Effects of Vivid Imagery

     There are many scenes that William Wyler uses in The Heiress (1949) of strong imagery to seduce the viewer. Wyler realized in The Heiress, adopted from Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, what images can be used to say more than any word, action or expression might. Some of these magnificent images and objects are the stairways, doors, and indows.

     All of these objects in a house seem very simple, holding very little imagery content. The stairway is seen often throughout the film. The stairway comes to represent Catherine's transformation. Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) is shown climbing up the stairs swiftly with abundant energy early in the film. She almost displays a bouncy step up every step. When she realizes that fateful night that Morris (Montgomery Clift) would not be coming back for her, the climb up the stairs is shot by the camera looking down at her. With her bags in hands and defeated slump, she slowly makes it up the stairs. The viewer senses the long, enduring emotional voyage she has ahead. In the last scene, the viewer sees that Catherine has a lamp in her hand as she climbs up the stairs. The lamp is almost a triumphant torch-like object as she leaves Morris begging at the door. She climbs the stairs as though they were a mountain that she would conquer while leaving Morris down below.

     The next object is that of the doors as objects used to imply images filled with meaning. The bolting of the front door first takes place to keep Morris from entering. As the scene then goes outside to Morris, the viewer can see the size of the door. It is a huge barrier between Morris and Catherine that has now been secured against his entering. It hovers over him and will not be overcome. An earlier instance of doors portraying a message of imagery comes during Morris' visit to Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson) concerning the marriage of Morris and Catherine. As Dr. Sloper ushers Morris in he is seen closing two large sliding doors behind them. These doors then tell the viewer that Morris' chances are already closed by Dr. Sloper. The mood is therefore reinforced, and the viewer realizes Morris' slim chances are even slimmer than once envisioned.

     With these images, Wyler reaches into the viewer's head and extracts reactions that could not have been extracted in any other method. Moods are set, conditions of characters are realized and tones of scenes are completely changed with these images.

Brandon Lucas

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