William Wyler

The Heiress

The Heiress

Directed with a keen sense of ambiguity by William Wyler, this film based on a hit stage adaptation of Henry James’s Washington Square pivots on a question of motive. When shy, emotionally fragile Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland, in a heartbreaking, Oscar-winning turn), the daughter of a wealthy New York doctor, begins to receive calls from the handsome spendthrift Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), she becomes possessed by the promise of romance. Are his smoldering professions of love sincere, as she believes they are? Or is Catherine’s calculating father (Ralph Richardson) correct in judging Morris a venal fortune seeker? A graceful drawing-room drama boasting Academy Award–winning costume design by Edith Head, The Heiress is also a piercing character study riven by emotional uncertainty and lacerating cruelty, in a triumph of classic Hollywood filmmaking at its most psychologically nuanced.

Film Info

  • William Wyler
  • United States
  • 1949
  • 115 minutes
  • Black & White
  • 1.37:1
  • English
  • Spine #974

Special Features

  • New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural sound­track on the Blu-ray
  • New conversation between screenwriter Jay Cocks and film critic Farran Smith Nehme
  • New program about the film’s costumes featuring costume collector and historian Larry McQueen
  • The Costume Designer, a restored 1950 short film featuring costume designer Edith Head
  • Appearance by actor Olivia de Havilland on a 1986 episode of The Paul Ryan Show
  • Excerpts from a 1973 tribute to director William Wyler on The Merv Griffin Show, featuring Wyler, de Havilland, and actors Bette Davis and Walter Pidgeon
  • Wyler’s acceptance speech from the American Film Institute’s 1976 Salute to William Wyler
  • Interview with actor Ralph Richardson filmed in 1981 for the documentary Directed by William Wyler
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Pamela Hutchinson

New cover by Danielle Clough

Purchase Options

Special Features

  • New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural sound­track on the Blu-ray
  • New conversation between screenwriter Jay Cocks and film critic Farran Smith Nehme
  • New program about the film’s costumes featuring costume collector and historian Larry McQueen
  • The Costume Designer, a restored 1950 short film featuring costume designer Edith Head
  • Appearance by actor Olivia de Havilland on a 1986 episode of The Paul Ryan Show
  • Excerpts from a 1973 tribute to director William Wyler on The Merv Griffin Show, featuring Wyler, de Havilland, and actors Bette Davis and Walter Pidgeon
  • Wyler’s acceptance speech from the American Film Institute’s 1976 Salute to William Wyler
  • Interview with actor Ralph Richardson filmed in 1981 for the documentary Directed by William Wyler
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Pamela Hutchinson

New cover by Danielle Clough

The Heiress
Cast
Olivia de Havilland
Catherine Sloper
Montgomery Clift
Morris Townsend
Ralph Richardson
Dr. Austin Sloper
Miriam Hopkins
Lavinia Penniman
Vanessa Brown
Maria
Betty Linley
Mrs. Montgomery
Ray Collins
Jefferson Almond
Mona Freeman
Marian Almond
Selena Royle
Elizabeth Almond
Paul Lees
Arthur Townsend
Credits
Director
William Wyler
Produced by
William Wyler
Written for the screen by
Ruth and Augustus Goetz from their play "The Heiress"
Suggested by the novel "Washington Square" by
Henry James
Director of photography
Leo Tover
Music by
Aaron Copland
Production designed by
Harry Horner
Costumes by
Edith Head
Art direction
John Meehan
Set decoration
Emile Kuri
Edited by
William Hornbeck
Men’s wardrobe by
Gile Steele

From The Current

William Wyler’s Subtly Cinematic Take on the Chamber Drama
William Wyler’s Subtly Cinematic Take on the Chamber Drama

Despite its cloistered setting, The Heiress is filled with moments of visual ingenuity and exquisite camera work that take viewers inside its heroine’s psychology.

The Heiress: A Cruel Inheritance
The Heiress: A Cruel Inheritance

With the help of intense performances by Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift, William Wyler turns the genteel spaces of a Manhattan town house into an emotional battleground.

By ​Pamela Hutchinson