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Video : The Heiress

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starring: Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson
directed by: William Wyler

 : The Heiress
See Larger Image's Price: $14.98 prices subject to change.

Used Price: $33.33
Collectible Price: $39.94
Third Party New Price: $39.99

Availability: THIS TITLE IS CURRENTLY NOT AVAILABLE. If you would like to purchase this title, we recommend that you occasionally check this page to see if it has become available.

Sales Rank: 4,095; Release Date: 27 February, 1992; Media: VHS Tape; Theatrical Date: 06 October, 1949; MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)

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  • Customer Reviews
    Average Rating: 4.73 out of 5 stars

    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars - Bravura Performance by de Havilland
    Olivia de Havilland plays Catherine, the plain, spinster daughter of a wealthy doctor in 1880's New York City. The doctor has always despised his daughter, because his wife died in childbirth and she believes herself worthless. Enter the dashing but penniless gold-digger Morris, played by Montgomery Clift. Morris learns that Catherine will be well-off as an heiress, and quickly woos her, much to her father's disgust. The two lovers plan to elope one night, and we watch Catherine wait by the window for her hero to come and take her away, but it is not to be. Morris has learned that she renounced her inheritance, and, caring nothing for her, has deserted her. Years pass, and Morris returns to propose again to Catherine, who is now a sadder but much wiser woman.

    De Havilland plays Catherine as two very different women: at first she is timid and clumsy; a wallflower who expects nothing from life. In the second half of the story, Catherine is mature, poised, and above all, in complete control of her life. The change can be seen in her posture and speech, as well as her hunger for revenge. She is wonderful, and truly deserved an Oscar. Clift, as the jigalo, is oily and deceitful; he's good, but a little wooden. Ralph Richardson, as Catherine's snooty father, is outstanding. This is a very powerful story of a woman scorned; the last moments of the film are magnificent.

    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars - 'Bolt the Door, Maria!'
    THE HEIRESS is a surprisingly complex drama of paternal brutality, starry-eyed love, and bitter revenge. Director William Wyler adapted Henry James' short novel WASHINGTON SQUARE and during the film's nearly two hours managed to convey the collision of conflicting dreams. Each of the three major characters: Ralph Richardson as Doctor Sloper, Olivia de Havilland as his dowdy daughter Catherine Sloper, and Montgomery Clift as the mercenary Morris Townsend all dance a three-partnered minuet in which emotional ties clasp and unclasp in ways that are suggested more by gentle innuendo than by overt deed. Doctor Sloper is a uncaring brute who rules his house with vicious wit and the threat of withheld inheritance. To him, there are two kinds of men: those who have already made their mark in the world (like him) and those who have not (like Morris) but seek to obtain it deceitfully through marriage to plain but rich women (like Catherine). The more Sloper puts Catherine down with harsh barbs, the more he increases the inevitability that Catherine will someday rebel by latching onto the first glib male golddigger, thereby proving himself right all along. Sloper's problem is that his paternal tunnel vision does not allow the possibility that Catherine might be more than a one-dimensional stick figure forever doomed to spinsterhood. For Catherine, life is a gilded cage, plenty of the physical necessities, but not a whit of the emotional ones. The more she is starved for affection, the more she will reach out even to those men like Morris who are likely mercenary. One of the film's bitter ironies is that her father's oft repeated warnings about Morris's motivations might yet be valid. When Morris promises to elope with her, then abruptly changes his mind after finding out that Catherine will be disinherited, his disappearance results in one of filmdom's most tragic of underplayed scenes--that of her waiting forelornly for a doorknock that does not come. For Morris, his motivation as a gigolo is not crystal clear. He may very well be as mercenary as Doctor Sloper accuses, or he may humanely have concluded that it is better to dump Catherine at the mock alter of the Sloper door than to risk leaving her destitute.

    THE HEIRESS is a movie of several memorable scenes, nearly all of which take place within the Sloper living room. When Morris fails to appear, Catherine expects a modicum of understanding from her father. Instead he delivers yet his most vicious of cutting remarks. Catherine replies that she would have married him anyway, knowing that he did not love her, if only he would have offered the illusion of warmth and human contact. The closing scene in which Catherine orders her maid 'Bolt the door, Maria,' shows that the passing of time has done more to harden her heart against a man who just may be as greedy as charged--or perhaps his earlier explanation that he wished not to impoverish her may be true. We never know his motivation, but THE HEIRESS makes clear hers. When she defends her decision to seek revenge against Morris, Catherine replies coldly, that of cruelty, 'I have been taught by masters.' The bolting of the door is the symbolic equivalent of the closing of her heart. It is no surprise that Morris's loud pounding on the Sloper door does not resonate with a heart that has learned only too well the lessons taught by Doctor Sloper.

    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars - "I Can Be Very Cruel--I Have Been Taught by Masters"
    One of the best lines in this adaptation of Henry James's novella, "Washington Square", uttered by Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) to her Aunt Lavinia (Miriam Hopkins). And the master in question is her father Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson). Olivia de Havilland won an Oscar for her portrayal of the plain, painfully shy Catherine Sloper, an heiress being courted by handsome and charming Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), who may or may not be a fortune hunter. At least that's the contention of Dr. Sloper, who has a considerable fortune and a stately home on Washington Square. Dr. Sloper has everything, it seems, except compassion for his daughter, the daughter he holds to blame for his beautiful wife's childbed death. The daughter is the antithesis of the graceful woman he describes to his sisters. Things come to a head when Catherine and Morris announce their engagement, with heartbreaking results.

    Oscar notwithstanding, I think Olivia de Havilland's Catherine is much better in the first half of the film, before the Great Turning Point that defines the rest of her life. After that, I found her turnabout to have little relation to the preceding characterization--I could not see this as the logical outgrowth from that personality.

    Montgomery Clift is very good as the clever Morris--one really can't make up one's mind about him until the climax of the film. Miriam Hopkins does a good job as the romantically inclined Aunt Lavinia who is enjoying Morris's courtship of Catherine vicariously.

    But for my money, the best performance in the whole piece is Sir Ralph Richardson's Dr. Sloper, who fairly drips with poorly concealed contempt for his inadequate daughter. When I watch this movie--and I have, several times--it is always for him. My favorite scene is one in which he doesn't even talk; it's when he has just learned of the engagement, and he sits alone in the parlor, contemplating what action to take. It shows the psychological complexity of the doctor, who is not merely a hating machine, but capable of some despair.

    Don't wait for your inheritance to come through to watch "The Heiress"--make it your business to do so today.

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