Do The Right Thing

     In the 1949 movie The Heiress, based on Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, Olivia de Havilland plays the role of Catherine. Catherine is a woman who is faced with the daily task of pleasing an unyielding taskmaster in the form of her father. She fails again to please her love Morris (Montgomery Clift) because she is out of favor with her father (Ralph Richardson)and therefore out of favor with his money.

     This plot line contrasts heavily with the idea of every little girl's being the apple of her Daddy's eye. Imagine the heartbreak of Catherine as she is used by the man she loves and is manipulated by her father. These circumstances would weaken most women, yet Catherine rises to a new strength by the end of this film.

     Morris' return sparks Catherine's will to be used no longer in this fashion. How many of us could stand in the face of a lost love and let it slip through our fingers again? No matter how tainted the love might have been to begin with, we can tell that Catherine's feelings for Morris have not died. However, Catherine will not play the dupe again.

     Catherine displays a rare human trait in The Heiress. It is one of truly learning from one's past mistakes and not allowing oneself to repeat them. The strength of Olivia de Havilland's character here reminds me of another role that she played. As Melanie Wilkes in Gone With The Wind, Melanie serves as the epitome of strength of character in the face of adversity. Melanie does not let the roughness of her life during the Civil War overcome her. To her death, Melanie is a loyal friend and wife. She does not let others determine her course of action for her when there is hint of scandal on her marriage between Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) and Scarlet O'Hara (Vivien Leigh).

     Both Melanie and Catherine find the strength within themselves to do what they know is right despite the disrespect of others.

David Martin

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