William Wyler Equals Brilliance

         The numerous amounts of Oscars and other prestigious film awards William Wyler earned in his history working in Hollywood could be attributed to his brilliant eye in filmmaking. I was first exposed to his work in film school at Memphis when I watched The Best Years of Our Lives (1947). This film stood out upon many other works we studied that where filmed in the same time period. This was primarily due to the professional acting Wyler directed. I soon figured out why this was after watching a video about his life and works in Hollywood. Wyler would always expect the best on screen appearance requiring actors/actresses, such as Olivia de Havilland to take as many as twenty-five takes and upwards in order to get the perfect shot.

         In the 1949 film Heiress, Wyler directed yet another amazing performance by his acting crew. Leading them all was an Oscar winning performance by Olivia de Havilland in the role of Catherine Sloper. In the play, by Ruth and Augustus Goetz (1948), on which the movie was based on, she begins as a non-clever, average girl. The fact that she comes from a very wealthy family throws in the out of the ordinary scenario because usually woman among the upper class in the mid-1800’s displayed a more proper social status. In the beginning of the play Morris Townsend (played by Montgomery Clift in the film) shows a false love to Catherine. Then after leaving Catherine, he returns back to her in the end. Catherine, due to his treatment to her, became fairly clever after all. She is the one in the end to pull one over on him by denying him her estate.

         William Wyler perfected this transition in the film. For example, in one of the opening scenes of the Heiress, Catherine is at a party held by similar people of her family’s wealth status. Throughout the scene Catherine would repeatedly be confused on how to act in regards to the male gender. Her Aunt Lavinia (Miriam Hopkins) would have to constantly guide her. However by the end of the film Catherine proved to be very clever to those around her who where using her for her wealth, including Lavinia and Morris. Thanks to William Wyler’s directing the entire persona and style of mannerisms that Olivia de Havilland changed were precisely along with this transition in the play.

Greg Humkey

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