Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Heiress (1949) - ★★★

Director: William Wyler
Writers: Ruth Goetz, Augustus Goetz (screenplay and play), Suggested from the novel Washington Square by Henry James
Stars: Olivia DeHavilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson, Miriam Hopkins

The Heiress is a really good film. In terms of acting, dialogue and cinematography, it really is brilliant. It has a pretty basic storyline, with no sub-plots, which made it very predictable and tedious. I liked the film, but I wouldn't watch it again.

Set in 1840's New York, a timid woman with a plain appearance named Catherine Sloper (Olivia DeHavilland) is the heiress to her father's (Ralph Richardson), fortune. Hardly any man pays her affectionate attention based on her looks and personality. Her father both loves and loathes her, for she is not as beautiful or charismatic as her deceased mother. When Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), a handsome gentleman without a penny to his name, comes along, he does all in his power to make her fall in love with him. The big question that underlines the whole film is whether Morris' affection for Catherine are purely for her, and not for her fortune.

The story seems more like a sub-plot, than an actual main plot for a feature film. It is apparent from the beginning what Mr. Townsend's intentions are, which created no mystery or tension in the film. I found myself sitting and waiting for events that I already knew were going to happen. This story is entirely predictable, and hardly interesting enough to be a movie.

This aside, Olivia DeHavilland gave one of the greatest performances I've ever seen. She was terrific at being timid, shy and naive at the beginning of the film. I felt sorry for her, which DID keep my interest in the film. Her marvellous performance kept me invested in watching until the end, and almost made the simple story insignificant. You see a metamorphosis in the character that is both sad, and intriguing. DeHavilland was by far the best part of the whole film, making everything else pale in comparison.

The supporting cast were also very good. Montgomery Clift gave a really good performance. I believe he did well in confusing the audience as to whether he was genuinely in love or just pretending. One of the highlights of the film was Ralph Richardson as Dr. Sloper, who was both cruel, caring and intelligent. He reminds me of George Sanders with his posh accent and subtle facial expressions. I really enjoyed his performance.

There's not much more to say about the film without ruining it. It's a bland story, with really good performances and character development. I wouldn't see this film again, for there was nothing in it worth watching twice; except DeHavilland's performance. If you are fan of DeHavilland and the early 19th century era in America, then you may like this film. I liked it, but I think its great reputation exceeds it.

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