The Heiress: Identify with Catherine

         The Heiress, directed in 1949 by William Wyler and based on Henry James’s 1880 Washington Square, opens on a sign “Washington Square” one hundred years ago with nice city housing, a horse drawn-buggy, trees and birds, and a formal park across from the front yard. This setting begins to set up the movie’s tone: sophistication. We see Catherine in the beginning with her hair in one long braid, simple dress, portraying her innocence. Then we see her father, Dr. Austin Sloper, who is very stern and sophisticated. This also sets the tone; everyone seems very serious and proper.

         The scene then goes to an outdoor wedding party. It made the movie have a lighter feel to it; the ambiance creates this feeling. Cathy, played by Olivia de Havilland, meets Morris, depicted by Montgomery Clift. Morris seems to be an extreme romantic. In one scene, he gives her this long, drawn out speech about how he is falling in love with her but we soon see that he is a lunatic, just wanting her money. However, love is often blind; and, in Catherine’s case, it could not be a better explanation. Soon, Dr. Sloper, acted by Ralph Richardson, insists that Catherine goes away with him to Europe so she will fall out of love with Morris. This plan does not work, and Catherine comes back ready to run away with Morris. It is not until she tells him about the money issue, being that they will only receive half of her inheritance, that we see the tone shift back to its original form.

         The play has this serious, sophisticated tone in the beginning and the end to help portray the dramatic transformation from an innocent, stupid girl in love to this sophisticated, strong woman who stands up for herself. The middle of the movie has a light, up-beat feel to also help portray this immense change. In the end of the movie, Morris comes back for Catherine and asks her to marry him. However, now Catherine has grown as a person and stands up to Morris.

         The transformation Catherine makes seems as if she turns into her father, and in a sense, she does. She is stern, strong, and she knows who she is as a person and does not need a man to make her happy. This serious tone of the movie all begins to make sense as the movie falls from the rising action. The audience can easily see that the tone of the movie was foreshadowing what would happen in the end. The Heiress was well cast, well directed, and had a very appropriate tone. I enjoyed the movie as a whole; I sympathized with Catherine; I felt her pain, and I grew with her as she progressed into a fine woman.

Brooke Dunbar

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