It’s a tour de force for Olivia de Havilland as she plays Catherine Sloper, the mousey, naïve daughter of a wealthy doctor (Ralph Richardson) in 19th century New York. Catherine has grown up with her father telling her how clumsy and unattractive she is compared to her late mother, so when a dashing, though penniless, young man (Montgomery Clift) comes to call, she falls head over heels. Big mistake.
De Havilland rightly won Best Actress of 1950, for her stunning portrayal of the meek and frightened girl who, older and wiser, becomes a steely and confident woman. Everything about her changes in the transformation, from her posture to her voice, and above all, her inner bearing. She’s unforgettable. Richardson is also superb as the cruel father and Clift is perfectly cast as the oily suitor.
The magnificent gowns and detailed sets capture the period beautifully and the literate script overflows with memorable lines about harm done in the name of love. This is a very satisfying movie that can be enjoyed again and again.