One of the great Oscar-winning performances and one of the great Oscar-winning scores, though few film score fans are familiar with it. THE HEIRESS stars Olivia de Havilland as mousy Catherine Sloper in turn-of-the-century Washington Square. She falls for money-grubbing, yet handsome, Montgomery Clift (and who wouldn’t!) against the wishes of her cruel, overbearing, and unloving father (Ralph Richardson). When the mouse realizes what a rat Clift really is, spinster descends upon her like a shroud. Clift’s comeuppance is one of the great scenes for any actress, and de Havilland plays it with a cold, brittle brilliance.
THE HEIRESS is one of my all-time favorite films. It’s a great story, brilliantly directed by William Wyler, and the cast is perfection. But it is Aaron Copland’s Oscar-winning score that keeps me coming back to the film time and time again.
Copland’s experience on the film was an unpleasant one. The butchering of his main title music left a sour taste in his mouth and he left Hollywood soon after, never even picking up his richly-deserved Academy Award. Copland never turned his music from the film into an orchestral suite as he did so many of his earlier scores, feeling that the music did not play well sans the images onscreen. I beg to differ.
Listening to the original tracks housed at the University of Texas in Austin, with the original main title cue, reveals a far richer listening experience than Copland believed. Taken from poor-quality acetates, those original tracks are indeed difficult to listen to with all the pops and scratches, especially to our ears now accustomed to pristine digital sound. But if you can get past the sound anomalies, this is a score in desperate need of rediscovery. Perhaps someone with deep pockets can convince the Copland estate that a re-recording is in order.
So if you’re looking for an engrossing character drama for the weekend, check out de Havilland and Copland’s Oscar-winning turns. You’ll be as engrossed as Monty seems to be.