A Beautiful Transition

         I have to say that while reading Washington Square (1880), I began to really get entwined in Henry James's writing style. I love reading but normally tend to read more modern novels because of the lack of interest some of the authors of the past have failed to instill in me. However, he wrote with such prose that his illustration with the words allowed me to drift into their sweetness. It was like reading a Brian Friel play (the Irish playwright whose use of descriptive words paints a portrait so beautiful it is only capable in the mind). I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, so naturally I would assume the movie would be to my liking as well.

         Now, in the past, I have not put too much comparison between a movie and a book, due to the fact that the movie rarely lives up to the precedence set by its counterpart. Furthermore, I honestly did not expect much from The Heiress, directed in 1949 by William Wyler, because of James's style of writing. While a beautiful composer of literature, he could never write effectively for the stage. Yet, the adaptation from book to movie in this case was brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed the transition.

         The writers of the original 1948 Broadway play, Ruth and Augustus Goetz, turned Catherine into more of a klutz, especially as played by Olivia de Havilland in the screen version, with a hint of prestige about her as opposed to someone who was endowed with this sense of majesty but just shy. This worked great because it made her character so much more interesting. Had she behaved the way she had in the book (without James's illustrations) the movie would have been a complete flop.

         Also, I enjoyed the way the playwrights made her hardened and bitter after the events in her life, including her father's (Ralph Richardson) uncouthly insulting her and Morris' (Montgomery Clift) leaving her). She was not happy until the very end, when Morris had begged her to take him back. This was her chance for revenge, so he would know what she went through.

         Also, the casting of Morris, in this case, made it even sweeter in the end. He was extremely handsome, and his character was one that the viewer could not help but want to side with. Catherine's transition in the end was the most beautiful--she had exacted her revenge, stopped performing her needlepoint (the one thing with which she was gifted), and was able to move up the stairs away from the life she had known before."

         She had now matured--a most beautiful transition indeed.

Mark Borum

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