|Ever the Method actor, Clift learned to play the piano for this scene|
in which Morris sings The Joys of Love to Catherine
|Olivia de Havilland as Catherine Sloper|
|Montgomery Clift as Morris Townsend|
|Ralph Richardson as Dr. Austin Sloper|
|Miriam Hopkins as Lavinia Penniman|
|Three is the Magic Number|
The Heiress was Montgomery Clift's 3rd film, and his co-star was three years older
|Miriam Hopkins is the queen of the silly and superficial busybody.|
No matter how extremely her character is written, she finds both the humor and the humanity
Although Dr. Sloper and Lavinia are both of the mind that Catherine’s failings in looks and charm are significantly mitigated by her being an heiress with a considerable fortune, Lavinia is too much of a romantic to ever admit to such base pragmatism, while Dr. Sloper regards the assessment as indisputable fact…like a medical diagnosis.
When that someone comes in the form of Montgomery Clift, playing a man in possession everything that Catherine lacks except money; we can't help but feel (hope) that at least in some ways, this pair is well-suited. Certainly the superficial attractions of physical beauty are no more a barrier to true love than the superficial allure of wealth?
|Playboy After Dark|
Does our distrust of Morris come from the reversal of the beauty ethic (women are supposed to be the pretty ones), or the reversal of the patriarchal tradition (men are expected to support women)?
The Heiress deviates from the play in that it never makes the honorableness of Morris' attentions entirely clear. At least not initially. As the film progresses we are manipulated back and forth, forced to view Morris' whirlwind courtship of Catherine through the alternating perspective of Dr. Sloper's suspicious eyes or Lavinia’s willfully rose-colored gaze.
Provocatively, we’re placed in the position of preferring to be right rather than see Catherine happy (her father, again), or hoping…perhaps beyond reason…that Townsend is not really what he seems and merely a penniless suitor genuinely seeing in Catherine that which we ourselves have been witness to: her very real charms have just not been given the opportunity to develop in the loveless home she shares with her father in Washington Square.
|"I'd never contradict him."|
The Heiress fits easily into this informal sub-genre, it being a kind of tragic pop fairy-tale that tells the story of a woman who, having misguidedly invested her sense of self and happiness in finding someone who deems her worthy of being loved, seeks that tenuous approbation in the eyes of not one, but two woefully inadequate men. Though her path is one both heartbreaking and life-alteringly painful, Catherine nevertheless comes to arrive at a place of self-discovery, self-acceptance and, ultimately strength.
|"That's right Father. You never will know, will you?"|
|The Heiress represents Olivia de Havilland's 5th (and final) Oscar nomination |
and 2nd win in the Best Actress category
In our being able to so readily appraise and recognize Catherine's worth, her father becomes a villain before he gets a chance to show the sympathetic side of his case.(Marginally sympathetic, anyway. One can empathize with a man missing his wife, but to withhold affection from a motherless child due to repressed resentment or blame is cruel and tragic.). But as I've stated, the narrative tipping point falls to the casting of Morris, and whether or not the actor playing the role is able to conceivably play sincerity and knavishness with equal credibility.
|Recreating the role he played on the London stage, Ralph Richardson (knighted Sir in 1947)|
is remarkable as the over-assured and unyielding Austin Sloper. The sureness of his performance
serves as the virtual touchstone for everyone else in the film
I like Montgomery Clift a great deal, but if reports are true that he was deeply dissatisfied with his performance in The Heiress, I can't say his feelings are entirely unfounded. Simply put, he seems to be outclassed and a tad out of his depth when it comes to to the performances of de Havilland, Richardson, and Hopkins. To be sure, this could merely be an instance of clashing acting styles, his co-stars representing a more formal, old-guard style of acting to his more relaxed contemporary technique. The latter resulting in the actor occasionally coming across as stiff and uncomfortable.
However, in his defense, Clift's very "otherness" in manner and speech (whether intentional or not) works marvelously within the context of the story. His Morris Townsend is a character we are meant to be unsure of; unaware of where the real person ends and the artifice begins. He introduces passion and impulse into the Sloper's world of strict formality. Clift's awkwardness, which wreaks havoc with the viewer's ability to ascertain his character's sincerity, winds up adding a great deal to Morris' ambiguity.
|Sizing Up The Interloper|
I like him a great deal in the film, even while recognizing his Morris Townsend is perhaps not one of his strongest performances.
|As Audrey Hepburn did in Two for the Road, Olivia de Havilland is able to convey very distinct stages in the emotional maturation of her character simply through her facial expressions, body language, and voice modulation. Here, Catherine Sloper has grown into a woman at peace with herself|
The Heiress garnered a whopping eight Academy Award nominations in 1949: Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Richardson), Cinematography - winning in the categories of Best Actress (de Havilland), Music (Aaron Copland..a matter of contention), Art Direction (J. Meehan, H. Horner, E. Kuri), and Costume Design (Edith head, Gile Steele).
I'm particularly fond of the costume design and art direction in The Heiress, which is truly gorgeous. Even more so with today's digital restorations and HD TV screens.
THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Adapted from a Broadway production, The Heiress shows its stage roots in being a somewhat stagy and talky motion picture more reliant on dialog, performance, and characterization than action. In this instance I wouldn't have it any other way, for The Heiress has such marvelous, quotable dialog.
"Headaches! They strike like a thief in the night! Permit me to retire, of course. It's not like me to give in, dear, but sometimes fortitude is folly!"
"How is it possible to protect such a willing victim?"
"Yes, I can be very cruel. I have been taught by masters."
"I can tell you now what you have done. You have cheated me. You thought that any handsome, clever man would be as bored with me as you were. It was not love that made you protect me. It was contempt."