Location, Location, Location

     Location of the setting in a book, the setting of a movie, and even the location of a home can all be very influential factors when having to choose any of these. The setting whether it be in play or book has everything to do with its success. Being an Interior Design major, I can pick up on the architecture of the homes as well as the furniture used is all very important. In particular, the 1948 play The Heiress, written by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, told certain details about the set, so that I could get an idea of the setting before having actually seen the 1949 film, directed by William Wyler. For instance, the play goes into detail about the windows, the location of the furniture, and the period pieces used. This gives the reader a very excellent picture of what the home looked like without leaving out the slightest detail.

     The characters are just as important as the setting. Dr. Sloper, the father of Catherine, was explained as being a traditional, straightforward man. So why should his home be any different? The play mentioned that the house was not decorated in the gaudy Victorian style of this time period. Instead it was done in a traditional style of Duncan Phyfe furniture and combined with English mahogany. The play explained his tastes as "having certainly not changed in the years which have elapsed since that time, and so the house which he built himself in Washington Square is furnished with discretion and elegance." Duncan Phyfe was actually one of the most celebrated of the American cabinetmakers. His furniture is known for its excellent proportions as well as its refined decorative details, which were always done in good taste. The furniture of his earlier work was clean-lined and made from the highest quality of mahogany. So the adjectives describing Dr. Sloper's home, "discretion and elegance," certainly fit the style of Duncan Phyfe.

     To me, it makes perfect sense that the authors chose not to use the Victorian style, which was characteristic of the period, because it did not fit Dr. Sloper's character. Some of the Victorian pieces tend to be overdone, such as using ornamental objects that are not needed simply because they could included. This style certainly was not straightforward or simplistic. Dr. Sloper had these qualities because he considered Catherine a simple-minded, unclever girl, and to him was unmarriageable.

     Catherine is portrayed as a quiet, shy girl who tries deeply to please her father despite his intimidation. The house to Catherine has been a refuge and also her trap. She has been trapped with a complicated father amidst all of the beautiful furnishings of the home. During the film, the house becomes the backdrop for the plot that unfolds when Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) becomes acquainted with Morris (Montgomery Clift), who is only after her money. Dr. Sloper ( Ralph Richardson) has been a successful doctor, and it is evident by the home's design. The home in its entirety was very well researched. The home is several stories tall, flanked by Tuscan columns, the simplest of all the styles, with the moldings being at least twelve inches in width and combined with several different types. When ceilings are this high and with moldings that wide, it can mean only one thing, expensive. The staircase also is a favorite, and it seems to ascend forever. The furniture placed throughout the room gives the distinction of grandeur, such as he camelback sofa, wing chairs, and side tables. The wing chair in particular is very appropriately placed near the fire. It has been thought that the "wings" on the sides were invented to protect the occupants from the drafts that were plentiful in earlier times.

     Throughout the film, we saw the remarkable features that can add to a setting. The setting can either add or detract from a film. In this case, The Heiress did an excellent job of maintaining the qualities of the characters. The scene where Morris banging on the door pleading for Catherine to let him enter as she ascends the stairs shows how a simple feature can successfully end a scene.

Leah Sims

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