Another great film classic tonight for our Saturday Night Cinema feature, The Heiress. Olivia DeHavilland is briliant as the mealy-mouthed mouse plain-Jane daughter of wealthy widower Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson). Some of the best scenes of the picture are between DeHavilland and Richardson. Sharp, cruel-to-be-kind, Richardson teaches his weak pathetic daughter a little too well. Whatever Montgomery Clift's motives (and Clift is never more handsome), it always bothered me that Sloper would deny his daughter this great happiness.
.....the conflict that this story is basically built upon—the struggle between a timid daughter and her willful father over the suitor of the girl—becomes an impassioned and arresting clash of immediate minds and a locking of adult emotions that we can expressly comprehend. And the burning and then the bitter experience of the girl with the deceitful man is filled with pervasive nuances that it could not reveal at long range.
It is a sharp, brilliant literary adaptation of Henry James' 1881 novel based, interestingly enough, on a true story.
William Wyler's superlative rendition of Henry James' novel Washington Square is meticulously mounted with great acting from Olivia De Havilland, Monty Clift, and particularly Ralph Richardson, dark-noirish lensing, and powerful score from Aaron Copeland.
The New York Times 1949 film review:
The Heiress (1949) By BOSLEY CROWTHER, October 7, 1949
Not many film producers are able to do the sort of thing that William Wyler has done with "The Heiress," the mordant stage play of two seasons back. For Mr. Wyler has taken this drama, which is essentially of the drawing-room and particularly of an era of stilted manners and rigid attitudes, and has made it into a motion picture that crackles with allusive life and fire in its tender and agonized telling of an extraordinarily characterful tale. This film, with Olivia de Havilland playing the title role, was delivered by Mr. Wyler (and Paramount Pictures) to the Music Hall yesterday.
Moving about, in the first place, in a fine house in Washington Square, which was tactitly represented on the stage by one elegant set, and then going out from that center to other places for colorful scenes, Mr. Wyler has got for the drama plenty of space in which to move around. More than that, with the help of his writers, Ruth and Augustus Goetz, who adapted the play originally from a novel by Henry James, he has chopped up the play's continuity into a fluid succession of scenes that have the advantage of contrasts in movement and physical mood.
But most particularly, Mr. Wyler, who also directed the film, 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.
As a consequence, the conflict that this story is basically built upon—the struggle between a timid daughter and her willful father over the suitor of the girl—becomes an impassioned and arresting clash of immediate minds and a locking of adult emotions that we can expressly comprehend. And the burning and then the bitter experience of the girl with the deceitful man is filled with pervasive nuances that it could not reveal at long range.
For some reason, Mr. Wyler and his writers have softened the shock of the most explosive moments in this tale of a hundred years ago. The father, a suave and clever person is not quite the sadist that he was—nor as nebulously psychopathic as he appeared—on the stage. Here, in the rich and sleek performance which Sir Ralph Richardson gives, he is a socially disciplined parent calculating the protection of his child—a cautious and masterful person whom you cannot help but admire. As a consequence, his critical resistance to his daughter's precarious romance is not as precisely diabolic as it might profitably be.
Likewise, the soft and pliant nature that Miss de Havilland gives to the shy and colorless daughter is much less shatterable by shock, and her ecstasies and her frustrations are much more open than they appeared on the stage, where Wendy Hiller performed her with significant restraint. Thus her emotional reactions are more fluent and evident, which has forced Mr. Wyler to abandon her poignant breakdown at the shock of being deceived. On the whole, however, her portrayal of the poor girl has dignity and strength.
As the mercenary suitor, Montgomery Clift seems a little young and a wee bit too glibly modern in his verbal inflections and attitudes. But he brings a vast deal of vitality and romantic charm to the role. Likewise, Miriam Hopkins is delightful as the girl's impulsive aunt and Betty Linley is exquisitely touching in one scene as the sister of the man. John Meehan's expensive settings have exceptional refinement and taste. "The Heiress" is one of the handsome, intense and adult dramas of the year.
On the stage at the Music Hall are Bettina Rosay and Robert De Voye, with the Corps de Ballet, Andrew Gainey and the Glee Club, the Robin Hood Trio and the Gaud-smith Brothers.
THE HEIRESS, screen play by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, from their play of the same name, suggested by Henry James' novel, "Washington Square"; directed and produced by William Wyler for Paramount Pictures. At the Music Hall.
Catherine Sloper . . . . . Olivia de Havilland
Morris Townsend . . . . . Montgomery Clift
Dr. Austin Sloper . . . . . Ralph Richardson
Lavinia Penniman . . . . . Miriam Hopkins
Maria . . . . . Vanessa Brown
Marian Almond . . . . . Mona Freeman
Jefferson Almond . . . . . Ray Collins
Mrs. Montgomery . . . . . Betty Linley
Elizabeth Almond . . . . . Selena Royle