Cinematic Emotion Lacking in Book

        I enjoyed the 1947 movie The Heiress, directed by William Wyler, far more than the 1880 book, Washington Square, written by Henry James. A big part of why I liked it so much more was the interaction between Olivia de Havilland’s character, Catherine, and Montgomery Clift’s character, Morris. They had such a beautiful chemistry together, and Clift made it perfectly feasible why Catherine would be reluctant to believe the worst in him. He was charming and handsome and told her everything she wanted to hear without being overtly sleazy about it.

        I am a huge de Havilland fan and have been since I watched her in Michael Curtiz and William Keighley’s 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood, Michael Curtiz’s 1935 Captain Blood, and Victor Fleming’s 1939 Gone with the Wind when I was young. I think that she is one of the greatest actresses of all time. She is at her best in The Heiress. Of all the movies of de Havilland I have seen, this probably is my favorite performance of hers, though Melanie is near and dear to my heart.

        I think that pretty much the sole reason I like The Heiress better than Washington Square is that the interaction of the amazing actors and actresses in it are so amazing. Ralph Richardson’s portrayal of Dr. Sloper is fantastic. He is such a jerk, but he has moments of tenderness in his face. I can just see Catherine’s heart breaking when she looks at him after he has been cruel to her.

        The movie is filled with emotion that Henry James’s writing just does not hold for me. Seeing his characters actually acting out scenes from the book brought them to life in a way that I just did not get from simply reading it. When Catherine walks up the stairs at the end as Morris bangs on the door, shouting her name and pleading with her, I can see in her face that she is not the same person I was introduced to at the beginning of the film. De Havilland portrays all of her character’s sorrow, fury and pain all in one solemn, stoic gaze as she walks upstairs.

Alexa K Adams