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USA 1949
Directed by
William Wyler
116 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

The Heiress

William Wyler’s film was based on a 1946 play of the same name by Ruth and Augustus Goetz (who also wrote the screenplay) which in turn was based on the 1881 novella "Washington Square" by Henry James. Set in Greenwich Village in the 1840s its marvellous production design is certainly one of the film’s assets but the well-crafted story and top drawer performances are also important ingredients.

Olivia de Haviland won her second Academy Award for her portrayal of the plain and timid Catherine Sloper, the only daughter of the rather pompous Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson) who cannot stop himself from comparing her unfavourably with his deceased wife. When a handsome but penniless young society gentleman (Montgomery Clift) shows her some attention she cannot help but fall in love with him. Her father disapproves of the match but Catherine is willing to sacrifice all for love. But is her paramour?

Although not lavish The Heiress is a gilt-edged example of high-end studio-era Hollywood period film-making (the film won Oscars for art direction and costume design and Aaron Copland;s score), and is perfectly judged by Wyler. Although de Haviland is too old to play the younger Catherine (she was 33 at the time and had approached Wyler to be her director) her beauty very much suits the mid–nineteenth century ideal and she does a fine job in playing the diffident and yearning young lady. Ralph Richardson is first class as her father and Clift’s characteristic awkwardness suits him well as the good-looking but essentially opportunistic suitor. Miriam Hopkins also gives a fine performance as Catherine’s sympathetic aunt whilst the script, which stays close to James’s story, gracefully delineates the dynamics of situation that the characters must play out.




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