The 1949 motion picture, directed by William Wyler, and 1948 play The Heiress, written by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, based on Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square, tells of a gorgeous lady that has so much heart and beauty that the world must break her before its too late. The shy young lady named Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) is a girl originally of gold, who enjoys simple things in life such as needlework and cooking. From the beginning she did not seem interested in what everybody else was interested in. She was accused of always hiding from the party.
Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson), her dad, had better plans for his daughter. He could not stand it that she was mediocre in his eyes. He wanted her to indulge in love, excitement, and adventure. From the beginning all she wanted to do was make her father happy. He could not see that he was slowly breaking down who she was by his own desires. Should we trust are guardians to know what best for us?
Catherine has put her full trust in people and in her surrounding influences. She has thought that everyone knew what the best thing to do in her life was. A man named Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) begins to pursue her because he knows how unaware she truly is and how gullible she is to influencing people. He wants her inheritance from her father, as well as that from her mother, so he can live without any worries like a king.
Is there a love in this world that is not selfish? Morris finds this out after he leaves Catherine when he learns that she will not get the inheritance from her father because she will have defied him if she marries Morris. Morris and Catherine are both selfish in that Catherine has wanted to be loved by Morris and approved of by her father. Morris has wanted money and security so that he could be lazy the rest of his life.
In the book and movie, Catherine, who has lost her gold, that is her pureness and personal happiness, for sure gets the last laugh when she politely tells the fat, bald, bearded Morris in the book to go away after he has returned and leaves Morris in the movie outside the door begging in the end after she has paid him back for standing her up for their elopement a couple of years before. Would she have done this if she had not been so "love" abused? She has traded her values and morals so she could please her father, which led to destruction and pain. I really think that Catherine was eventually completely content without a relationship; she just loved life. I personally want to be more like Catherine and have her pureness and personal happiness. This book and movie just proves how hard it is for someone like Catherine to stay gold.