Casting in The Heiress

         I feel the casting in William Wyler's 1949 The Heiress, based on Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, for the most part, was very fitting. There were good qualities in all the characters played and some more than others. Some of the characters were hard for me to mentally picture until viewing the movie. It was a relief to put a face with a character in some instances.

         The most fitting characters, in my opinion, were Catherine Sloper, Doctor Sloper, and Aunt Penniman. Catherine was one character that was difficult to picture during my reading of the book. When the movie showed her running down the stairs in one of the first scenes, I was satisfied with her look and personality, as she was depicted by Olivia de Havilland. She was plain (not ugly) and shy but at the same time, had some quality about her that made me know there was something more to this girl.

        Ralph Richardson's Dr. Sloper was one character that almost exactly fit my preconceived profile of him based on my reading of the book. Richardson was able to pull off the arrogant, witty, and sophisticated image I had of James's Dr. Sloper. A part of me had hoped the doctor would be a little more sincere, but that would have taken away from his character completely in the movie.

         Aunt Penniman was another character that was hard to picture mentally. I really took her for a big flirt in the book and screenplay, even though the book bluntly stated there was no reason for Catherine to be jealous of her aunt. The movie made her character, as acted by Mirian Hopkins, easier to understand. She was just living through Catherine. She did not actually want to experience intimacy with Morris Townsend. The movie made the aunt seem more grown up.

         Characters that were fitting, but who had more flaws in the casting were Marian, Mrs. Montgomery, and Morris Townsend. Catherine's cousin Marian was described as being beautiful but not very brilliant. I expected some beauty queen who knew all the right things to say but did not care about what anyone else thought. However, upon seeing her for the first time, as portrayed by Mona Freeman, I was disappointed. She was not all that gorgeous, and was a little bit more caring than I had expected. I did not want her to be mean, but she should have displayed to the audience more distinguishable attributes between her and Catherine.

        Betty Linley's Mrs. Montgomery was another disappointment, in my opinion because she seemed a little scattered and unaware of what was going on. I had pictured James's Mrs. Montgomery as a smart and clever woman who had truly worked for what she had. The book portrayed her to be a bit more understanding of the doctor's point than the movie, and I liked her as more understanding.

         Finally, Montgomery Clift's Morris Townsend was too skinny. He was a nice looking man, but I could not get past his skinniness. Catherine seemed to be twice his size. I think he should have either wore different clothes or gained some weight for the part. Every time he was in a scene, it is all I could think about, and I would have rather been able to be more into the story than that. Also, I wanted him to be more scandalous. If I had not read the book, I would have been so confused to why she left him screaming her name out on the porch.

         I enjoyed Morris losing in the end however. I thought it was an original ending for a movie, especially in its time period. All of the characters came together to form a beautiful movie; all the actors/actresses made their characters come to life in some way, whether or not it was in the way I had hoped for when I started watching the movie.

Jennifer Enoch

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