The Chemistry of Montgomery Clift

     The 1949 cinematic adaptation of Washington Square, written in 1880 by Henry James, The Heiress, directed by William Wyler, is one of the best adaptations that I have ever seen. William Wyler stayed close enough to James's story line so that he was able to make a few changes without losing Henry's true idea.

     Olivia de Havilland played the sweet, sensitive, naive, and shy little girl turned cruel and hateful in The Heiress. Olivia did an outstanding job of making a drastic character switch at the end of the film. Throughout the film she did an excellent job of keeping Henry James's Catherine alive without having to try too hard and be ostentatious, as Merle Oberon did in Wuthering Heights.

     Montgomery Clift played the suave, calculating, and handsome mercenary. Clift also did a commendable job of keeping his character true to Henry James's novel. He was able to keep the chemistry between Catherine and Morris alive. Because Olivia had to portray a character that was weak throughout the majority of the film, her character would not have been strong enough to hold the film together. Montgomery Clift had to make his character strong enough to hold the plot together. In essence, Morris is the backbone of the story; and, in order for the cinematic adaptation to work, the actor and the character have to be able to pull everything together to make a film that is capable of achieving a highly rated review.

     The Heiress, compared to another cinematic adaptation, Wuthering Heights, also directed by William Wyler, was a major improvement. Wyler was not so concerned with making a romantically and visually appealing movie, as he was with Wuthering Heights. I felt that he was more concerned with turning a classic novel into a masterpiece capable of being nominated for the Academy Awards Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, Best Music Score, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction and The Golden Globe Awards Best Actress.

Julie A. Hoffman

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