Megawatt Con

        In the 1949 film The Heiress, directed by William Wyler and based on Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, Morris Townsend is played by Montgomery Clift. Mr. Townsend is a con artist and fortune hunter after Catherine Sloper’s (depicted by Olivia de Havilland) money. Montgomery Clift had to do a lot to show the audience that his character is up to no good since the audience is never explicitly told that Morris is a "bad guy."

        Mr. Clift does several things to portray that his character might not be all he says he is, but the thing that stuck out to me the most was his smile. Mr. Clift has a unique smile that he flashes after every sentence he utters. It reminded me of a used car salesman. Morris is trying to make himself out to be a good, decent man when he really is not, just like a used car salesman trying to sell a lemon.

        The scene where this technique is most evident is when Morris is speaking to Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson) about marrying Catherine. This conversation is tense to begin with since Dr. Sloper is very suspicious of Morris and does not try to hide his suspicions. Morris is trying to convince the doctor that his dishonorable intentions are honorable, and it shows. Morris turns up the charm and flashes his megawatt smile several times but does not get very far with Dr. Sloper.

        Morris really did not have to do much convincing with Catherine or her aunt, Mrs. Penniman (played by Miriam Hopkins), to make them believe that he does indeed love Catherine. He is very successful in charming them since both of the women are naïve. Still, his charm is turned on fully, and his smile never falters. He convinces the women so completely that they both go against Dr. Sloper’s wishes. Catherine still wants to marry him, and Mrs. Penniman essentially lets him live at the doctor's house while he and Catherine are in Europe.

        Catherine is not the type of person to go against the wishes of her father, but she does exactly that for Morris. I think it all has to do with his inviting, honest façade of a smile. Montgomery Clift was brilliant to smile how and as often as he did. His wonderful performance was one of many in this spectacular film.

Ashley Williams

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