The Heiress

I first experienced The Heiress on Broadway in the mid-90’s starring Cherry Jones. I had never seen the 1949 film, nor had I read Henry James’ novella Washington Square which the play and film are based upon. I was mesmerized by Jones’ performance of Catherine Sloper. I don’t recall much about Jon Tenney who played Morris Townsend, but that’s probably more about my memory than his performance. The following weekend, I scurried to Kim’s Video in NYC’s East Village and rented The Heiress on VHS starring Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift. What a revelation this film continues to be. Olivia won the Oscar for Best Actress – her second. She is mesmerizing as the twisted, tortured soul. Starring opposite, Montgomery Clift exudes a screen presence that is difficult to put into words. I find myself starring at him every time I watch The Heiress. Yes he’s as great an actor as they say. But his physical beauty in this film is difficult to ignore. He truly embodies everything you imagine about Hollywood movie stars, even though his acting technique dug much deeper. Perhaps that is why I find myself so obsessed with Monty. He was a very pretty face. But he wasn’t just a pretty face. How can anyone have that much talent and good looks. It just doesn’t seem fair. Rounding out the cast – yes I did pay attention to other actors – are fine performances from Ralph Richardson and Miriam Hopkins as Catherine’s father and aunt. I love thinking of Washington Square in the mid-1800’s. It seems so quaint. For all these reasons and so many more, The Heiress stands the test of time. 5 out of 5 for this classic film.

Don’t let the cover art fool you. The Heiress is a black and white film from 1949.


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