Wednesday, July 1, 2015

1949: Olivia de Havilland for The Heiress

In her second and final Best Actress winning role, Olivia de Havilland plays Catherine Sloper, the timid, awkward daughter of a wealthy but cruel father. She does all she can to please him until a handsome young man who is actually nice to her comes into the picture. Her father disapproves of him because he is poor and thus is probably a fortune-hunter, but Catherine loves him because of his kindness and charm.

Wow, this movie is amazing, and de Havilland's performance extraordinary. I thought she was fabulous in To Each His Own, but she is utter perfection in The Heiress. Catherine's journey from insecure to lovestruck to bitter is beautifully portrayed by her every movement, every glance, every line. For several of the better performances I've analyzed so far, I've mentioned the character's gradual transformation and how difficult it must have been for the actress to portray it so well. Catherine goes through several transformations, but they seem to happen suddenly. There are three very important turning points in the story, and each changes her completely. One might think that this would have been easier than showing a slow and steady journey; it's just like playing four different roles. But the way de Havilland plays it, at least, I have no doubt that each version of Catherine is always inside her; circumstances determine which part comes out, but she's always the same person. That can't have been easy to portray, and she does it brilliantly.

Apparently her co-stars, Montgomery Clift and Ralph Richardson, didn't think de Havilland was a very good actress. While I think they were decidedly wrong, I also think it might have helped her performance, at least in the first portion of the film when she's playing an under-appreciated character. Not that I want to take any of the credit away from her. This is undeniably one of the best performances I've blogged about so far. There have been so many good performances, but rarely do I feel for a character as much as I felt for Catherine. And that's saying a lot, since I often get very emotionally attached to movie characters. Her performance spoke to me and moved me, especially as a socially awkward introvert who can only imagine how horrible that would be without any sort of support system. I've been wanting to watch this movie for a while but never got around to it before now, so I'm very glad that this project finally gave me an excuse.

I hope Olivia de Havilland had a good 99th birthday today. This was her fifth and final Oscar nomination, although she continued making films and television through the 1980s. Watching her two winning performances for the first time has given me a much deeper appreciation for her acting talents than I had before undertaking this project. She was a truly remarkable performer, and it's comforting to know that she's still with us.

I'm leaving on vacation soon, so it will be at least two weeks before I watch another one of these. I hope all two of you who are reading this won't miss me too much. When I get back, I'll enter into the 1950s with Judy Holliday.

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