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The Heiress (1949)

The Heiress. Feature film. (1949, 115 mins) IMDB

...One of the greatest endings to a film...

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HE HEIRESS is a classic, must-see film. It has a big time director in William Wyler, big stars with Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift, an intriguing story line and one of the best endings of any movie. You won't forget it.

de Havilland plays Catherine, an unmarried woman living with her father, who is a physician, in the wealthy area of Washington Square, NYC. Her mother died some years ago and left her a yearly allowance to live on. It's a substantial sum of money, hence she's the heiress. Her father has his own wealth and may or may not leave it to her when he dies. The reason she's unmarried isn't looks or money, it's her personality. She's bashful, shy, awkward. It's impossible to have any conversation with her. Enter a suitor played by Clift. He's incredibly handsome, charming to the point of flattery and broke. He falls for Catherine when no other man would. She's delighted by his affection and soon they plan to marry. Her father has other ideas. He believes the suitor is only interested in the money and that there is no love for her.

Act II deals with his attempts to discredit Clift and to educate her daughter. It doesn't work. She's fallen in love with the boy and plans to elope. She knows what it means. Her father will cut her off; however, she won't be poor. She'll still have her mother's inheritance. Determined to get married, she tells Clift to make the arrangements and return later that evening. She explains to him her father will cut her off. Clift leaves promising to return. Catherine, full of excitement, packs and waits for him. And waits and waits. As her aunt explains, he wasn't in love with her, he was interested in the money. A devastated Catherine grows up and Act II is over.

In Act III, time passes. She learns Clift ran off to California to strike it rich. Her father catches an illness and dies. She has his house, his money but no husband. She lives a lonely life. She passes the time with needlepoint.

Near the end of the film, Clift returns and wants to see Catherine. She wants nothing to do with him, but at her aunt's urging, relents and sees him. It's as if nothing happened and she's madly in love with him. (He even has an explanation of why he ran off and that it wasn't about the money). She tells him to pack and return later. They will run off and get married. Now he's the excited one, the eager one, but the trick this time is on him. When he returns, she won't answer the door. The film ends with him pounding on the locked front door and through a window above it, the fading light of a lamp as she walks upstairs and away from him.

One of the remarkable aspects of this film is de Havailland's performance. There is clear arc in this character's development and she plays it perfectly. Bold, strong and wise in the third act, naive and timid at the start.

As the ending approaches, we're left guessing and probably led in one direction when something else happens and you won't forget the ending.

Posted 2009/03/08 at 19h56ET in Movie Commentary.

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