Cast & Crew
Olivia De Havilland
In the mid-1800's, in New York's Washington Square, wealthy widowed physician Austin Sloper bemoans the fact that although his daughter Catherine has had superior schooling and training, she lacks the refined qualities of her beautiful mother, and is "an entirely mediocre creature." Austin consequently asks his sister, widow Lavinia Penniman, to encourage his homely daughter to become more social. That night at a party, Austin's other sister, Elizabeth Almond, and her husband Jefferson, announce the engagement of their daughter Marian to Arthur Townsend, an eligible bachelor. Arthur's handsome and charming cousin Morris surprises Catherine by asking her to dance. Although she is clumsy, Morris is deferential and full of flattery, and before the evening's end, he asks to see her again. Morris becomes a frequent visitor at the Sloper home during the ensuing week, and Austin is reservedly pleased that someone is taking an interest in his spinster daughter. One night, Lavinia ignores Austin's request that she chaperone them, and when she leaves Morris and Catherine alone together, he proposes. Catherine accepts without hesitation, despite Morris' warning that her father may think he is a mercenary because he is unemployed, uneducated and frittered away his inheritance in Paris. Instead of having her suitor request her father's permission as convention dictates, Catherine announces her engagement to Austin, who then sends for Morris' sister, Mrs. Montgomery. Austin's suspicion that Morris is after Catherine's substantial inheritance is confirmed, despite Mrs. Montgomery's reticence to condemn her wastrel brother. Austin is outraged that his naïve daughter is being duped and is deaf to Catherine's earnest pleas that she is in love, forbidding the marriage. To distract her, he convinces Catherine to accompany him to Europe for six months, and Morris vows to wait for her. While Austin and Catherine are away, Morris visits Lavinia at the Sloper home, and settles in to a luxurious life style. After a few months, Austin realizes that Catherine still clings to her love, and they return to New York. When Catherine insists on marrying Morris despite his threats to disinherit her, Austin angrily tells his daughter that because she is homely and dull, her only attraction is her money, and that her only talent is her neat embroidery work. Shocked by her father's cruel disdain, Catherine plans to elope with Morris that night, and reveals to her fiancé her father's threat. Although Catherine is ready and waiting at the appointed hour, Morris never shows up. Lavinia, who acknowledges that Morris is a fortune-hunter, feels that he at least offered Catherine a small chance at happiness, and chides her niece for revealing her disinheritance. A week later, Austin falls ill with heart disease, and Catherine learns that Morris has borrowed money to move to California. The shock of rejection leaves Catherine heartless and cold, and she refuses to see her father even as he lays dying. Despite Austin's prior threats, Catherine receives her full inheritance after his death. Years later, Morris returns to see Catherine. Although she initially refuses him entry to the house, she changes her mind when she hears his voice. Morris then begs her forgiveness and attempts to vindicate himself by saying that he left in order to keep her from losing her inheritance. When Catherine reservedly grants her forgiveness, Morris boldly proposes again, saying that he needs her love, and Catherine encourages him to elope that night. However, after he leaves, she tells Lavinia that she intends to reject Morris so that he will never return. She then steadily works on the embroidery sampler she began when Morris first abandoned her, and finishes just as he knocks on the door at the hour of their rendezvous. Ignoring his entreaties, Catherine douses the light, bolts the door from the inside, and climbs the stairs to her room, turning her back on Morris.
Olivia De Havilland
Raymond De Ravenne
Marcel De La Brosse
C. C. Coleman Jr.
G. E. Richardson
Johann A. P. Schwartzendorf
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
Best Costume Design
Best Supporting Actor
The Heiress - The Heiress
The Heiress began as Washington Square, a Henry James novel based on a true story told him by actress Fanny Kemble Cooper about her brother's ill-fated attempt to marry a rich woman. The novel was already considered an American classic when the husband and wife writing team of Ruth and Augustus Goetz adapted it to the stage. There it had successful runs on Broadway with Wendy Harris and Basil Rathbone as the contentious father and daughter and in London, where Ralph Richardson played the father, and Peggy Ashcroft became a major stage star as the daughter.
De Havilland was looking for a follow-up to her dramatic successes at Paramount in To Each His Own, which had brought her an Academy Award in 1946, and The Snake Pit, which almost brought her a second Oscar two years later. When she saw The Heiress on Broadway, she knew she had to do it and approached William Wyler, a director noted for his ability to draw great performances from his actors. Wyler was also working at Paramount and had been frustrated by their rejection of several recent projects he'd proposed to them. When he saw The Heiress, he couldn't believe nobody had picked up the rights yet. He met with the Goetzes and assured them that he would craft a faithful film version. They sold the rights to Paramount for $250,000 and the promise of $10,000 a week to write the screenplay. Wyler stayed quite faithful to the play, only asking that they cut some early lines that made it clear that Townsend was a fortune hunter. He wanted to maintain some suspense on that issue, claiming that it was closer to James' original.
Only it wasn't, and the Goetzes knew it. The real problem was simply that he had agreed to cast Clift as Townsend, and Paramount didn't want their new leading man presented as an out-and-out villain. The Goetzes weren't impressed with Clift on their first meeting. He showed up unshaven and wearing scruffy blue jeans, part of a bohemian image he was cultivating at the time. They weren't very happy with his work on the set either, complaining that his posture was too stooped for a man of the period. When ordering him to stand up straight didn't work, Wyler arranged for Clift to spend weeks learning the social dances of the period to help him develop the proper carriage.
To play de Havilland's emotionally distant father Wyler turned to Ralph Richardson, who had done the role in London. On his first day of shooting, Richardson asked Wyler how he should play a simple scene in which he comes in, hangs up his coat and awakens his sleeping daughter. When Wyler said there didn't seem to be too many different ways of doing it, Richardson astonished him by showing him six subtly different approaches to the moment. His professional poise threatened de Havilland and Clift, however. She felt he was trying to steal scenes from her by doing little bits of business in the background, not realizing that Wyler had instructed cinematographer Leo Tover to keep Richardson's bits outside the camera frame. Clift complained that Richardson never changed what he was doing from take to take, making it harder for him to try different things.
At the same time, Clift and de Havilland had their own difficulties. Although she appreciated what he was doing, the actress thought Clift was working almost totally for himself, shutting her out of their scenes together. Yet she had to acknowledge that that helped her performance, since her character felt alienated from the real world and shut out of life. Clift, however, complained that all de Havilland did was learn the lines, then show up and ask Wyler how she should play the part. This, he thought, wasn't real acting. When Wyler started giving him notes in front of the cast, Clift retaliated by staying in his dressing room with his acting coach until it was time to shoot his scenes.
De Havilland's faith in Wyler was well placed, however, as she delivered one of her best performances under his guidance. They only had trouble on one scene. When Townsend jilts her, she has to climb the stairs to her bedroom with the suitcase she had packed for their elopement. She did numerous takes that just didn't get the right emotional tone for Wyler. Finally, she got so frustrated that the usually professional de Havilland threw the suitcase at him. At once, he realized the problem. There was nothing in the suitcase. He ordered it filled with heavy props so that her efforts to drag it up the stairs perfectly captured her dejection.
The Heiress was completed by early 1949, but the studio, knowing it was a prestige picture, held up its release until the fall, the normal release time for serious films. It opened to rave reviews and strong business in New York, though it didn't do as well in the rest of the country, taking several months to show a profit. But it was still one of the big winners come awards time, with de Havilland taking the New York Film Critics Award, the Golden Globe and her second Oscar® for her performance.
Despite its poor box office at the time, The Heiress is now acknowledged as an American film masterpiece. In 1993, Tom Cruise and director Mike Nicholas were considering a remake until they screened the original and realized that it couldn't possibly be improved upon. Three years later, the film was voted onto the National Film Registry. A remake finally appeared in 1997, though Washington Square took a more contemporary, feminist approach to the material. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Albert Finney won praise for their performances as father and daughter but still suffered in comparison to de Havilland and Richardson in the original.
Producer/Director: William Wyler
Screenplay: Ruth & Augustus Goetz
Based on their play and the novel Washington Square by Henry James
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Art Direction: John Meehan, Harry Horner
Music: Aaron Copland
Principal Cast: Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Sloper), Montgomery Clift (Morris Townsend), Ralph Richardson (Dr. Austin Sloper), Miriam Hopkins (Lavinia Penniman), Vanessa Brown (Maria), Mona Freeman (Marian Almond), Ray Collins (Jeffrey Almond), Selena Royle (Elizabeth Almond).
BW-116m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller
The Heiress - The Heiress
The Heiress - Olivia de Havilland & Montgomery Clift in THE HEIRESS on DVD
This may be Olivia de Havilland's best film, period. It was the only the third screen role film for co-star Montgomery Clift and it cemented his stardom. The real fireworks in the drama are between de Havilland's character and her father, played by Ralph Richardson in his first Hollywood role.
New York, 1849. Doctor Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson) idolizes his dead wife and cruelly judges his daughter Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) as inferior in every respect: She's awkward, plain and a wallflower at parties. He encourages his widowed sister Lavinia Penniman (Miriam Hopkins) to coach Catherine in the social graces. At a party Catherine meets Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift). The dashing young Morris pays her every attention and quickly avows that he's in love. Catherine feels she's found the man of her dreams -- no small miracle considering her father's low opinion of her prospects. But Dr. Sloper thinks Townsend's whirlwind proposal is far too good to be true ... and suspects that the young man is after Catherine's inheritance.
Ruth and Agustus Goetz' play restructures the Henry James book, simplifying the storyline and focusing the characters. In the play Morris Townsend's past history is much more explicit. He lived off women in Europe and is interested in Catherine only for her bank account. The play eliminates a great deal of incident and adds an entirely new plot twist, when Morris discovers that Catherine will only inherit a quarter of what he thought she would.
The film project was initiated by its talent, not the studio. Olivia de Havilland was urged to see the Broadway play and immediately asked William Wyler to do the same. Laurence Olivier recommended Wyler to Ralph Richardson, who didn't normally leave his stage work in London. Miriam Hopkins had of course been a big star for Wyler (Barbary Coast, These Three) and she served him well in his later films Carrie and The Children's Hour. Errol Flynn was considered for the Morris Townsend role but backed out.
The playwrights were surprised when the director kept his word and hired them to adapt their play for the screen. Wyler' eliminated Catherine Sloper's final, theatrical dialogue line at the top of the stairs, as his blocking of the situation had already made a powerful statement. Of course, this being a William Wyler film, a staircase is the focus of the key dramatic scene.
We're also told that de Havilland and Clift's acting styles didn't mesh. De Havilland arrived ready for Wyler to shape scenes for her while Clift had exactly in mind what he wanted to do. The actress felt that Clift was directing his performance to the camera and not to her. Still, Errol Flynn would probably have been a disaster as Morris -- too attractive to turn away even if he was a cad.
Composer Aaron Copland was on the edge of the blacklist but Wyler made sure that he was hired anyway. Yet the director insisted that the existing theme 'Plaisir d'amour' dominate the score. It enters the film sung by Montgomery Clift's insincere suitor. Perhaps Wyler thought that the song evoked the film's period.
The Heiress remains impressive today for its profound character relationships, especially between the father and daughter. Austin at first seems overly critical of Catherine, who appears incapable of appearing in public without causing embarrassment. The insecure Catherine lacks the temperament to play the role of a well-to-do eligible lady; she's incapable of hiding her emotions. She is shunned by her peers and must be monitored by her busybody aunt Lavinia through the simplest of rituals. Told at a party to use her fan to keep her hands busy, Catherine rattles it nervously.
Catherine has no defense against the attentions of Morris Townsend. She's easily taken in by his skilled flattery, so much so that she almost loses our respect. The doctor sizes up Morris as an unworthy fortune hunter and does his best to quash the romance behind Catherine's back. The conflict comes as we realize that Austin is highly prejudiced against his daughter, as she's no match for his idealized, dead wife -- whom even Lavinia thinks the doctor has romanticized all out of proportion. Austin means well but he foolishly thinks that he can control his daughter's life and that she will somehow still love him for it. This is where The Heiress shows its maturity. Austin needs Catherine's cooperation to test the young man's sincerity. But Catherine would never agree to such a thing, or think for even a minute that Morris could confuse his love with monetary considerations.
Dramas of this sort often pose choices between love and money, or love and class distinction. The Heiress compares one kind of love against another. Austin loves his daughter, but the truth is that he simply doesn't know her. She becomes convinced that he hates her when he's still confused and partly obsessed by his dead wife. A drafty sidewalk café in Paris brings forth a 'ghost presence' of the dead wife that gives Austin the germ of death. Meanwhile, reports from Lavinia convince Austin that the usurper Morris is already trespassing in his parlor and smoking his cigars.
The shattering climax of The Heiress is justly famous. One's first reaction to the story is that it is the making of a bitter spinster, which is accurate only up to a point. Catherine has been cheated by unfair comparisons to her mother. In reality, Catherine is a realist like her father, but his overprotective parenting has prevented her from seeing the world as it is. When she finally lashes back, Austin may or may not realize that Catherine's true nature has been suppressed all this time, smothered by his own 'critical coddling.' If he'd only seen fit to speak his mind to her about the world, or let her out of the house once in a while, Catherine wouldn't have become a victim or bred such inner bitterness.
William Wyler films always seem to be of the highest quality. I find him more consistent than George Cukor, another director known for excellent work with actresses. George Stevens may be technically more fastidious than either of them, but by this time his films were becoming heavier and self-important. Wyler did veer off into message territory every so often (The Big Country), but I still rank him more highly. He could make a 'wholesome and square' tale like Friendly Persuasion into a priceless experience.
Universal's DVD of Paramount's The Heiress is a finely tuned B&W transfer of a handsomely filmed show, with a strong soundtrack. Robert Osborne offers a TCM-style introduction. A trailer is included but there are no other extras.
Research source:A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood's Most Acclaimed Director, William Wyler by Jan Herman. De Capo Press 1997.
For more information about The Heiress, visit Univers al Home Entertainment. To order The Heiress, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
The Heiress - Olivia de Havilland & Montgomery Clift in THE HEIRESS on DVD
Well, she has the prospect of $30,000 a year.- Marion Almond
I see you appreciate her.- Austin Sloper
I don't mean it's her only merit. But you always have a way of alluding to her as an unmarriageble girl.- Marion Almond
My allusions are just as kind as yours.- Austin Sloper
Don't be kind to me, father. It doesn't become you.- Catharine Sloper
Now, Catherine, if you will stay by me this evening, you will see that what I say is not always of the greatest importance, but dear, that doesn't keep me from talking.- Aunt Penniman
Yes, I can be very cruel. I have been taught by masters.- Catharine Sloper
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.- Catherine Sloper
To help Olivia de Havilland achieve the physically and emotionally weary and worn effect that he wanted, director William Wyler packed books into the suitcases that the actress lugged up the staircase in the scene where her character realizes that she has been jilted by her lover.
This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1996.
Montgomery Clift learned to play the piano for the scene where he sings, "The Joys of Love" to Olivia de Havilland.
The working title of this film was Washington Square. Opening cast credits differ slightly in their order from end credits, which lists Betty Linley above the credits for Ray Collins. Betty Linley, who made her screen debut in the film, also appeared as "Mrs. Montgomery" in the original American stage play, and Ralph Richardson re-enacted his role from the 1949 London production. According to a September 1947 Los Angeles Examiner news item, producer Fred F. Finklehoffe planned to film a version of the play with the original Broadway cast, but that production was never realized. The Heiress originally was to be produced by Liberty Films, Inc., an independent production company headed, in part, by William Wyler, but when Paramount absorbed the production company in 1948, the studio took on the film. According to modern sources, Olivia de Havilland, who had seen the Broadway play, approached Wyler about adapting it for a screen version which would feature her in the lead role. According to Paramount press information contained in copyright records, excerpts from the following musical pieces were heard in the film: "Galop di bravura," by Julius Schulhoff; "Gavotte," by François Joseph Gossec; "Coquette polka," by Charles d'Albert; "Gaetana" and "Queen of the Flowers," by Eugène Ketterer. Paramount borrowed Vanessa Brown from Twentieth Century-Fox. Olivia de Havilland won her second Academy Award for Best Actress, and the film also won awards for Best Art Direction/Set Direction (black and white), Music (Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture), Costume Design (Black-and-White), and was nominated for awards in the following categories: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Ralph Richardson), Best Direction and Best Cinematography. In 1954, NBC-TV aired a version of The Heiress based on the Paramount film for Lux Video Theatre, starring Vincent Price, Marilyn Erskine, Donald Murphy and Ellen Corby; and in 1961, a version based on the play was televised on CBS for Family Classics, and starred Julie Harris and Farley Granger.