The Heiress of Sophistication

        In the beginning of The Heiress, directed in 1949 by William Wyler and based on Henry Jamesís 1880 Washington Square, we are presented with a young girl whose artless nature is the bane of her fatherís existence. He has absolutely no pride in his daughter, who he feels has no decent qualities because she is simply average. Dr. Austin Sloper, depicted by Ralph Richardson, is the father of Catherine Sloper, who is played by Olivia de Havilland. Catherineís aunt is acted by Miriam Hopkins, who is a hopeless romantic. She, like Catherine, accepts everyone at face value. Catherine is a young socialite of marriageable age. She is introduced to Morris Townsend, who is portrayed by Montgomery Clift. He has been traveling the continent and has recently returned to New York, where his family lives. Catherine quickly falls for his nice smile and quick wit.

        Catherineís father, on the other hand, is immediately suspicious of the young man and even more so when he finds that Morris has already spent most of his own inheritance on himself, not on his sister and her children. He sees Morris as little more than an opportunist who is ready to take advantage of Catherine. Catherine, however, believes that Morris is sincere. They make plans to elope and arrange a time to meet in order to leave. It is at this point that Morris will show his true murkiness to Catherine. She tells him that her father has threatened to disown her, and he tells her that he is going to get the carriage only to never return. She finds out later that he has gone out west to try to make his fortune. Her father throws this betrayal in her face and finally tells her all of the things that he has been saying behind her back. At this point she is completely disillusioned and will have nothing more to do with her father.

        A few years after the death of her father, Morris returns to see Catherine. He asks her if she still carries affection for him and if she will marry him. She simply tells him to return later, and they will go to get married. Upon his arrival, Catherine turns out the lights and has Maria (Vanessa Brown) bolt the door. She effectively leaves him out in the cold just as he had done to her in the past. Throughout the course of the movie Catherine matures from the portrait of innocence to a jaded spinster.

Heather Tromble

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