An emotionally neglected young woman falls in love with a man
her miserly father suspects is after her forthcoming inheritance.
The Heiress (1949)
Directed by William Wyler
Written by Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz
Starring Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson, Miriam Hopkins, Vanessa Brown, Betty Linley
Based on the stage play by Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz
and the novel Washington Square by Henry James
Oscar Wins - Best Actress (Olivia de Havilland), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score (Aaron Copland)
Oscar Nominations - Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor
(Ralph Richardson), Best Director, Best Cinematography
The best films of early Hollywood are the ones that contain portents of things to come. Little character moments and overarching themes that would become staples of modern filmmaking. The Heiress is loaded with those. It's a film not about love, but about deception and emotional neglect, and how distrust can completely disintegrate any relationship. Led by three fantastic performances from Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, and Ralph Richardson, this film subverts expectations and stands the test of time thanks to its realism.
Catherine Sloper (de Havilland) comes from money. She's been told she's not beautiful, not all that smart, and not all that talented. That's why when promising suitor Morris Townsend (Clift) comes along proclaiming his undying love for Catherine just a few days after they first met, Catherine's emotionally distant father Dr. Austin Sloper (Richardson) calls bullshit. He tells Catherine that Morris is a fortune hunter who is after her money, but Catherine insists that Morris's love is true. In the end, Austin's words are so harsh that they kill his daughter's love, and he dies an old miser. But also, Morris was indeed after Catherine's money, and once Catherine realizes this, she gets her revenge. And it is simple, but oh so satisfying.
The Heiress is a bit of a slow starter, but once it gets rolling, it pulls you in with its great performances and engaging story. You feel Catherine's pain and you become just as heartbroken once you understand Morris's true intentions. I love films that are over seven decades old, but still have the power to needle their way into your heart. It's why art like this will last forever.