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The Heiress

4.7 13
Director: William Wyler, Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson

Cast: William Wyler, Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson

Henry James based his 1881 novella Washington Square on a real-life incident, wherein a young actor of his acquaintance married an unattractive but very wealthy young woman for the express purpose of living the rest of his life in luxury. Washington Square was turned into a stage play in 1946 by Ruth and Augustus Goetz; this, in turn was adapted for the


Henry James based his 1881 novella Washington Square on a real-life incident, wherein a young actor of his acquaintance married an unattractive but very wealthy young woman for the express purpose of living the rest of his life in luxury. Washington Square was turned into a stage play in 1946 by Ruth and Augustus Goetz; this, in turn was adapted for the movies under the title The Heiress. Olivia DeHavilland won an Academy Award (her second) for her portrayal of Catherine Sloper, the plain-Jane daughter of wealthy widower Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson). Catherine is not only unattractive, but lacks most of the social graces, thanks in great part to the domineering attitudes of her father. When Catherine falls in love with handsome young Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), she is convinced that her love is reciprocated, else why would Morris be so affectionate towards her? Dr. Sloper sees things differently, correctly perceiving that Morris is a callow fortune hunter. Standing up to her father for the first time in her life, Catherine insists that she will elope with Morris; but when Dr. Sloper threatens to cut off her dowry, Morris disappears. Still, Catherine threatens to run off with the next young man who pays any attention to her; Sloper, belatedly realizing how much he has hurt his only child, arranges to leave her his entire fortune. Years pass: Morris returns, insisting that he'd only left because he didn't want to cause Catherine the "grief" of being disinherited. Seemingly touched by Morris' "sincerity," Catherine agrees to elope with him immediately. But when Morris arrives at the appointed hour, he finds the door locked and bolted. Asked how she can treat Morris so cruelly, Catherine replies coldly "Yes, I can be very cruel. I have been taught by masters." Though The Heiress ends on a downbeat note, the audience is gratified to know that Catherine Sloper has matured from ugly-duckling loser to a tower of strength who will never allow herself to be manipulated by anyone ever again.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Gregory Baird
Impeccable manners conceal powerful passions in William Wyler's splendid version of Henry James's Washington Square, the best screen adaptation ever made of a James novel. Set in 19th-century New York, it is the story of Catherine (Olivia de Havilland), a shy, awkward spinster with a sizable inheritance, whose father (Ralph Richardson) objects to her involvement with the charming but poor Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift). Wyler's understated, classical approach suits the material perfectly. He uses long, elegant takes and wide shots that never distract from the superb performances. De Havilland, in an Oscar-winning turn, is wide-eyed perfection as the socially inept Catherine. Clift makes a breathtakingly earnest Morris, and Richardson portrays the father as the epitome of cold and ultimately cruel eloquence. Some of the verbal complexity and nuance of James's novel is obviously lost (the film was adapted from Ruth and Augustus Goetz's stage play). But the essence of James's story lies in its exploration of the true feelings and motives that lie hidden beneath behavior and relationships, and that is captured beautifully in The Heiress.
All Movie Guide - Richard Gilliam
The Heiress was the top of the line in production values for early 1950s studio films, from William Wyler's sharp direction to the costumes of Edith Head. The entire cast is excellent, particularly Olivia de Havilland, who makes believable the transition of her title character from weak-willed spinster to a much stronger person at the story's conclusion. World War II had forever changed the role of women in U.S. society, and The Heiress, in the guise of a period drama, carried the theme of women's increasing power in the postwar years. This is just one of several films from the era that were thus both excellent dramas and interesting allegories. The film won four Oscars, including de Havilland and Head, a team of set designers, and composer Aaron Copland.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Universal Studios
Region Code:
[Full Frame]
Sales rank:

Special Features

Exclusive introduction by Turner Classic Movies host and film historian Robert Osborne; Theatrical trailer

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
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 Jefferson Almond
Betty Linley Mrs. Montgomery
Selena Royle Elizabeth Almond
Paul Lees Arthur Townsend
Harry Antrim Mr. Abeel
Russ Conway Quintus
David Thursby Geier
Damien Cashmere Actor
Siobhan Hunter Actor
Samantha Strong Actor

Technical Credits
William Wyler Director,Producer
Charles C. Coleman Asst. Director
Aaron Copland Score Composer
Ray Evans Songwriter
Augustus Goetz Screenwriter
Ruth Goetz Screenwriter
Edith Head Costumes/Costume Designer
William W. Hornbeck Editor
Harry Horner Art Director
Gordon Jennings Special Effects
Emile Kuri Art Director,Set Decoration/Design
Hal Lierley Makeup
Jay Livingston Songwriter
John Meehan Art Director
Gile Steele Costumes/Costume Designer
Leo Tover Cinematographer
Wally Westmore Makeup
Bill Woods Makeup
Robert Wyler Associate Producer
Henry James Source Author

Scene Index

Disc #1 -- The Heiress
1. Chapter 1 [1:42]
2. Chapter 2 [6:42]
3. Chapter 3 [13:15]
4. Chapter 4 [9:22]
5. Chapter 5 [9:30]
6. Chapter 6 [4:31]
7. Chapter 7 [8:57]
8. Chapter 8 [6:18]
9. Chapter 9 [:39]
10. Chapter 10 [4:38]
11. Chapter 11 [5:04]
12. Chapter 12 [6:35]
13. Chapter 13 [7:46]
14. Chapter 14 [4:03]
15. Chapter 15 [8:20]
16. Chapter 16 [4:31]
17. Chapter 17 [9:58]
18. Chapter 18 [3:01]
19. Chapter 19 [:21]
20. Chapter 20 [:01]

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The Heiress 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I admit that i bought this movie just because of the actors Clift and De Havilland alone. i enjoyed De Havilland so much in "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte" and Clift in "Suddenly last Summer" and thought what an interesting pairing of actors ! i will also admit that i almost quit viewing about a third of the way into the movie but something, the costumes by Edith Head and the music soundtrack by Aaron Copeland kept me interested and i am glad that i did continue. The Heiress packs such an emotional punch that it is easy to see why it won 4 Academy Awards.
pboy110 More than 1 year ago
Really great old movie. It's a cliche, but they dont't make them like this anymore.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Performances by the actors were absolutely wonderful. Very compelling.
lucyMM More than 1 year ago
this is a great classic movie with outstanding acting by Olivia De Havilland.. isn't it interesting that they could make movies without violence, swearing and nudity in the good old days? Three cheers for the actors who were know for just that " Acting"..
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The interesting thing about THE HEIRESS is how the heroine makes a logical change from a naive young woman to a determined, neurotic spinster through the betrayal of her father and her lover. Olivia de Havilland plays both sides of her character with equal skill and richly deserved her Academy Award as Best Actress. Ralph Richardson gives the most impressive performance of his screen career as the domineering father unable to love his daughter because she is so unlike his beautiful wife. Montgomery Clift makes the most of an ambiguous role--his eyes make us think he does love Catherine despite the fact that he is supposed to be a callow fortune hunter. Miriam Hopkins is a sheer delight as the giddy but well-meaning aunt with romantic fancies of her own. A huge asset to the film is the striking musical score by Aaron Copeland. With Olivia de Havilland giving one of her most heartfelt performances and William Wyler directing with meticulous attention to detail, this is a film masterpiece worth seeing again and again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In ''The Heiress'' William Wyler achieves what few other world-class directors could have achieved:a film masterpiece greater than the play on which it was based, both play adaptation and screenplay by Ruth and Augustus Goetz. It is sheer perfection; and it can be seen again and again with pleasure. The art direction by Harry Horner, et al, and the cinematography by Leo Tover, are superb. This is one of the all-time great Hollywood films.
Guest More than 1 year ago
a powerful film about love and the denial of love. not a womans film, but a film about suffering and yearning of the human heart.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you are a woman that has been done wrong by a man at one time or other, this move is for you.