Years ago a friend challenged us by asking what classic movie could be released today and garner audiences in theaters if not on streaming outlets. We chose 1949’s The Heiress.
One reason is the observation not long ago of a woman friend, unmarried and of early middle age, reacting almost viscerally to the plight of Olivia de Havilland as Catherine Sloper, a plain, emotionally vulnerable daughter of a cruel, autocratic doctor (Ralph Richardson) and who is wooed by a conspicuously dashing gold digger (a then 28-year-old Montgomery Clift) despised by the doctor.
Rarely have we witnessed such a deeply felt, direct connection between a movie and a (granted) infinitesimal part of its audience. Extrapolating from this we can easily see why The Heiress was Oscar-nominated eight times, including for best picture (All The King’s Men triumphed that year) and won de Havilland one of her two best actress Academy Awards.
Although this masterful William Wyler outing was made more than 70 years ago, and is based on material nearly 150 years old, The Heiress packs quite a contemporaneous wallop today. This, to us, is the prerequisite for a classic film. If you haven’t taken a look lately, by all means do so. You’ll see what we mean.
But did you know that despite its obvious merits, The Heiress was — like so many classics — a box office flop when it was initially released in December of 1949? Ok, let’s see how much you do know about this marvelous film. (As usual questions today, answers tomorrow.)
Question 1) The Heiress is based on a 1947 stage play by the writing team of Augustus and Ruth Goetz, which in turn was based on a novel by which of these distinguished American writers? a) Edith Wharton; b) Louisa May Alcott; c) Jane Addams; or d) Henry James.
Question 2) One of the movie’s most memorable lines, delivered by de Havilland’s character, is which one of the following: a) “I don’t Know Nothing About Birthin’ Babies”; b) “You Don’t Understand”; c) “We Are Not In Kansas Anymore” or d) “Yes, I Can Be Very Cruel. I Have Been Taught By Masters.”
Question 3) What makes the movie’s Catherine Sloper especially attractive is the prospect of her inheriting a considerable sum of money. How much? a) $10,000 yearly; b) $20,000 per annum; c) $100,000; or d) $30,000.
Question 4) The profession of Montgomery Clift’s gold digging character is a) a pianist; b) a stock broker; c) a police captain; or d) undetermined.
Question 5) It’s said that his performance in The Heiress was Clift “acting against type.” What was considered then as his “type?” a) a moody western actor; b) a tortured Method practitioner; c) a long suffering underdog; or d) a romantic leading man.