The Heiress (1949)

by guest writer

The Heiress is another period piece which in William Wyler’s hands turned into an extraordinary characterful tale. The story, an intense drama, is about the struggle between a shy daughter and a distant father. Olivia de Havilland, in one of her best performances, plays the introverted Catherine Sloper, who has everything money can buy, but who is an unattractive, plain woman, with a weak and hopeless character, victimized by the men in her life. When a handsome young man, Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), begins to court her, he raises suspicion to Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson), Catherine’s father, which will lead to a battle of wills between father and daughter and will do irreparable damage to their lives.

One memorable scene is the one when Catherine climbs the stairs to her bedroom after Townsend leaves her, with the suitcase she had packed for their elopement. That sequence is so emotionally and psychologically charged, showcasing the disturbing experience she goes through, the turning point that causes the rupture between the naïve girl she used to be and the bitter spinster she will become. It also shows Wyler’s film-making abilities.

photo: still from the film; production credits

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