Study Finds The Heiress More Than Adequate Adaptation of Washington Square

     The Heiress, a 1949 film starring Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift and directed by William Wyler, was found to be a more than adequate adaptation of Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square, a student study reported Monday.

     "Everything was true to the spirit of James's work," said Jonathan Sircy, head of the study. "The changes that were made were ones that films often opt for to make their product more palatable to a mass audience."

     In The Heiress, de Havilland stars as Catherine Sloper, who stands to be an heiress of her rich father's money. Ralph Richardson portrays the father who that feels his plain, unattractive daughter will never find a mate.

     "I had read other James's novels before," said Sircy, a nineteen-year-old sophomore. "Frankly, I found him hard to stomach. But this was really good. He writes about female characters so well. It's really kind of amazing."

Enter Morris Townsend. Portrayed by Montgomery Clift, the young attractive man takes to the backward Ms. Sloper. Mr. Sloper smells a rat. He feels that the intelligent but lazy Townsend is merely using his daughter for her money.

     "Let me tell you," said one student in the study, "I was like, so not for the father. He was like such an evil guy." Sircy chose to bury this quotation deep inside the fifteen-page report.

     "Sure the guy was your stereotypical controlling father," said Sircy, "but Ralph Richardson really brought this character to life. That voice--what a voice that guy had. In the book, a lot of the father's parts were internal and he really didn't speak. Richardson gave that character a voice and brought his creepiness to the forefront."

     When the father threatens to take away the inheritance, Townsend is exposed for what he really is. He runs away, leaving the naïve Cathy heartbroken. In the film, the change that comes over Cathy is more apparent.

     "Like, she became all dark and stuff," said the same moronic student who made the comment about not liking the father and stuff.

"There was a noticeable change in her voice, and she actually stood up to her father. In the book, it is implied that she changes, but it's not as overt as the film."

     The study found the ending to be the part most different from the book.

     "In terms of pure drama," said one student, "the movie delivered. Cathy is approached by Morris years down the road, and basically pulls the same trick on him that he did to her. She lives him hanging, just banging on the front door of her mansion. Talk about thrilling."

     Most critics find the book to be a more subdued, but not necessarily less effective way to end the tale.

     "I personally thought that the ending was overcooked," said Sircy. "But overall, you've to agree with the study that The Heiress was a more than adequate remake of Washington Square.

Jonathan Sircy

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