Teach Him to Trifle with Your Heart

     When I tried to compare the 1948 play by Ruth and Augustus Goetz and the 1949 movie, The Heiress, directed by William Wyler, to the Henry James 1880 novel Washington Square, I found myself at a loss. They were so close in comparison, but I will point out their differences as I see them. Both the play and the movie did a good job of remaining true to Mr. James's novel. Most of the characters in both the play and the movie were quite true to the novel. However, I did enjoy the movie more than the novel, mainly because I am an admirer of Ms. Olivia de Havilland, who portrayed Mr. James's Catherine as I think he intended her to be seen. I consider her a great actress. Her work in this movie was almost as acceptable and admirable to me as that of Ms. Melanie in Gone With the Wind, that she played a decade earlier.

     As to the characters in both the play and the movies, they were quite true to the novel. Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson in the movie) remained true to his distaste for Morris (Montgomery Clift in the movie) to the very end. He thought Morris to be a scoundrel and unworthy of Cathy. I did not like Dr. Sloper because he was so cold and unfeeling in both versions. It made me wonder if he were more concerned about the money he would leave behind for Cathy than he could have ever been about her happiness.

     I truly felt sorry for Cathy, especially in the film version. She became her father in many ways. When she realized he was right about Morris, she became cold, bitter and hard. The movie portrayed her as much more feeling than Mr. James did with his Catherine in the novel. She never forgave her father for being right. This character, as portrayed by Ms. de Havilland, was quite a contrast from Ms. Melanie in GWTW, where she forgave Scarlett and Ashley on her deathbed. Ms. de Havilland portrayed both women with equal strength in opposing emotions.

     In the end of the film, I think we are shown, more so than in the novel, that Cathy had a stone-cold heart, that nothing could penetrate. She had become her father. I cannot say I felt sorry for Morris, even though he did appear to be the scoundrel Dr. Sloper had thought him to be. If he had really gone away to seek his fortune as the book and as the movie asked us to believe, why could Cathy have not understood? Mr. James was a master at the sardonic and bitter endings, as were the film makers.

     I did not enjoy the novel as much because I could not get into the stark realism. but the movie did a good job of portraying that realism; perhaps it just gave us a graphic depiction of what Mr. James had intended us to see in the novel. Mr. James did a good job of showing us greed, pride, power, and betrayal. I happen to think the movie did an even better job of depicting these emotions.

Glenda F. Riley

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