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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.37:1 Standard
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • 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 1979 episode of The Paul Ryan Show
  • Excerpts from a 1973 tribute to director William Wyler on The Merv Griffin Show, featuring Wyler, Olivia de Havilland, and actors Bette Davisand Walter Pidgeon
  • William 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
  • An essay by critic Pamela Hutchinson

The Heiress

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: William Wyler
1949 | 116 Minutes | Licensor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #974
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: May 7, 2019
Review Date: May 7, 2019

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SYNOPSIS

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, 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.


PICTURE

After receiving a new 4K restoration, William Wyler’s The Heiress comes to Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. The restoration was sourced from a scan from a 35mm duplicate negative.

I’m just continually blown away by all of these new restorations for these 70+ year old films, which make them look fresh and new. These restorations make these older, fuzzy restorations for releases like Criterion’s House of Games (a film not even half The Heiress’ age) that much more frustrating: House of Games looks old, The Heiress doesn’t. My only point of comparison is the Universal DVD, but that came nowhere near the level of clarity present here and the improvement over that edition is dramatic, a clear night-and-day difference. The image on this edition is so crisp and clean throughout, delivering stunning details and textures within the image, right down to the threading—and even the little fuzzies—on the costumes themselves. The picture never goes soft or fuzzy, and every object is cleanly rendered and defined.

The restoration work is itself near perfect, with the only noticeable issue remaining are very faint and very thin tram lines. I don’t recall any other blemish nor any sort of pulse or fluctuation. The gray scale is gorgeous, with superb contrast, leading to nice whites and rich, deep blacks. The digital presentation is also perfect, retaining a photographic look and rendering the film’s fine grain structure perfectly. This really went well above and beyond what I was expecting.

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

I was even impressed by the film’s PCM 1.0 monaural presentation. Outside of some faint background noise the track is clean, no severe damage present. Voices are clear, music sounds clean, and there is some decent fidelity and range to it. It doesn’t sound its age.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion stacks on several great supplements for their special edition, starting with a new interview between critics Jay Cocks and Farran Smith Nehme. The two look at the many nuances of the film, from how it works as an adaptation (of both the original book and the play) and how its structured as a film, to the performances and how the characters are presented through their looks (Clift’s good looks are used to keep the character ambiguous) and their costumes, which change throughout the film. Cocks even talks a little about how the film influenced the adaptation of The Age of Innocence. It’s only 23-minutes long, but the two manage to pack a lot into the short running time and offer a wonderful overview of the film, the play, and the novel.

There’s a section devoted to William Wyler, featuring a couple of supplements: a tribute for the director from a 1973 episode of The Merv Griffin Show, featuring de Havilland, Griffin, Bette Davis, Walter Pidgeon, and Wyler himself; followed by footage of Wyler delivering a speech at an AFI tribute from 1976. The speech, running 5-minutes, features a grateful Wyler thanking all of those he has worked with through the years. The Griffin clip is a little dry, but de Havilland keeps it going with her recollections of working with the filmmaker. This clip runs 17-minutes.

Criterion also digs up a more archival interviews, including an extensive 45-minute one from 1986 with Olivia de Havilland, and then a 7-minute excerpt featuring Ralph Richardson from the 1981 documentary Directed by William Wyler. Richardson’s is short but absolutely fantastic, him recalling his work on The Heiress, from being asked to go see the play (with Basil Rathbone in the role he was to play) to how it was on set and being directed by Wyler. De Havilland’s interview (which is separated into two parts) is about her career, including her work on The Heiress. The interview also covers the studio system in Hollywood during the 30s/40s, and gets into her lawsuit against Warner Bros. She also talks a little about other actors from the period.

Criterion also devotes a section to costume designer Edith Head, first with a short 1950 promotional piece about the jobs performed by costume designers in Hollywood, aptly called The Costume Designer, which also features footage of Head working. The 9-minute short is obviously scripted but it still manages to offer an okay examination of the various steps that the department has to go through. Following this is an interview with fashion collector and historian Larry McQueen. McQueen talks about Head and the costumes in the film (also mentioning other designers that worked on the film), but the most fascinating aspect is that McQueen owns one of the costumes that de Havilland wore in the film. McQueen also appeared on Criterion’s edition of Some Like it Hot and on that one he showcased Monroe’s costumes from the film, and here we get a nice close-up look of it and the material used (amusingly, McQueen was hoping he was getting a costume de Havilland wore in Gone with the Wind when he was first working on getting the costume). I like McQueen’s contributions so far and I would like to see him pop up more often, if to only show off more of his collection. His portion runs 15-minutes.

The disc then closes with the film’s 3-minute trailer (looking to be sourced from video tape), which really pushes Wyler’s involvement. A poster insert (featuring a larger version of the embroidered image on the front cover) then offers an excellent essay on the film and its production (even getting down to some of the troubles de Havilland was having with the character and how she worked with Wyler and co-star Clift) by Pamela Hutchinson.

The Universal disc had a couple of features, which were just from short segments from TCM I believe, and those don’t make it here. I barely recall them so I can’t say they’re missed. As it is Criterion’s edition packs on some great, engaging supplements.

8/10

CLOSING

A really wonderful special edition, surpassing my expectations by a far margin. The supplements are strong and cover each area of the film wonderfully, and the video presentation is absolutely stunning. Highly recommended.


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