Metamorphosis of Catherine Sloper

     The transformation of Catherine's character can probably be credited to more than just Olivia de Havilland. It should duly be traced to William Wyler's expertise. Behind the scenes it must have been interesting to see Wyler manipulate Havilland's acting skills. However, it must be said that Havilland performed brilliantly in The Heiress, the 1949 adoption of Henry James's 1880 Washington Square.

     To begin, Havilland presents the viewer a meek, jovial and shy young lady. Even at times Catherine tends to be rather clumsy in her ways when her father wishes her nothing of the sort. Catherine did not seem at all drab as I might had envisioned her. She, Havilland, held a charming look with beautiful eyes. Catherine was portrayed here with lacking more personality defects than physical ones. Her defects, initially compared to her mother, were then shifted further in the direction of the way she held herself publicly and privately. This time period demanded women to learn customs or be forgotten; proper was the way.

     Those beautiful eyes altered my viewing opinion, and I realized the transformation of Catherine. Havilland used her charming eyes wonderfully early on to display her folly-filled character. They almost reached out through the screen to giggle at me. Later those same eyes stare through the screen with hatred and vengeance.

     Havilland grasped this pain Catherine felt and released it through her acting skills with precise calculation. There is no doubt Wyler wished the audience to be redeemed along with Catherine after pitying her so much. This obviously evoked my inner feelings. An art form of this type must create a deep response in order to be effective and successful. Without Havilland's brilliant performance neither would have happened.

Brandon Lucas

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