Catherine’s Transformation

         In the 1949 movie The Heiress, based on Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square, directed by William Wyler, Catherine, played by Olivia de Havilland, transforms from a shy daddy's girl into a cruel sharp-tongued woman in the span of one scene. This occurs very fast, but the film makers made the transformation as obvious as they could.

         First they had Olivia speaking very slowly in the whole first part of the movie. This was very annoying at times; when the audience members are just getting hooked by the story they have to wait with frustration to hear the over-exaggerated and slow remarks of Catherine. Another technique the film makers used was to have Olivia speak in an annoyingly high breathy voice in the beginning of the film; later she abruptly drops her voice at least an octave. The third thing in the film to heighten the transformation was the way that Catherine dresses. She always wears big gaudy dresses, often in bright colors that overpower her face. Lastly, Catherine's hair also accentuates her transformation; as she is supposed to appear foolish in the beginning, she has foolish hairdos.

         As she matures, she begins to look beautiful. She wears a different hair style and darker colored dresses that do not overpower her face. She does look more mature, but I think they could have done a better job of making her look beautiful. All of the other women in the film have gorgeous hair styles that suit their faces, but Catherine seems to always look ridiculous, even in the end when she is supposed to look pretty. The book shows a subtle maturation of Catherine, but in the movie she is a fool one moment, and then she suddenly grows up, sees the world for what it truly is, learns to talk much faster, sharper, and lower in an instant!

         I personally feel that Olivia is overacting through the whole movie; first she tries too hard to play the young foolish Catherine with the slow speech and wispy voice; then she is too fierce. Olivia's change in appearance, dress, and speech are too much too fast; she comes off as cruel and heartless where she is supposed to be a victim. The only times I felt comfortable with Olivia as an actress are in the scenes when Catherine is speaking and acting naturally to her Aunt Pennimen, played by Miriam Hopkins. For the rest of the movie Olivia's Catherine goes so overboard that her acting and her alterations seemed forced and not real.

Rebecca Prince

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