The Heiress (1949) Review

Helmed by director William Wyler, The Heiress was originally a play by Ruth and Augustus Goetz based on Henry James’ Washington Square.

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Set in 1850’s New York, It opens with our introduction to Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) and the people in the Sloper household.It is here we see her as the plain, shy woman who is undesirable to men. Her brilliant surgeon father Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson) does a poor job of hiding his disappointment in his daughter, and constantly compares her to his late wife who had everything Catherine lacks, he enlists his recently widowed sister Lavinia to encourage Catherine to socialize with the young people in a party that night. That evening they go to a party where her cousin’s engagement is announced and there she meets a handsome young man named Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) a cousin of the groom who takes interest in her and who her father suspects is a fortune hunter.

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Stars: Montgomery Clift, Olivia de Havilland and Ralph Richardson

Olivia de Havilland (Gone With The Wind) as Catherine is brilliant, and heartbreaking as she is pitted against two men who take no interest in her well-being. She captures Catherine’s shyness, vulnerability and desperation to be loved by someone and she sees this in Morris Townsend. Montgomery Clift (From Here To Eternity, A Place In The Sun), who plays the young and handsome suitor, gives his most least interesting role a subtle ambiguity. Ralph Richardson (Q Planes, The Fallen Idol) as the emotionally abusive father brings poise, and authority as Dr. Sloper. And Miriam Hopkins (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) as Catherine’s aunt who just wants to see her get married gives much added support to an already brilliant cast, her character is entirely blinded by Townsend’s youth and beauty.

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‘We didn’t get along in the script, we sure as hell aren’t going to get along on the set!’

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‘This movie isn’t about you!’

It’s interesting to note that during filming its stars did not get along. Montgomery Clift had the script re-written, and had an acting coach on set. Olivia de Havilland said she felt Clift wasn’t working with her at all (he didn’t respect her acting abilities), instead he worked with his coach and it was problematic for William Wyler as well who was already a respected director. Other problems arose when de Havilland and Clift were both threatened by Ralph Richardson’s theatrical professionalism that in scenes with father and daughter Wyler had to frame them in a particular way because Richardson improvised in order to draw attention to himself, and his technique intimidated Clift. Olivia de Havilland later said that Miriam Hopkins acted like the film was all about her. Despite relations between the stars, the film is brilliant and haunting and a particular scene that culminates Catherine’s transformation earned de Havilland her second Oscar win in 1950 for Best Actress after her previous win in To Each His Own, Richardson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor as was William Wyler for Best Director but both lost it that year while Aaron Copland won Best Music Score (it certainly does have an amazing theme!)

Highly recommended for Classic Film fans especially those who love solid acting.

4.5/5 Stars

The Winslow Boy (1948) Review

The Winslow Boy is based on Terence Rattigan’s play inspired by real events concerning one George Archer-Shee who was expelled from the Naval Academy for stealing a postal order from a fellow cadet.

*This review may contain spoilers*

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In 1948 Rattigan’s play was adapted for the screen starring Robert Donat, Cedric Hardwicke, Margaret Leighton, Marie Lohr, Frank Lawton, and Neil North. The end result is a fine British film, slow-paced and accurate with it’s portrayal of pre-WWI (early feminism, and the Irish question), you find yourself rooting for the Winslows with Robert Donat as their champion in the form of Sir Robert Morton who is considered to be the best barrister in the country.

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Ronnie Winslow (Neil North) and older brother Dickie Winslow (Jack Watling) after Ronnie gets expelled from the Naval Academy.

It was a little matter that could only happened in England, all that fuss for a small boy who was expelled from the Naval Academy for stealing a five shilling postal order. It caused a nationwide arousal, the public begin to mock in whispers of the Winslow boy, his older brother Dickie is told he can no longer attend Oxford due to the family’s financial situation, Mr. Winslow’s health declines, they even plan on letting their maid Violet go and the final straw comes when the father of the man Catherine is engaged to threatens to use his influence to keep her and his son from getting married if they continue on with the case.

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Robert Donat, Margaret Leighton and Cedric Hardwicke in The Winslow Boy (1948)

Cedric Hardwicke as the father who will do anything to prove his son innocent dominates the first half of the film. He plays Mr. Winslow as a stern disciplinarian, yet he gives an understated performance with simply the use of his eyes. Margaret Leighton, who plays his daughter Catherine is a suffragette, but not the militant kind she gives balance in this male dominated film and an added charm to her performance as her father’s only ally as well as sacrificing her own desires.  Though he doesn’t appear until near the end of the film he gives a brilliant performance typical of the Donat in his films and here he plays a relentless, cold-hearted barrister who Catherine is prejudiced against. She thinks of him as ‘a supercilious sneering fish’.

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Court room scenes are added in this version of The Winslow Boy.

As great as Hardwicke and Leighton are, the film belongs to Donat himself as he plays a man who sacrifices his career for what is right, it is he who dominates the second half of the film. In addition to the fine acting from the ensemble cast, the music hall scenes are a joy to watch featuring Cyril Ritchard and Stanley Holloway.

This is the only version I’ve seen of The Winslow Boy, in other versions viewers have noted on the court room scenes being skipped but here we are able to see a few. My only complaint is that they didn’t show the postmistress being cross-examined which led to the final verdict.

This film was directed by A. A. Asquith, son of H.H. Asquith the prime minister of Britain at the time the film is set.