Olivia de Havilland won an Oscar, for her portrayal of the title character, Catherine Sloper, in 1949′s The Heiress, and if you want to see another side of this lovely actress, I definitely recommend this movie.
Miss Sloper is a plain, unaccomplished young lady living with her father, a wealthy doctor (Ralph Richardson) in New York during the mid-19th century. Despite having all the best schooling, Catherine is shy, unskilled in social graces, dancing, music … in short, all the things that young ladies were supposed to be able to do at that time. She is a constant disappointment to her father, who despairs of ever finding her a husband. More importantly, he compares her to her dead mother, and finds her extremely lacking. Catherine seems unaware of his disappointment, though, and remains blindly faithful to him, and not unhappy with her rather reclusive lifestyle.
All of that changes when she meets handsome Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), who immediately shows a preference for Catherine, and very soon sweeps her off her feet. Her father, given his negative opinion of his daughter, believes Townsend to be a fortune hunter, as Catherine will be very wealthy upon his own death. What ensues is a power struggle between Dr. Sloper and his daughter as she learns to stand on her own feet and makes plans to marry the man she loves. The big question, though, is whether or not he really loves her … or her money.
The Heiress is a taut, emotional film with excellent performances. Each of the characters move through a variety of stages over the course of the film: we see Richardson indulge his daughter, then take control of her; he sometimes seems to acknowledge his dislike for her, but ultimately contends that his actions are out of love.
Montgomery Clift does a truly remarkable job with the character of Townsend; one moment you’re sure he’s just a cad out for Catherine’s money, and the next moment you think maybe you’ve misjudged him, and he really does care for her. Both of these actors strike the fine balance necessary to showcase the flaws in their characters, and to keep the plot and the emotional tension of the movie running tight and high.
Olivia de Havilland, though, is a revelation. It’s hard to describe the transformation of her character without giving too much of the plot away, but I’ll do my best. In the beginning, Catherine is a loving, obedient daughter, content with life. She’s not at all unhappy with not being the belle of the ball. After she meets Morris, she is a young woman in love, capricious and emotional, and torn between her feelings for her lover and her duty to her father. What comes after, though, is something altogether removed from either of those aspects. She becomes a tower of strength, but at the same time, something so fragile that you fear she might burst apart at any moment.
All in all, if you like classic films, you should definitely give this one a try! It's another favourite of mine! :) xx