Tuesday, July 31, 2012


(October 1949, U.S.)

Watching William Wyler's THE HEIRESS is one of the most interesting examples of character transformation I've seen on film. In the beginning, Catherine Sloper (played by Olivia de Havilland) is a plain, painfully shy 19th Century woman whose emotionally detached father (played by Ralph Richardson) makes no secret of his disappointment in her and her life. About the only thing Catherine does have going for her is that she's an heiress to a great fortune when her father dies someday. When she unexpectedly meets the charming and good looking Morris Townsend (played by Montgomery Clift), she's immediately taken by the attention that he lavishes upon her; attention she so desperately seeks from her father but will never receive. As cliche would dictate, she falls madly in love with Morris and they plan to marry.

Her father, of course, won't have it because it's obvious to him that someone like Morris, a man without any financial prospects or future, is only after Catherine's fortune. As the viewer, we're not really meant to know if he is or he isn't until the end of the film. Any reasonable deducing, though, will put Catherine's father in the right, even if he is insensitive and cruel about it. Interestingly, though, during Catherine's initial heartbreak over her father's position, she raises a thought-provoking point, and that's this - even if she's deceived into paying for a man's love, has she not the right to even PAY for a love that just might make her happy? Hmmm...there's a mild twist to the age-old gold digging tale I never considered before.

So on the night Catherine and Morris are to elope, she eagerly waits at home for him to come and take her away, but (of course!) he never arrives, and the reason is painfully obvious. It's only years later, after her father has died and she's inherited all of it, that Catherine's strength, her resolve and even her cruelty come to form. She's not only able to face Morris and his bullshit explanation for running out on her, but she's also able to boldly deceive him in return and not permit him back into her life. Yes, Catherine may never love again, but she's become something a lot more important, perhaps, and that's a real SERIOUS BITCH with money!

Sometimes, as the J. Geils Band puts it, love stinks!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Catherine Sloper: "He came back with the SAME lies! The same silly phrases!
Aunt Lavinia: "Why, what are you saying?"
Catherine: "He's grown GREEDIER with the years! The first time he only wanted my money! Now he wants my love, too! Well, he came to the wrong house and he came twice! I shall see that he never comes a third time!"
Lavinia: "Catherine, do you know what you're doing?"
Catherine: "Yes!"
Lavinia: "Poor Morris. Can you be so cruel?"
Catherine: "Yes, I can be very cruel! I have been taught by masters!"

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