Picture Perfect

     The 1949 cinematic adaptation of Henry James's 1880 Washington Square was based on the Broadway play The Heiress, written by Ruth and August Goetz in 1948. In his book, Henry James conveys a story of a young woman who was not what most men would consider to be beautiful. She did not have the grace that was expected in young women of her society. Her father seemed to reemphasize this when comparing her to his late wife, her mother. Although Catherine did not have the beauty or the elegance that was expected from society, she had the security of a wealthy inheritance; and that is what attracted the handsome and deceitful Morris Townsend. As with many women throughout the course of time, Catherine was blinded by the intentions of this fortune hunter, and she fell in love. James's compelling story of a docile young lady fallen for a notorious rake that learns one receives what one gives is profound. The brilliancy of Henry James's work is reflected in the cinematic adaptation of his novel, The Heiress.

     I believe, if James were to watch the cinematic adaptation of his book, he would see his ideal Catherine on the screen. Olivia de Havilland played a superb Catherine Sloper in every aspect. On the screen, de Havilland was the Catherine that was plain, obedient, and naive. Although the Catherine in the screenplay was fair, de Havilland had the dark, plain--with the help of make-up artists--features that represented Catherine Sloper of Washington Square, as effectively as she had played her role as Melanie in Victor Fleming's 1939 Gone With the Wind. Her features not only helped her pull off the role of Catherine, but her sincerity also enhanced her performance in the role of Catherine. She did an excellent transformation of an obedient daughter to strong-willed and self-proclaimed women. Her metamorphosis from a naive, love-stricken creature to a determined, independent woman is remarkable. Many critics must have believed the same as well because de Havilland was awarded with both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for best actress.

     The Heiress was an excellent movie as a whole. I do not think the on-screen passion displayed by de Havilland and Montgomery Clift could not have been conveyed by other actors of that time. There were no significant differences between the novel and the movie, except for the endings of the two. In the book Catherine confronted Morris face to face and told him not to come back, but in the movie it was Catherine's turn to play Morris as the fool as he had done to her. In the movie Catherine told Morris to meet her back at her house later in the night so they could elope. Morris readily accept this and could not see pass the hoax. The scene of Morris coming back for Catherine, banging on the door, as she slowly makes her way up the steps, is a scene that reflects and capture the essence of de Havilland's role play and is applauded by audiences still today.

Whitney Hickman

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