surveys the house he believes will be his new home.
After Morris leaves, Catherine informs her aunt that she does not believe his renewed protestations of love and that she has no intention of offering her love to him. Her aunt asks her if she can be so cruel, and Catherine coldly responds "Yes, I can be very cruel. I have been taught by masters."
When Morris arrives later that night with the promised carriage, he rings the bell, and Catherine calmly orders the maid to bolt the door, leaving Morris locked outside, shouting her name and repeatedly banging on the locked door. Catherine silently ascends the stairs with a faint smile of triumph while Morris' despairing cries echo unanswered in the darkness.
- Olivia de Havilland as Catherine Sloper
- Montgomery Clift as Morris Townsend
- Ralph Richardson as Dr. Austin Sloper
- Miriam Hopkins as Lavinia Penniman
- Vanessa Brown as Maria
- Betty Linley as Mrs. Montgomery
- Ray Collins as Jefferson Almond
- Mona Freeman as Marian Almond
- Selena Royle as Elizabeth Almond
- Paul Lees as Arthur Townsend
- Harry Antrim as Mr. Abeel
- Russ Conway as Quintus
- David Thursby as Geier
After seeing The Heiress on Broadway, Olivia de Havilland approached William Wyler about directing her in a screen adaptation of the play. He agreed and encouraged executives at Paramount Pictures to purchase the rights from the playwrights (Ruth and Augustus Goetz) for $250,000 and offer them $10,000 per week to write the screenplay. The couple were asked to make Morris less of a villain than he was in their play and the original novel in deference to the studio's desire to capitalize on Montgomery Clift's reputation as a romantic leading man.
Ralph Richardson reprised the role of Austin Sloper in a London production of the play.
The Heiress received universal critical acclaim. Bosley Crowther for The New York Times wrote that the film "crackles with allusive life and fire in its tender and agonized telling of an extraordinarily characterful tale" and added Wyler "has given this somewhat austere drama an absorbing intimacy and a warming illusion of nearness that it did not have on the stage. He has brought the full-bodied people very closely and vividly to view, while maintaining the clarity and sharpness of their personalities, their emotions and their styles...The Heiress is one of the handsome, intense and adult dramas of the year."
The Brooklyn Eagle found the film "an intensely satisfying drama that holds a high level of interest throughout, building relentlessly to a moving climax." Praise for the principals lauded de Havilland especially: "the transformation of Catherine Sloper from a pathetically shy girl to a cold, handsome woman" being "handled with finished skill."
The Philadelphia Inquirer praised the Goetzes for a skillful transformation of their stage version, finding it "in almost every way...superior." Prospects of an Academy Award for de Havilland were judged "thoroughly reasonable" as well.
TV Guide rates the film five out of a possible five stars and add, "This powerful and compelling drama...owes its triumph to the deft hand of director William Wyler and a remarkable lead performance by Olivia de Havilland.
Time Out London calls the film "typically plush, painstaking and cold...highly professional and heartless."
Channel 4 stated "de Havilland's portrayal...is spine-chilling...Clift brings a subtle ambiguity to one of his least interesting roles, and Richardson is also excellent."
In popular culture
In 1975, the twenty-first episode of the eighth season of The Carol Burnett Show featured a take-off of the film titled "The Lady Heir", with Carol Burnett as Catherine and Roddy McDowell as Morris.
The film's Philippine adaptation, titled Ikaw Pa Lang ang Minahal, was made in 1992. The adaptation was written by Raquel Villavicencio, produced by Armida Siguion-Reyna, and directed by Carlos Siguion-Reyna. The film stars Maricel Soriano and Richard Gomez as Adela and David.
Awards and nominations
- The Top Box Office Hits of 1950, Variety, January 3, 1951.
- Variety Film Reviews, September 7, 1949, p. 11.
- Harrison's Reports and Film Reviews
- Stern, Christopher (1996-12-03). "National Film Registry taps 25 more pix". Variety. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
- "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
- The Heiress at Turner Classic Movies
- Crowther, Bosley (October 7, 1949). "'The Heiress,' With Olivia de Havilland in Leading Role, Arrives at Music Hall". The New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
- Sheaffer, Lew. "De Havilland Excellent as 'Heiress'." Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 7 October 1949.
- Martin, Mildred. " 'The Heiress' at Stanley Is Movie Melodrama." Philadelphia Inquirer, 24 December 1949.
- TV Guide review
- Time Out London review Archived 2009-03-16 at the Wayback Machine
- Channel 4 review
- IMDB. "The Carol Burnett Show (1967–1978) Episode #8.21". Retrieved August 3, 2017.
- "NY Times: The Heiress". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-11-23. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: The Heiress|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Heiress.|
- The Heiress at IMDb
- The Heiress at the TCM Movie Database
- The Heiress at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Heiress at AllMovie
- The Heiress at the American Film Institute Catalog
- The Heiress: A Cruel Inheritance an essay by Pamela Hutchinson at the Criterion Collection
- The Heiress essay by Daniel Eagan in America's Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry, A&C Black, 2010 ISBN 0826429777, pages 426-427