Friday, August 12, 2011

The Heiress (1949)

“He's grown greedier over the years. Before he only wanted my money; now he wants my love as well. Well, he came to the wrong house - and he came twice. I shall see that he does not come a third time.”

            I happened to find The Heiress on sale at Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago and of course I had to get it Olivia de Havilland is the star and she won an Academy Award for her role. And I have also for the past couple of weeks have been on a bit of an Olivia de Havilland kick thanks to Monty over at All Good Things when he had the actress as his Classic Movie Goddess of the Month in July. Monty had The Heiress listed as one of his essential films to see of de Havilland.
            The Heiress is about a young woman named Catherine Sloper (de Havilland). Catherine is a quiet, naïve girl who lacks social skills and great beauty. Her father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson), is not at all pleasant to his daughter. He keeps comparing the poor girl to her mother who was beautiful and sociable and had great talent for many things. Catherine’s aunt Lavinia Penniman (Miriam Hopkins) keeps telling her brother to be nicer to Catherine and not compare her to her mother. Whenever Dr. Sloper is mean to Catherine she goes further into timidity and awkwardness.
            At a party one night Catherine meets a young man named Morris Townsend (Montgomery Cliff). He is very handsome and for the life of her she cannot figure out why he is following her and being nice to her. Morris dances with Catherine and even speaks to Dr. Sloper and Aunt Penniman. Aunt Penniman is totally smitten with Morris and is very excited to see a young man speaking to her niece. Dr. Sloper becomes very suspicious of the young man right off the bat. He reasons that the young man has no money and is only interested in his daughter because of her inheritance… and also because he cannot fathom any man being interested in his daughter since he thinks she is dull.
            Morris starts coming over to the Sloper house every day after the party. Catherine is very shy and embarrassed over his constant coming over and his professing how much he likes her. After a while she begins to feel comfortable with him being around and becomes blinded by his love. Morris keeps sucking up to Dr. Sloper but still he only sees the young man as only trying to get at money since Morris has no job and is not looking for one.
            Dr. Sloper decides to take Catherine to Europe for six months to get Morris off of her mind. If she still loves Morris in that time he will permit them to marry. Of course Catherine still loves him and she and her father leave their European trip early to get back home to New York. Once home and reunited with Morris, Catherine tells him that she wants to run away that night and marry him. Morris and Aunt Penniman had it planned that the two would marry the next day but Catherine cannot wait she wants to get married right away. She seems to make a mistake though by telling him that her father will disinherit her and she will not have the money she has been receiving from her mother’s death and what she will receive if the doctor dies. That night Catherine waits and waits for Morris to come with a carriage to take her away but he never comes and she does not hear from him for the next two years.
            Dr. Sloper is happy that Morris is gone. As he and his daughter talk about what has happened he reveals to her what he thinks of her. He tells Catherine she is a coward and plain, no man will ever love her, she has no backbone and the biggest blow that she is not like her mother at all. Catherine finally realizes her father does not love her at all he is ashamed of her. She gets a backbone and for the first time she tells her father to write her out of his will so she will have no money. He confesses he only meant he will disinherit her as a threat he never intended to leave her without money. Now she is very angry with him because she is still hurt from Morris leaving and he never would have left her had it been for her father.
            A few months later the doctor dies. Catherine never forgives her father for what he did and said to her that she does not even go to his side as he is dying. Not long after Morris comes back. Catherine has become a very bitter person and her bitterness comes out even more with Morris’s return.
            Will Catherine go back to the man she once loved or does she finally see Morris Townsend as her father saw him: a gold digger?
            While I will agree with Monty that this is a must see film I do not think it is an essential Olivia de Havilland film. Sure she won the Academy Award but I just cannot see how she won. De Havilland is nothing short of a great actress in any film she is in but I did not see how her performance as Catherine Sloper was enough to give her an Oscar. First of all, I think I may just be sick and tired of seeing her in period films. The woman did so many damn period films!!! In the beginning there is a scene of Catherine getting dresses and putting her slip or something on and I just though “Olivia de Havilland by this time must have been a pro at putting 1800s style clothing on.” Second, I thought she looked TERRIBLE! Seriously she looked like Gollum from Lord of the Rings! That was distracting I could not get over how awful she looked. The costumes were not bad at all but her hair and her lack of makeup did nothing for her. I think it was more the hairstyles than anything because when de Havilland played Melanie Hamilton she barely had any makeup on and she looked great but her hair here did not frame her face well at all. I apologize if this makes me seem shallow and mean but I was distracted by these things.
            Montgomery Cliff I can take him or leave him… mostly leave him. I just did not like him and it was not because of his character. I do not like his acting. Apparently he did not like Olivia de Havilland’s acting and the two of them did not get along. You can see their complete lack of chemistry I mean yes I know that Catherine was shy and Morris was forcing himself into her life and they had nothing in common but to me there should have been a little chemistry between the actors. I think Cliff is overrated as an actor I do not really see anything great about him. I did manage to sit through I Confess with him as the star but that is only because the story was good and it is a Hitchcock film.
            I had never seen Miriam Hopkins in a film before this. I thought she was good. Ralph Richardson was perfection as the evil, manipulative father.
            The Heiress has a good story, I believe it is a little ambiguous. I did not know whether to believe if Morris really loved Catherine or if he was just always after his money and just left her because he meant well and did not want to get her in trouble or he was upset she would no longer be getting money. Olivia de Havilland, as I said, is nothing short of a great actress and she does give a good performance just not an Academy Award winning performance. Even though I could care less about Cliff I did like the cast they were all excellent in their parts. If you are a classic film fan The Heiress is one film that you should not pass up.
            The Heiress is available on DVD and to view on youtube.

Carol Burnett's parody of The Heiress is hysterical