Today, Bryan and I are showing The Heiress (1949), starring Olivia de Havilland, Ralph Richardson, and Montgomery Clift. It makes a nice pairing with last week’s film, Dead End (1937): both were directed by the legendary director William Wyler and both are adaptations of successful Broadway plays.
In this case, Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s play of the same name was itself an adaptation – of Henry James’s novel Washington Square (1880). Both play and film highlight the melodramatic aspects of James’s novel (see the poster featured on the cover of the DVD case at right). De Havilland, best known today for her supporting role as Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind (1939), won an Oscar for her portrayal of the heiress, Catherine Sloper. Catherine’s final words to her aunt about her intentions towards the man to whom she was once betrothed aren’t in James’s novel and are a wonderful addition to the story. The expression on de Havilland’s face in the final scene is justification enough for her Academy Award.
An added bonus is the score, by the composer Aaron Copland (known for such pieces as “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “Appalachian Spring”), which also won an Oscar.
The Heiress also makes a nice pairing with next week’s film, Martin Scorsese’s 1993 adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence (1920).
Scorsese has said that The Heiress made a profound impression on him when he saw it as a child: “When I was 9 my father took me to see The Heiress, the Henry James story with Olivia de Havilland and Ralph Richardson. It was a double bill with a Western — my dad figured he’d get to see the good movie, and I’d enjoy the Western. I don’t remember the Western, but I never forgot this incredible movie. I felt this emotional violence between father and daughter. My dad and I always talked about it.” Wyler’s film became one of the inspirations for the Scorsese’s version of The Age of Innocence, which investigates the emotional violence that lies at the heart of a tradition that readers tend to associate with genteel behavior: the novel of manners.