The Heiress is a magnificent film that defies 1940s Hollywood logic…the woman and man do not walk into the sunset hand-in-hand. Actually, what is even more defiant for a film of this era is a woman having power over a man. Yes, 1940s were the days of the powerful woman in Hollywood: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, etc. But, the films those women were in were mostly about tough ladies who needed the love of a good man to set them straight. The Heiress is nothing like that. The film begins by setting the stage that shy, naïve Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland), the wealthy daughter of a stern New England doctor, played beautifully by Sir Ralph Richardson, will probably never marry. Catherine is plain, timid, and lacks what, as her father claims, men look for in future wives…aside, of course, from her money. Enter Montgomery Clift’s Morris Townsend, who takes a liking to Catherine but her father disapproves and believes Townsend is just an opportunist. By now I’m sure you’re wondering where the “powerful” woman enters the picture. Well, Catherine learns quite a few life lessons over the course of the film and in the end she is a strong, confident woman who knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t want. Even though George Cukor was known in Hollywood circles as being the best “ladies director,” I feel that director William Wyler gives Cukor tough competition here and with some of his other movies (Roman Holiday, Mrs. Miniver, Jezebel, Funny Girl , etc.). This film is a tour de force for de Havilland (she won the Oscar), but Wyler’s brave direction increases both the power of Catherine and the tone of the whole film.

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Based on Theodore Dreiser’s classic novel, An American Tragedy, director George Stevens weaves a tale of love, sex, money and the trappings of all three. Montgomery Clift stars as George, a young man with dreams of power and success, but who has lived his life in a lower middle-class environment…up until now. He decides to “hit up” a distant, very prosperous relative for a job and once he gets his foot into the door of the life of luxury, there is no turning back for him. Elizabeth Taylor shines in her role as Angela, a beautiful socialite who falls for George, almost as hard as he falls for the life of extravagance. Clift really brings George and all of his greed and passions alive here. In some movies I always found him kind of stiff. But, here he’s so determined and tragic…yet sympathetic at the same time. Look for Shelley Winters in a key role as George’s non-upscale girlfriend…this is one of her first big roles and she does a brilliant job of capturing the desperation of her character.

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Montgomery Clift as a priest? Really? I like Mr. Clift but I think that’s a tad of a stretch. And, apparently Monty thought so as well because he never seems quite comfortable in his vestments. Pushing that aside, this is a well-done thriller by the man who knows them best, Mr. Alfred Hitchcock. Unlike most Hitchcock films, there are some times in this one where Hitchcock asks us (the audience) to suspend our disbelief. I mean that there are quite a lot of “coincidences” that we are just supposed to believe are meant to be. All in all, a solid thriller with a cast of interesting character and one semi-unbelievable priest. Actually, since I like Clift as an actor, I wish he would have worked with Hitchcock again. I think they would have worked better together if Monty had a role he felt more suited for.

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