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The Heiress (1949)

Not Rated | | Drama, Romance | 28 December 1949 (USA)
A young naive woman falls for a handsome young man who her emotionally abusive father suspects is a fortune hunter.

Director:

William Wyler

Writers:

Ruth Goetz (written for the screen by), Augustus Goetz (written for the screen by) | 3 more credits »
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Won 4 Oscars. Another 5 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Olivia de Havilland ... Catherine Sloper
Montgomery Clift ... Morris Townsend
Ralph Richardson ... Dr. Austin Sloper
Miriam Hopkins ... Lavinia Penniman
Vanessa Brown ... Maria
Betty Linley ... Mrs. Montgomery
Ray Collins ... Jefferson Almond
Mona Freeman ... Marian Almond
Selena Royle ... Elizabeth Almond
Paul Lees Paul Lees ... Arthur Townsend
Harry Antrim Harry Antrim ... Mr. Abeel
Russ Conway ... Quintus
David Thursby David Thursby ... Geier
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Storyline

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 Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

A truly great motion picture (one-sheet) See more »

Genres:

Drama | Romance

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | French

Release Date:

28 December 1949 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Die Erbin See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$2,600,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Paramount Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In his autobiography, Basil Rathbone lamented that he did not get the part of Dr. Sloper in this movie, following his performance in the play in New York City, opposite Wendy Hiller. Had he been cast, and had Errol Flynn won the part of Morris Townsend as originally planned, this would have been a re-teaming of all three main stars from the film classics, Captain Blood (1935) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). See more »

Goofs

When Catherine first comes in the study to meet Mrs Montgomery her dress has a plain collar. When she brings the sherry tray she has a lace collar on with a black velvet bow. See more »

Quotes

Aunt Penniman: Can you be so cruel?
Catherine Sloper: Yes, I can be very cruel. I have been taught by masters.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Dallas: The Heiress (1979) See more »

Soundtracks

Plaisir d'amour (The Joys of Love)
(1780) (uncredited)
Written by Johann Martini and Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian
Performed by Montgomery Clift
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
Outstanding Henry James Adaptation
28 April 2007 | by dglinkSee all my reviews

Certainly among the finest literary adaptations, "The Heiress" was based on Henry James's novel, "Washington Square" and features arguably Olivia de Havilland's finest screen performance. Morris Townsend , a handsome young man with ambiguous motives pursues Catherine Sloper, a plain spinster, who is slightly past marriageable age and possesses limited social skills. The young woman, who is the heiress of the title, is vulnerable prey for a penniless fortune hunter.

However, Montgomery Clift plays Townsend in an enigmatic manner, and viewers can debate his true intentions. Catherine's father, played by Ralph Richardson, and her Aunt Lavinia, played by Miriam Hopkins, take opposite sides in Townsend's pursuit of Catherine. Although both her father and her aunt appear to see through the handsome suitor, Aunt Lavinia is practical and sensitive to her niece's emotional needs, and she counsels compromise in pursuit of happiness, if only fleeting. However, Catherine's father is unyielding and essentially unloving in his opposition to the match. Throughout, Dr. Sloper compares his daughter's virtues to those of his late wife, and Catherine comes up lacking in every quality that he values. Sloper threatens to disinherit his daughter if she marries the suitor.

Montgomery Clift may appear shallow and transparent to some, but in essence those are the traits of his character. While Morris is slick and obviously fawning, he is not intelligent enough to be totally deceptive. Only someone as naive and needy as Olivia could fail to grasp that Morris may want something more than her love. Olivia de Havilland transcends her other performances and skillfully and convincingly evolves from a shy, introverted girl into a strong, vengeful woman. De Havilland has often portrayed women who appear genteel and soft on the outside, but whose hearts and backbones can harden into pure steel (e.g. Gone with the Wind; Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte), and Catherine Sloper is the finest of those roles. With able support from Richardson and Hopkins, Clift and de Havilland make the most of an outstanding screenplay, which was adapted from a stage play. William Wyler directs with a sure hand, and the atmospheric cinematography captures 19th century New York life. Period films are often unraveled by their hairstyles, which generally owe more to the year in which the film was made rather than that in which the story is set. However, even the coiffures excel in "The Heiress." De Havilland's hair looks authentic 19th century and underscores Wyler's fastidious attention to detail.

With an award-winning de Havilland performance, a handsome Montgomery Clift on the brink of stardom, and an engrossing Henry James story, "The Heiress" is one of the finest films of the 1940's. Without qualification, the film holds up to and merits repeat viewings if only to better argue the underlying motives of Clift and the fateful decision that de Havilland has to make.


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