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Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Heiress - Star of the month... Olivia de Havilland

"The Heiress" is a 1945 drama directed by William Wyler and starring Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson and Miriam Hopkins.

Montgomery Clift and Olivia de Havilland as
Morris Townsend and Catherine Sloper
In 1996, the film was selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".

'The Heiress' is based on the play by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, who also wrote the film's screenplay. The play was based on the 1880 novel 'Washington Square' by Henry James.

Naive and shy Catherine Sloper (played by  de Havilland) falls for charming Morris Townsend (played by Clift). Catherine's father, Dr. Sloper (played by Richardson) does not like Townsend, and feels he is interested in Catherine for her inheritance. Despite Dr. Sloper's decision to disinherit Catherine, she decides to elope with Townsend. 

An impersonating trio

I saw Australian film critic Bill Collins present 'The Heiress' on television a few weeks ago, and he explained a concept which I found fascinating.

Catherine is a victim of an impersonating trio:
 - Dr. Austin Sloper (Catherine's father), "a harsh and relentless father impersonating a concerned, loving parent"
- Morris Townsend (Catherine's fiancee) "a fortune hunter impersonating a sincere lover"
- Miriam Hopkins (Catherine's aunt) "a flibbity-jibbant aunt impersonating  a reliable confidante"

When you think about this concept as you watch the film, it distorts your perception of what is taking place, and makes for a emotionally disturbing spectator experience. 

Did you know...

  • Olivia de Havilland saw a performance of the play, and aspired to play Catherine
  • Olivia de Havilland requested William Wyler direct this film
  • Ralph Richardson reprises the role he played on the West End
  • Betty Linley reposed the role of Mrs. Montgomery, which she played in the original Broadway production
  • Wendy Hiller played the role of Catherine on the original Broadway production, with Peggy Ashcroft playing the role on the West End
  • Errol Flynn was originally considered for the role of Morris Townsend, which would have been Olivia and Errol's ninth film together
  • Basil Rathbone played the role of Dr. Sloper on Broadway
  • Ginger Rogers was first offered the role of Catherine, but turned it down

Awards and nominations

Olivia de Havilland clutches the Oscar she
won for her performance in 'The Heiress'
  • Academy Award winner for Best Actress (Olivia de Havilland)
  • Academy Award winner for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration in a black and white film
  • Academy Award winner for Best Costume Design in a black and white film
  • Academy Award winner for Best Music Score
  • Academy Award nomination for Best Picture
  • Academy Award nomination for Best Director
  • Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor (Ralph Richardson)
  • Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography in a black and white film
  • Golden Globe Award winner for Best Actress - Motion Picture (Olivia de Havilland)
  • Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture (Miriam Hopkins)
  • Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Director - Motion Picture
  • National Board of Review Award winner for Best Actor (Ralph Richardson)
  • New York Film Critics Circle Award winner for Best Actress (Olivia de Havilland)
  • Writers Guild of America Awards nomination for Best Written American Drama

Closing remarks

"The Heiress" is a very powerful and compelling film with brilliant performances by all four principle actors.  The brilliant art direction by Harry Horner adds to the film's beauty, particularly the elegant and extravagant staircase. As the Heiress, Olivia de Havilland delivers a remarkable performance, deservedly winning her second and final Oscar.

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