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.
Posts Tagged: Olivia de Havilland
One of the most loved and acclaimed movies of the 20th Century, Gone with the Wind is the winner of eight Academy Awards®, including Best Picture. Best Actress® winner Vivien Leigh stars as Scarlett O’Hara, who is simply one of the most timeless characters in cinema history, not to mention one of the prettiest Southern Belles ever. Starting in Margaret Mitchell’s iconic novel on life in the South before, after, and during the Civil War, Scarlett became engrained in the American consciousness as the epitome of beauty and selfishness. She spends most of her time pining over a man she can never have (Ashley Wilkes), and when she can finally have him, she wants the one she has had all along (the infamous Rhett Butler). Her fickleness, somehow though, comes off mostly as charming…the men in her life just simply understand that this is how she is. And every time she is let down by one of her beaus, her Mammy (Hattie McDaniel in her Oscar®- winning performance as Best Supporting Actress) is right there to help Scarlett survive. After all, tomorrow is another day!