Filmsite Movie Review
The Heiress (1949)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

On Thursday of the same week, Morris is invited back to have dinner at the Sloper home. During the meal, Dr. Sloper questions Morris about his occupation: "How do you keep busy since your return to New York?" Townsend describes how he is unemployed, not engaged in studies, and was "merely idling" in Paris, where he had used up his small inheritance. He adds he has few aspirations, and is "fit for very little." Dr. Sloper encourages him to not despair, because he is "extremely intelligent" and "a robust, well-disposed man," who could find his fortune in the opening of the West. Townsend states he wishes to remain in New York, where he is living with his very dependent, widowed sister Mrs. Elizabeth Montgomery (Betty Linley) on Second Avenue. He serves as a tutor giving lessons to his five nieces and nephews, but it's hardly a career, he admits: "It won't make my fortune."

The shrewd Dr. Sloper is suspicious that Morris' interest in Catherine is entirely mercenary (due to her large inheritance) because of his lack of employment, and his status as an unworthy fortune hunter. He tells Lavinia:

Wouldn't the position of a husband to a defenseless young girl with a large fortune suit him to perfection?...Suspicion? It's a diagnosis, my dear.

However, he is reservedly "thankful" and pleased for Morris' interest in his daughter, although insists that Lavinia continue to properly chaperone the couple.

When left alone for the evening (Lavinia manufactures a well-timed headache), the wastrel Morris expresses to Catherine his insecurities about the reserved Dr. Sloper: "He doesn't like me...He doesn't like me at all." She responds that she would never contradict her father's opinions or wishes. In the drawing room, Morris is confident that Lavinia seems supportive of him: "She wouldn't let your father abuse me." He then corners an intimidated Catherine for further endorsement, suggesting what he wishes she would say to him: "If my father doesn't think well of you, what does it matter?" - but she cannot support him - against her father. He presses further:

You could do anything for one whom you love. My dearest girl, you must believe how much I care for you. You're everything I've ever yearned for in a woman... (He kisses her and then proposes) Oh, Catherine, will you marry me?

When she accepts his offer of matrimony without hesitation, he gleefully tells her: "You make me very happy." When asked if she loves him, she responds favorably, and they kiss again. He promises: "I will cherish you forever," and she buries her head in his shoulder - overwhelmed. (Morris' face was hidden as they embrace.) Against the Victorian conventions of the day, she proposes to seek her father's permission for their nuptials first, before Morris. He seductively persuades her to sway her father's prejudiced suspicions against him as a "mercenary" - the callow suitor knows she is blind to his real motives:

Catherine: We must speak to my father. I will do it tonight. You must do it tomorrow.
Morris: It's sweet of you to want to do it first. The young man generally does that.
Catherine: Oh, women have more tact. They can persuade better.
Morris: You'll need all your powers of persuasion. Naturally, your father wants a brilliant marriage for you, Catherine, and I'm a poor man.
Catherine: Oh, my father will not care about that.
Morris: He might. He might fear that I'm mercenary.
Catherine: Mercenary? Oh no.
Morris: He may say it.
Catherine: Well, I shall simply say it isn't so.
Morris: You must make a great point of that, Catherine...Because it's from the fact of your having money that our difficulties may come.
Catherine: Oh, Morris, are you very sure you love me?
Morris: Oh, my own dearest, how can you doubt it? (They kiss a third time)

As he leaves, she cautions Morris to be "very gentle, very respectful" to her father when he asks permission the following morning - fearing that their whirlwind engagement might be nullified. He then insistently and manipulatively asks for her to challenge her father just in case he disallows their engagement: "If your father is against me, you'll still be faithful, no matter what comes." She pledges that she will always love Morris.

Catherine awaits her father's arrival later that evening, and sleeps on the couch/bench in the front hallway. In the back parlor, she excitedly announces her engagement to him: "I am engaged to be married." There is stunned silence before her father responds: "You do right to tell me." He comments that Townsend should have first requested his permission: "You have gone fast...Mr. Townsend ought to have waited and told me...You shouldn't be pleading for him. He should plead for you." She fears Morris is "a little afraid" of him - and worries that he is disliked. Her father reverses the equation: "The only thing that is important is that he love you." He agrees to meet Morris the following morning at 11:00 when he asks for her hand in marriage: "I shall be as fair and honest with him as he is with you." When she runs off to tell Lavinia of her proposal, he slumps dismayed into his chair, and then writes a note, to request Morris' sister Mrs. Elizabeth Montgomery (Betty Linley) to visit with him early the next morning.

In the study during their talk, Dr. Sloper questions her brother Morris' true character: "Is he reliable...trustworthy...responsible?" With high expectations of a potential suitor, he knows that Morris is not financially secure - he had frittered away his small inheritance in Europe where he met a lot of people and "enlarged his capacities." Morris did not help her as a widow with children. Mrs. Montgomery defends her unproductive and unhelpful brother and is reticent to criticize him: "I have accepted the good and bad in him, just as I accept them in my children."

When Mrs. Montgomery is introduced to Catherine, she observes her prospective sister-in-law's personality - shy, withdrawn, embarrassed and naive. Dr. Sloper does not believe that Morris truly loves Catherine - he suspects that his homely daughter has been duped. Mrs. Montgomery also wonders about Morris' changing motivations:

I can only suppose that Morris is more mature in his feelings than I had thought. This time, he has not sought out superficial charms. Perhaps he's considered the gentle character underneath.

Dr. Sloper expresses his concern about Catherine as an "immensely rich" heiress, potentially inheriting $30,000 a year after his death: "I believe her money is the prime attraction...She has $10,000 a year from her mother, and on my death, she will have twice as much more." And then he threatens to possibly disinherit her: "If she marries a man I don't approve, I shall leave my part to the clinic." Outraged, Sloper worries about Morris' past wasteful and profligate spending:

Consider how he has behaved with money. He gratified his every wish. Did he help you with the children? No. He enlarged his capacities in Europe. He left his gloves here last night. The finest chamois. Look at yours. Will he help you with this fortune he hopes to marry? I would stake my life he would not...Tell me she is not a victim of his selfishness. Tell me I am wrong.

Mrs. Montgomery refuses to answer and leaves. Dr. Sloper has made up his mind - he will forbid the marriage, and he informs his two sisters, Lavinia and Elizabeth Almond, of his decision: "He's worthless...The man's a fortune hunter. All he's interested in is her money," although he doesn't plan to tell Catherine outright.

When Morris promptly arrives at the door at 11:00 am, Catherine begs her father to praise her a little, before she flees upstairs. Dr. Sloper ponders to himself about his worrisome daughter - knowing she has been taken in by the scoundrel's professed love: "How is it possible to protect such a willing victim?" Lavinia cautions that Catherine is in love: "You will kill her if you deny her this marriage." He coldly replies: "People don't die of such things." Both sisters suggest that Morris may protect Catherine's money and make her very happy.

During his conversation with Townsend, Dr. Sloper advises that he should have known of their marital "intentions" before they had gone so far: "It was only the other day that Catherine made your acquaintance." He disagrees with Townsend's assessment that Catherine is a "delightful girl," and hints at his determination to halt their marriage, due to Townsend's apparent "weakness" as a penniless "mercenary":

But did you really expect that I would throw my daughter into your arms?...You've no profession, means...No visible resources or prospects, and so you are in a category from which not to choose a son-in-law, particularly not from my daughter, who is a weak young woman with a large fortune...Well, even if she were not, you are still penniless...A man who offers nothing in return?

Although Townsend earnestly pleads that he loves Catherine, Dr. Sloper will hear nothing of it. He claims that Morris has only a few good qualities, and they are not sufficient for a son-in-law: "A handsome face and figure, and a very good manner. Oh, they're excellent as far as they go, but they don't go far enough." He pleads guilty to the thought that Morris would "squander her money," the same way he had spent all of his own money. He then follows up: "What are you living on now?" Morris answers that his livelihood is based on the "remnants" of his property. Morris unsuccessfully attempts one more tactic to attain paternal approval:

Morris: Don't you care to gratify your daughter? Do you enjoy the idea of making her miserable?
Dr. Sloper: I'm resigned to her thinking me a tyrant for a few months.
Morris: A few months?
Dr. Sloper: For a lifetime, then. She may as well be miserable that way as with you.
Morris: You are not polite, sir.
Dr. Sloper: You push me to it. You argue too much.
Morris: I have a great deal at stake.
Dr. Sloper: I know, and you have lost it. It is over.
Morris: I wouldn't be too sure of that, sir.
Dr. Sloper: You are impertinent.
Morris: Dr. Sloper, if it were not for my feeling for Catherine, I should not have put up with the indignities you have offered me today.
Dr. Sloper: You have only to leave my house to escape them.

Catherine is awaiting word on the stairs, and hears the end of their quarrel. She begs with her father to not be angry with her beau. She learns from Morris that her father disapproves of their marriage, and painfully asks: "You want me to give him up?" Her father explains his rationale for seeing through Morris' nefarious motives: "He's a selfish idler" that does not truly love her. When she ponders: "What makes you so sure?", he tells her: "I can't tell you, you must just take my word for it." She steadfastly insists: "I have promised to marry him, to stay by him no matter what comes." Her father realizes the persuasive Morris has connivingly urged her to back him: "So, he forearmed himself by getting a promise like that, did he?" He turns to Morris: "You are beneath contempt." She repeats her vow: "I think we shall marry quite soon." Her father turns away: "Then it is no further concern of mine."

The couple realize that they cannot marry without her father's approval, and are soon convinced to put off their nuptials for six months. As a way to have them forget their desire for each other, Dr. Sloper also tactfully suggests taking Catherine to Europe with him for six months, to have her forget her marriage plans. Catherine promises to remain steadfast during their trial separation: "I shall still love him when I come back," and Morris accepts the idea. At the pier, Morris appears with wishes of bon voyage, and a small gift for Catherine, a hand-warmer, presented with love: "I give it to you with all my love...I will be thinking of you, Catherine."

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