Catherine Tougher on Celluloid

         I liked the book Washington Square, written in 1880 by Henry James, but I loved the movie The Heiress, directed in 1949 by William Wyler. The movie just allowed me to see how Catherine, as depicted by Olivia de Havilland, was really stiff and rough around the edge, although she stands up for herself far more in the movie than the book. The book goes into more in depth than the movie, but with a book that is easier to do. There were quite a few differences between the two. These are Catherine's relationships with her father, Aunt Lavinia Pennimen, and Morris Townsend.

         The one huge difference between the book and movie was evident when her father, Dr. Sloper, is sick and dying. In the book they have their argument about her suitor, Morris Townsend, and she becomes very angry with him and does not want to speak to him any more than she absolutely has to. Much later she had time to mellow, and so did he. When he becomes ill, she dutifully tends to him and is with him when he dies. In the movie it is very soon after that their argument that he (Ralph Richardson) becomes very ill and requests her (Olivia de Havilland) to be by his side as he is dying. However, when she is summoned by the maid, Maria (Vanessa Brown), she stays resolutely outside and does not go to him.

         The movie was very good. I loved it when her father demonstrates his contempt for her, and she then becomes very hard. She stands up and does not let anyone walk over her. When Morris (Montgomery Clift) comes back, she allows him to love upon her and give his forgiveness, making him believe that she will just forget all that happened and how he left her. However, when he returns, she has Maria bolt the door and forces him to pound on the door in vain, as she strides triumphantly up the stairs, torch in hand. That was my favorite part. The movie was very good at showing just how much she changed, so far as her tone of voice, the way she walked, even her sharpness of tongue. I liked Catherine and thought that Morris got what he deserved.

         Both the book and the movie were extremely enjoyable. I think it was a realistic type situation that would still happen today, probably more like the one in the movie than in the book.

Terra Vance

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