Washington Square (1997)
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Hence, the two most dramatic scenes in "The Heiress" do not appear in "Washington Square" -- Morris Townsend's cruel jilting of Catherine right before their planned elopement, and Catherine's revenge in the final scene, where Morris is left pounding on the bolted door.
There were many fine performances in "Washington Square," most notably Jennifer Jason Leigh. Her many expressions of hurt, pain, and anguish are heart-breaking to watch. Ben Chaplin's outstanding portrayal of "the fortune hunter" is surprisingly sympathetic. Maggie Smith's Aunt Lavinia is seen as meddling and trouble-making. The soundtrack is beautiful, and the set designs and costumes provide an accurate portrayal of 19th century New York.
Matching her every step of the way are Finney's and Smith's sensational renderings of the rich fat bourgeois and the ambiguous spinster. Albert Finney plays a selfish cruel man ,whose wife died when his daughter was born,and he never forgave the girl this death.So he 's always putting her down,humiliating her fiercely.Maggie Smith -who has already played old maid parts:see "the prime of miss Jean Brodie"(1969),"the honey pot" (1967)"A room with a view"(1986)-is equally successful as the heroine's aunt:we never know whether she helps or thwarts her niece's plans.She probably tries to recreate what she misses during her whole life,but isn't she trying to make her niece what she is as well?Whatever you think of remakes,when you deal with such a efficient threesome,you forget all your bias.
Henry James talks about woman's condition during the last century.Money is the center of the heroine's drama;she will never be sure to be loved for herself,that's why her love is doomed from the very beginning.At the time,marriage was the woman's only future,ugly women became either spinsters or nuns.Catherine's dilemma is that,unlike the other socialites for whom marriage is the way to become part of the posh elite,love is second to none for her.Ben Chaplin is rather acceptable,but his character remains one-dimensional.It was probably hard to equal Montgomery Clift.
In a nutshell,a movie who shuns fad;hence a very commendable work.Agnieska Holland -who had already directed a remarkable "Europa Europa"- is a director who promises great things.
Anyway, the movie completely betrays the spirit of this work of the great American writer. In the novel, the heroine Catherine is shy, not very attractive and somewhat clumsy, but nonetheless she is a sound, intelligent young woman, and she's not as naive as it may seem. Her attachment for her father is dignified and respectful, with no morbid sides in it. Along three quarters of the movie, Catherine (Jennifer Jason Leigh) just seems to be mentally retarded, poor thing. In the last quarter, she suddenly (and incredibly) becomes intelligent, aware of her dignity as a woman, and all that.
The director Agnieszka Holland has added two vulgar scenes to the story. The first, when the nervous child Catherine has, well, troubles with her vesica. The second scene, when we see on the background a sort of open-air brothel, with prostitutes taking their customers behind tents, and so on. Nothing could be more contrary to the spirit and artistic ideals of Henry James. It is notorious that the writer was extremely decent and demure even for the standards of the Victorian age. I defy anyone to find any coarseness anywhere in the thousands of pages of James' huge literary production. I really was particularly annoyed by these two scenes.
Yes, I know that a director needs reasonable freedom in the screen adaptation of a novel. But if a director utterly ignores or misunderstands the art of an author (here Henry James), I don't see the point of using his work to make a bad movie.
The acting is adequate to the movie: poor and flat, in spite of the talent of Albert Finney and Maggie Smith. "Washington Square" is definitely a non-recommendable film.
Albert Finney and Maggie Smith did their best, but the direction gets the Golden Toilet award. Oh, look; it's sunny - such felicity abounds! Aw, gee, it's raining, let's all fall down in the street to the sounds of swelling symphonic shmaltz. Peuw.
And I am normally a such a forgiving costume drama fiend. Alas.
This film stays closer to the novel than "The Heiress". Thus, it is much less of a drama. The attempt to do the book is commendable, but it is not necessarily the route to an entertaining film. Here, the characterizations are obscurely unmotivated (Finney), over-the-top (Smith), uneven and sometimes weird (Leigh), and charmless and off-putting (Chapin). The musical score is intrusive. All of this contrasts badly with "The Heiress", in which the characters had far more depth, authenticity, and appeal(certainly Morris and even the minor characters).
This longer version attempts a better exposition of the characters' psychology. Good ambition but it fails. Take Dr. Sloper. A hard working, self-made man who despises Morris Townsend mainly because he is a self-centered loafer. It is not snobbery which motivates him, Morris is a gentleman, but his belief in merit and good works. He does love his daughter but she disappoints him with her shyness and inability to master much of life. He pushes her to manage better, but he is constantly frustrated. For her to marry Morris would be to shatter all he believes about how people should live. A bad guy? A good guy? All of this comes out in Ralph Richardson"s performance in "The Heiress.' Finney just seems like an nasty oaf in comparison.
I fell asleep in the theater watching this long, drawn out and exceptionally boring movie. There are more pauses in the dialog than a Pinter Play. In the book I felt a deep caring for Catherine Sloper and her life. The movie had just the opposite effect. I also disliked the twist where her aunt has a sexual attraction to Morris. Eeeeeeeek. YUK.
Watch it if you can't sleep, it's a definite snoozer. Don't watch it if you're depressed. You'll need Zoloft after this.
Sure, "The Heiress" was exceptional with Olivia Haviland and Montgomery Clift in the title roles. The actor who played her father was on the mark as the uncaring, cold father....still grieving for his dead wife and hating Catherine for it. The movie was not faithful to the book but neither is this one.
This movie was a box office flop. I have no doubts as to why.
The director's attempts at making 'beautiful' scenes were so obvious that I actually cringed. It has none of the understated and simple beauty that a movie with no plot can have, such as Onegin. I agree with other comments about Leigh's portrayal of Catherine as an idiot, instead of naive and shy; she made me despise her not feel for her.
Catherine's transition from childlike trusting to adult cynicism, the whole point of the story, was internalised, just as it was in the novel. But we don't have the benefit of a narrative voice to tell us that in a film! I think someone skipped adaptation class at filmschool.
I appreciate the director's attempts to make a moving and beautiful film out of a difficult text but it just didn't work.
The real conflict here is the relationship between father and daughter, a complicated and resentful one. Father hates daughter because his beloved wife died giving birth to her, and he was never able to relate to her emotionally. While Catherine has inheritance from her mother's side of the family, her father makes it clear that she will inherit nothing from him if she does not do his bidding, which means not marrying Chapin. While the character of Catherine is supposed to be plain, Leigh doesn't fit the bill. The problem with her performance is that Catherine seems quite hard, while DeHavilland's Catherine was fragile and only plain by the fact that she wore a very severe hairstyle that was not flattering to her face. That made her seem more suppressed, and her inner beauty was more obvious. Leigh also makes her character much more clinging, so ultimately, she is not as likable, closer to the unattractive heroine of the musical "Passion" than to what the original play and movie had her to be.
As Dr. Austin Sloper, Albert Finney is excellent, a combination of social mores, hidden hatred of his daughter, and in conflict with himself between his coldness and his Hippocratic oath. Smith, as always, is the consummate scene stealer, making her Aunt Livinia one you'd love to have over for cocktails and babysit the kids. It makes no sense that Leigh's Catherine would blame her aunt for Morris walking out on her. It is nice, however, to see the great Maggie playing an older character who is filled with strawberry ice cream in her heart instead of ice water in her veins and a wisecrack on her tongue. Even without the witty dialog she has gotten to say on stage and in films throughout her career, Smith delivers each line as if she was spreading butter on corn-Sweet, a bit salty and delicious to the ear.
As for the alterations I mention, there seems no other reason to do this than to feminize the narrative. They took out the "What's good for the goose is good for the gander" lesson of rejection by altering the plot twists towards the end. In the original versions both on stage and on screen, you can tell that Catherine will go on with her life whether being a spinster or not, but something tells me here that Leigh's Catherine will end up like "Great Expectation's" Miss Haversham and be one of the most feared and disliked characters around. It is the twist of the ending which always bothered me, but in this version, I saw no need to change it.
I highly recommend this film!
But gradually, when Leigh lets Catherine blossom and more rounded and developed, it's easy to see the dormant potential in her, and she makes us believe her gradual independence from her father. Albert Finney and Maggie Smith, of course, are old hands at this type of thing (if you'll pardon the expression), and they both do there thing again. Ben Chaplin suffers in comparison to Montgomery Clift, but he does show more deviousness than I would have believed from him. Not as good as THE HEIRESS or the other 1997 Henry James adaptation, THE WINGS OF THE DOVE, but still worthy.
Fortunately the assembled cast matches the above credentials. Albert Finney is superb as the wealthy Dr. Austin Sloper who hoards his money in his mansion on Washington Square and whose overprotective rule of his less than attractive daughter Catherine (Jennifer Jason Leigh) - who is also under the influence of her overbearing Aunt Lavinia (Maggie Smith, still chewing the scenery as usual but convincing) - has put an impasse to Catherine's infatuation with the handsome but poor Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin): if Catherine should choose to marry Morris she would be cut off as his heiress. James' models of womanhood are played well by Jennifer Garner as the niece that marries and breeds and her mother Aunt Elizabeth (Judith Ivey, currently wowing audiences in a revival of 'The Glass Menagerie'). Distance, imposed by the disapproving Dr. Sloper in escorting Catherine to Europe for a year, doesn't appear to squelch the passion between Catherine and Morris, but Morris finds work which takes him away from the returned Catherine, only to learn upon return that Catherine will not inherit her father's fortune - a glitch that sadly changes the relationship of what had appeared to be a true love romance. In the end the film follows Henry James' view of the world of his time - a palette for social criticism. Made in 1997, this film holds up very well indeed.