The Heiress (1949)

Olivia de Havilland won her second Oscar for one of cinema’s greatest character studies, now celebrating its 65th anniversary. To play lonely, insecure Catherine Sloper, the star had to tone down her beauty and amp up the insecurity. Fortunately, she had chosen William Wyler, the perfect director to get the best out of any leading lady. It also helped that she had problems with her two leading men, Montgomery Clift and Ralph Richardson. Clift’s acting technique seemed to his leading lady to be shutting her out, while Richardson, cast as her father, seemed intent on upstaging her. Wyler used those insecurities to help her performance as a turn-of-the century woman caught between her controlling father and a young man who may be a fortune hunter. Henry James’ fact-inspired novella Washington Square had been a success on Broadway and in London’s West End in an adaptation by screenwriters Ruth and Augustus Goetz. All they had to do for the screen was open the action up a bit to give the picture more visual interest, greatly aided by meticulous art direction and costume design.

Dir. William Wyler