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In the mid-1800's, the wealthy Sloper family - widowed surgeon Dr. Austin Sloper, his adult daughter Catherine Sloper (Dr. Sloper's only surviving child), and Dr. Sloper's recently widowed sister Lavinia Penniman - live in an opulent house at 16 Washington Square, New York City. They have accrued their wealth largely through Dr. Sloper's hard work. Despite the lessons that Dr. Sloper has paid for in all the social graces for her, Catherine is a plain, simple, awkward and extremely shy woman who spends all her free time alone doing embroidery when she is not doting on her father. Catherine's lack of social charm and beauty - unlike her deceased mother - is obvious to Dr. Sloper, who hopes that Lavinia will act as her guardian in becoming more of a social person, and ultimately as chaperon if Catherine were ever to meet the right man. The first man ever to show Catherine any attention is the handsome Morris Townsend, who she met at a family party. Catherine is initially uncertain as to ... Written by
In the scene in the rain, Catherine takes Morris' cloak off herself and wraps it around him. After the next cut the cloak is missing, then in the following closeup it reappears and Catherine buttons it around Morris' neck. See more »
You have found a tongue at last, Catherine. 'Tis only to say such terrible things to me.
Yes. This is a field where you will not compare me to my mother.
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If I could choose one word to describe this film, it would be "masterpiece"...
Along with THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1937), PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943), and PETER IBBETSON (1935), this is one of my favorite films set in the 19th Century. It's a truly excellent film that won tremendous critical acclaim upon its release but was a box office failure in comparison to the enormous success of Paramount's other film of 1949, SAMSON AND DELILAH. Whereas Hedy Lamarr's magnificent beauty and screen presence were the only redeeming features of SAMSON AND DELILAH, THE HEIRESS is a dramatic masterpiece and a film that has withstood the test of time. Its star, Olivia de Havilland, went home with a deserving second Best Actress Oscar for her outstanding performance as Catherine Sloper, the naive and plain title character.
The direction, acting, casting, writing, production values, and music score of this film are perfect. I have no complaints whatsoever on any of these departments. However, others have criticized these departments of the film and I would like to point some of these criticisms out. Some have remarked that Montgomery Clift's performance as Morris Townsend is "too modern," especially in his speech. I found his performance authentic to the periodhow else would a charming 19th Century New York gentleman act, let alone a crafty fortune hunter? Others have also criticized the film as a "melodramatic soap opera." This film is a breath of fresh air amongst the vast crowd of heavily melodramatic films that were a trademark of 1940s cinemathe sincere performances are subtle and underplayed here, as is the Oscar-winning Aaron Copland music score which rarely reaches the level of "melodramatic musical cue" throughout the film. Due to the film's level of excellence, the film is timeless and could be viewed comfortably amongst many members of today's generation despite its meticulous black-and-white cinematography by Leo Tover. I have seen this landmark film three times so far and it improves with each viewingI am also ready to buy the upcoming DVD of the film in early 2007. Although I'm not a huge fan of William Wyler's other films, including the hokey "British" wartime melodrama MRS. MINIVER (1942), THE HEIRESS is one of the few films of his that belongs on my shelf sometime soon.
Although this is generally a thinking person's film, the story is simple and I suppose all of us could relate to Catherine Sloper in a way. All of us have faced the dominating, somewhat emotionally abusive presence of our parent(s) at some point in our lives, especially when the parent(s) disapproves of the new friend or intended future spouse we have discovered. However, Catherine's father (Ralph Richardson) proves right in a shocking revelation here. As with Catherine, I can't help but despise Dr. Sloper despite his correct views on Morris Townsend.
Next to the wholly convincing performance of Olivia de Havilland, my favorite element of the film is the haunting music score by Aaron Copland. It's a tragic yet beautiful score that stirs the emotions in all the right places in the film. As I may have said before, the score is used sparingly and rarely reaches a sentimental level.
In short, this marvelous film is a timeless masterpiece. And who could not forget the ambiguous and abrupt ending?
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