Casting The Heiress

        The 1949 film The Heiress, directed by William Wyler, stayed true to the text it was based on, the 1948 play The Heiress by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, based on Henry Jamesís 1880 novel, Washington Square.

         The casting for the roles of Catherine and Dr. Sloper, played by Olivia de Havilland and Ralph Richardson respectively, was spot-on. Their portrayal of their characters was just as I had imagined in my head while reading The Heiress. Catherine was supposed to be plain and unobtrusive and Dr. Sloper was supposed to be dignified yet stern and set in his ways when he came to a conclusion. Richardson just seemed to carry himself in a way to suggest he was just that sort of person. Havilland was so plain it got on my nerves at times. At the risk of sounding like a superficial American movie-goer, I have come to expect lead actresses to be stunningly beautiful, an element not utilized in this film. However, it worked for me because that is exactly the way it was originally written to be by Henry James in the first place.

        I thought Lavinia Pennimanís character, played by actress Miriam Hopkins, was also well portrayed. In Washington Square and The Heiress, I had her as more of a meddling lady instead of the caring and concerned aunt she came off as onscreen. I will say, however, that I got the hint she knew Morrisí intentions all along from the movie where I thought she was a naÔve old woman who believed Morrisí false reasoning and excuse in the texts. I liked how the film played up that aspect of her character, and I think Hopkins sold the idea well.

        As for the other characters, I thought the casting was good, but the above three stood out for me.

Maggie Gardner