As a parent, one wants one's children to be smart. It is important to be able to remind oneself that one's children can take care of themselves in sticky situations. After all, children are cruel. Peer cruelty among children is to be expected. But for parents to cross the line of mental cruelty to their own children is abuse. Poor Catherine in The Heiress and Washington Square; her father crossed that line. By doing so, he robbed his daughter of a much more important quality, being "good." Dr. Sloper's poor opinions of his daughter's qualities as a conversationalist seem, to any parent, a quality that could easily be overlooked. One's child should be able to do no (or very little) wrong without fear of being despised by a parent. It is called unconditional love, and it comes with the territory.
In the novel Washington Square (1880 by Henry James), Dr. Sloper was vaguely hateful towards his daughter. He belittled Catherine with his word games and never thought of her as an equal, mentally. The novel clearly gave the impression of his need to control. The only person around left for him to control was Catherine. Surely the death of his wife and first child left him feeling inadequate as a healer. And his attitudes toward Catherine appeared to be directly related to that horrific fact.<p>
In the film The Heiress (directed by William Wyler in 1949), Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson) was more directly hateful toward his daughter and her decisions as a young woman. He tried to protect Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) from his unwavering decisions by keeping her in the dark of his intent. His mind was made up and Morris (Montgomery Clift) was out the door. Although Dr. Sloper proved himself correct in his assessment of Morris' character, he did not have the where-with-all to give his daughter reassurance and confidence during her truest time of need. Instead he crossed the line of mental cruelty. His hatefulness cost him his relationship with his daughter.
This movie was a giant leap forward for William Wyler as a film maker. Olivia de Havilland played the part of Catherine with restrained sorrow, rage, and love. Montgomery Clift was a charming, foreshadowing Morris. Ralph Richardson's Dr. Sloper was completely dense as to his relationship with his daughter, although he was an accomplished
physician and man of social status. He played his irony well. Wyler's impression of The Heiress and Washington Square was much more direct and coherent than his attempt at adapting Wuthering Heights ten years earlier in 1939. Now when I see that a picture is directed or produced by the great William Wyler, I'll actually have appreciation rather than contempt.