†††††††† The decision to cast the actors playing the characters of Catherine Sloper and Morris Townsend in William Wyler's 1949 film, The Heiress, was a bad choice. Both of the actors selected to play the two characters did not have the suitable physical characteristics needed in order to play their role opposite one another.
†††††††† At the beginning of the film, the decision to cast Olivia de Havilland (born in 1916), to play the role of Catherine Sloper appears to be a good selection. Havilland brought the physical characteristics needed in order to play the quiet and plainly Catherine Sloper. However, partly because she was only fourteen years younger than Ralph Richardson, who played her father, and Miriam Hopkins, who acted her Aunt Penniman, (both of whom were born in 1902), her looks were much older than one might have expected for Catherine after reading Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square.
†††††††† Still the problem with the selection of Havilland does not arise until the much younger looking and charming actor, Montgomery Clift (born in 1920), appears, playing the role of Morris Townsend. While Clift's physical appearance is a better fit for the character of Morris, based on the descriptions given in Henry James's novel, his much younger appearance does not fit well with the older looking Havilland cast to be the objection of his attraction. When the two are together, Havilland looks as though she could have been cast to play the role of his mother rather than the young girl he is trying to deceive. Even at the end of the film, when Morris returns, they tried to make Morris look as though he had age during his time of absence. However, his appearance still looks younger than Catherine's, who does not look as though she has aged all that much.
†††††††† This problem could have been fixed had a younger looking actress been cast to play the part of Catherine Sloper. Another solution would have been to cast Olivia de Havilland as Catherine but instead find an older looking actor to play the part of Morris Townsend. Although the director had intended to produce a great film about two young lovers, the outcome was a young man trying to deceive a woman who looked as though she could have been his mother.