Art of Acting in The Heiress

     The four following characters in William Wyler's 1949 movie, The Heiress played their roles beautifully: Catherine, Dr. Sloper, Morris, and Lavina. After reading the book Washington Square, written in 1880 by Henry James, and the play The Heiress, written in 1948 by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, I was very much impressed with how well these men and women played the different roles of these emotional characters.

     From the very beginning of the movie, Olivia de Havilland's Catherine had a very gentle spirit about her and was very humble and good-natured. Her shy expressions were very humorous and very effective. Catherine made us feel for her because she had no social skills. She was almost like a child. Catherine's expression after Montgomery Clift's Morris kissed her hand at the dance made me light up all over! I could virtually feel her excitement and embarrassment!

     She was also very amusing and entertaining when she was speaking with Mrs. Montgomery (Betty Linley). Catherine had an excellent way of not being able to carry on a conversation. Her expressions and attitude were portrayed exactly how I had imagined these same qualities of her in the books.

     Finally, Catherine's coldness in the end broke my heart. She seemed to have lost her spirit and humbleness, while at the same time appearing more confident and strong. The way she carried her shoulders and her constant eye contact showed her as a totally different person in the end. Olivia de Havilland, the actress who played Catherine, definitely dominated her role.

     Ralph Richardson's Dr. Sloper portrayed his part perfectly. I felt every stern look at Catherine and felt every mean comment he made. He was the perfect "butt hole" father! His English accent gave superiority over all of the characters, especially over Catherine and Morris. From the very beginning, I was automatically very intimidated by Dr. Sloper. For example, when he told Catherine that one hundred women were prettier and more cleaver than her, I wanted to hit him across the face. He obviously did a very good job acting since I so strongly disliked him.

     Morris was a more beautiful creature than I had even pictured in the book. His smile was perfect for the part. He literally made me melt with his million-dollar smile and sense of charm. At the beginning of the novel, I found Morris to be completely sincere. He was so adorably nervous while waiting for Catherine to come home near the beginning of the movie. I feel the director wanted us to like Morris and not to understand his greed until later on in the movie. For this very reason I felt Morris dominated his role.

     Miriam Hopkins' Lavina was the perfect town gossip. She spoke fast and was extremely excited about the smallest things. I loved how Lavina would purposely leave Catherine and Morris alone together and then speak about how she just felt horrible for not being a suitable chaperon. Lavina definitely dominated her role.

     The acting of these four characters is mainly the reason I enjoyed this movie so much. I felt the director could not have cast better actors to play these people.

Toni L. Crum

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