The only son of wealthy widow Violet Venable dies while on vacation with his cousin Catherine. What the girl saw was so horrible that she went insane; now Mrs. Venable wants Catherine lobotomized to cover up the truth.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
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
This movie was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1996. See more »
When Morris first asks Kathryn to dance at the party, she is seated with her dance card in her hand. Her fan is hanging from a string around her wrist on the same arm. Cut to a wider shot as Kathryn stands to join Morris, and suddenly her fan is in her hand, and her dance card is hanging from her wrist. See more »
Well, Austin, who's sick? Who died? Who've you been cutting up lately?
Yes, I can see you're in good shape. When your gout's troubling you, you're more respectful to me.
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A fine adaptation of an excellent play, with a subtle and precise view of human nature worthy of Henry James
Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) is a thoroughly ordinary girl with one thing commend her—her money. That's the view of her father (Ralph Richardson), who believes he is cruel only to be kind. He takes a dim view of the handsome and charming man (Montgomery Clift) who courts her. Surely this idler's only possible motive for proposing marriage is to get her money. Catherine's aunt (Miriam Hopkins) may agree, but believes the two should marry anyway. Catherine is deeply in love, but her fiancé will forever change her view of herself, of her father and of human nature as a whole.
William Wyler directs Augustus and Ruth Goetz's adaptation of their own play, suggested by Henry James's "Washington Square," and it's a fine job by all. We rarely see such a subtle and precise view of people, presented in a way that allows us to draw our own conclusions about them. Is the father villainous and cruel? Is the fiancé a fortune hunter? Do we approve or disapprove of Catherine's decisions throughout the film? We're not told what to think.
De Havilland is fine at conveying the various shades of her many-faceted character. Richardson is excellent, making the most of his mellifluous voice and superb manners. Clift is good, though his diction is lazier than that of his co-stars'. I find Clift smug and unappealing, which doesn't detract from this particular character. Miriam Hopkins, a former leading lady, aged into character parts, gives a performance rich in detail and humor. Highly recommended.
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