From Washington Square to The Heiress: A Rare Transformation

     Since the dawn of film making, producers have sought scripts to metamorphose into major motion pictures. Novels are one of the primary places to find these scripts. The Heiress, which was directed in 1949 by William Wyler, far outshines its accompanying 1880 novel, Washington Square, written by Henry James. This is a very rare occurrence for a movie to upstage the novel it is based on. Regularly, the movie would lack the descriptions and details that make the novel so good. It was just the opposite with these two works.

     There were many things the production of this film added to the story line. In reading the novel, I found the characters' physical appearances and emotions, which were intended to make the novel interesting, were very difficult to comprehend. This is what allowed the movie to shine, as it gave the characters and their actions substance. Unlike the vague images that the book produced, the film manifested images that became real and vivid and helped to clear up any misconceptions. For, example, Catherine's naļve behavior and awkwardness were difficult to decipher in the book. The film provided movements and facial expressions that allowed me to completely grasp the extent of these attributes. Also, hearing the lines spoken in the movie helped me to put more meaning and feeling behind the words. Catherine's (Olivia de Havilland) feelings for Morris (Montgomery Clift), did not seem genuine until actually seeing her interact with him.

     The ending of the movie was also far superior to that of the novel. Rather than Catherine politely refusing to marry Morris, as she did in the book, she plans her revenge. To get back at him, Catherine leads Morris to believe that she is going to marry him. When he comes back to get her, she locks the doors and refuses to let him get back into the house. This adds much needed drama to the finale and an interesting twist to James's work.

     Overall, I felt The Heiress completely upstaged Washington Square. Wonderful script writing, the directing talents of Wyler and the acting talents of the actors all worked together to complete a marvelous film.

Regina Clark

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