The Heiress (William Wyler, 1949)

 

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The Heiress is so great. There must be other films that are about the slow, brutal realisation that one is unloved, even by one’s nearest and dearest, and how that knowledge closes off and diminishes a person, but I can’t think of any. It would make a great double bill with Now, Voyager which has an almost opposite trajectory, ie learning to value and love oneself. Also interesting is the different traditions of acting all the protagonists –Olivia de Havilland, Ralph Richardson, Montgomery Clift, Miriam Hopkins –work in, and which Wyler prevents from clashing. Montgomery Clift is arguably at his most beautiful in the opening sequences. Wonderfully directed too so that space itself becomes allegorical (the uses of the staircase in the house).  I want to explore the ending of the film more because doesn´t she in fact end up doing what her father wanted to and she herself railed against? In a way isn´t she defeated, bitter, vengeful and shut-in in her house, as her father wanted. Doesn´t patriarchy still win out in spite of Monty knocking desperately and helplessly at the door?
The Criterion is a great edition, and hidden amidst the extras is a fascinating short film on the role of the costume designer, using Edith Head’s decision making process through a film as a means to illustrate it.
José Arroyo

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