The Heiress is a 1949 American drama film directed by William Wyler. The screenplay by Augustus and Ruth Goetz was adapted from their 1947 play, which was based on the 1880 novel Washington Square by Henry James. The film stars Olivia de Havilland as Catherine Sloper, Montgomery Clift as Morris Townsend, and Ralph Richardson as Dr. Sloper.
Catherine's father believes Morris is courting Catherine only to get her inheritance and threatens to disinherit her if she marries him. Catherine does not care, and plans to elope with Morris but not before telling him about her father's decision. On the night they are to elope, Catherine eagerly waits at home for Morris to come and take her away, but he never arrives.
Catherine is heartbroken. A few years pass and her father dies, leaving her his entire estate. Morris eventually returns, penniless. Again he professes his love for Catherine, claiming that he left her behind because he could not bear to see her destitute. Catherine pretends to forgive him and tells him she still wants to elope as they originally planned. He promises to come back that night for her, and she tells him she'll start packing her bags.
When Morris returns, Catherine takes her revenge. She calmly asks the maid to bolt the door, leaving Morris locked outside, shouting her name. Her aunt asks her how she can be so cruel, and she responds, "I have been taught by masters." The film fades out with Catherine silently ascending the stairs while Morris' despairing cries echo unanswered through the darkness.
After seeing The Heiress on Broadway, Olivia de Havilland approached William Wyler about directing her in a screen adaptation of the play. He agreed and encouraged Paramount Pictures executives to purchase the rights from the playwrights for $250,000 and offer them $10,000 per week to write the screenplay. The couple was asked to make Morris less of a villain than he was in their play and the original novel in deference to the studio's desire to capitalize on Montgomery Clift's reputation as a romantic leading man .
Ralph Richardson reprised the role of Austin Sloper he originated in the London production.
The film was remade under the original Henry James title in 1997.
TV Guide rates the film five out of a possible five stars and adds, "This powerful and compelling drama . . . owes its triumph to the deft hand of director William Wyler and a remarkable lead performance by Olivia de Havilland.
Time Out London calls the film "typically plush, painstaking and cold. . . . highly professional and heartless."
Channel 4 says of the performances, "de Havilland's portrayal . . . is spine-chilling . . . Clift brings a subtle ambiguity to one of his least interesting roles, and Richardson is also excellent."
The Heiress was nominated for eight Oscars, winning four. The film won awards in:
The four categories it didn't win in but were nominated for were:
Other awards The Heiress won and was nominated for are as follows: