Morris Townsend: Greedy or Goody-Goody

        There is one major point that makes The Heiress (1949), directed by William Wyler and based on Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, my favorite movie that we watched in class. That was the ending of the movie when it never tells us whether or not Morris was true to his word or if he lied, as Dr. Sloper had predicted. It is that kind of open-ended cinema that I particularly like to look for. What I cannot figure out was if he was true or not.

        Morris Townsend, played by Montgomery Clift, is a man who comes out of nowhere to court Catherine Sloper, depicted by Olivia de Havilland. Everyone who knows sees this as a blessing from God for Catherine since she has been so alone for so many years, except for her father, Dr. Sloper, portrayed by Ralph Richardson, who thinks that it is all a sham to get Catherine's money. With all of the evidence given in the story, I can understand why he would think that since Morris seemed to warm up to Catherine rather quickly. It was as if Morris had planned ahead about what he and Catherine were going to do and when so he could sweep her off her feet and take her money with them.

        However, Morris met every challenge that Dr. Sloper gave him and beat them to prove he that wanted her. Since they lived in such a prestigious neighborhood, if he had wanted just money, he would have tried someone who would be less strict and easier to fool instead of going through all the trouble. That is why I think he was actually meaning what he said about his feelings toward her. But then, there is the disappearing act that Morris pulled by going away for several years and then popping back one day out of the blue. But, then again, his reasons for leaving were so ridiculous and so pathetic, that they might actually have been true. Nobody comes back from being gone for so long and just makes up the kind of nonsense he was saying if it was not true. No one would believe it if it were just a lie. Or, maybe that is what he was thinking when he said it.

        I could go on for hours and keep on going in circles over and over again. The truth of it all is that we do not really know what happened because we never see what goes on while Morris is alone. Personally, I really want to know. Oh, I'll just say "he wanted the money" and be done with it.

Matt Engle

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