The Heiress : Richardson as Sloper

Richardson as Sloper

Richardson gives me the chills in The Heiress.

The film may begin when Catherine is a young adult, but the father-daughter relationship does not, and it is very clear that she has been shaped by the abuse of a manipulative parent.

When he corrects her, he is not innocently trying to improve a much-beloved daughter who would have been a timid clutz no matter what he did. He is largely responsible for making her that way.

When he warns her about Morris, he is not protecting a daughter he adores, he is mocking her blind hunger for love and approval -- a hunger he created.

It also gives him an opportunity to insult her appearance and personality some more, and hopes for a juicy "I told you so" when Morris disappears after finding out that she wouldn't be quite as wealthy.

What I haven't seen mentioned on this board (except by me, in a previous post, some of which I am repeating here) is the fact that Catherine is not a total lump, when Dr. Sloper isn't around. We see glimpses of her spirit, ability, and opinions when we are introduced to her. Running errands and when she talks to her aunt, she is able and not terribly nervous.

She even seems strong, complaining about the silly shallow women in the charitable organization, stating her opinion about wanting to be practical about knowing kitchen skills. She jokes, teasing her silly aunt about lying, followed by the "you told me you lived on love" line.

Only in her father's presence does she become a mess, falling all over herself trying to please him, making some mistakes she might not have made if not for her nervousness around him.

Dr. Sloper can be a charmer. If he'd been perpetually nasty to everyone, or beat Catherine, or constantly told her outright "You are an ugly clumsy lump," it wouldn't be an accurate portrayal of someone with that sort of personality.

It also wouldn't be as good a film if he was a cartoon villain -- the subtlety, the gradual unfolding of the cold heart of this man, is part of what is compelling about the story.

And Richardson does it so well.

I only hope that the people on this board who don't see anything wrong with Dr. Sloper don't recognize the type because they haven't had to deal with someone like that. They should consider themselves very lucky.

I am grateful that neither of my parents were like Dr. Sloper, but I've known people like him, and have felt the effects of their damn-with-faint-praise, and "set 'em up to knock 'em down" manipulation. And I've known people who were raised by a parent like that.

His accusing her of being hurtful when she finally "finds her tongue," trying to paint himself as the innocent victim, is also typical of this personality type.

People like this are often so deep into the lie that they believe it themselves. Dr. Sloper probably thinks himself a great guy, and can't understand why anyone would ever be mad at him.

It is an amazing portrayal of a warped and warping man.

Re: Richardson as Sloper

Great, insightful post. Agree with all of it.

Re: Richardson as Sloper

I second that. Your post is concise and beautifully written.


What I haven't seen mentioned on this board (except by me, in a previous post, some of which I am repeating here) is the fact that Catherine is not a total lump, when Dr. Sloper isn't around. We see glimpses of her spirit, ability, and opinions when we are introduced to her. Running errands and when she talks to her aunt, she is able and not terribly nervous.

She even seems strong, complaining about the silly shallow women in the charitable organization, stating her opinion about wanting to be practical about knowing kitchen skills. She jokes, teasing her silly aunt about lying, followed by the "you told me you lived on love" line.

Only in her father's presence does she become a mess, falling all over herself trying to please him, making some mistakes she might not have made if not for her nervousness around him.



BINGO.


Imagine how Catherine would have turned out under the guidance of a warm, doting father who truly loved her unconditionally: With her practicality, genuine warmth, and sneaky good humor, combined with a healthy sense of confidence and self-worth reinforced by a good parent, she would have been a beloved member of society. Maybe she wouldn't be an extrovert, but she'd win everyone over with her natural qualities; so much so, that no one would notice or care if she weren't conventionally "accomplished".

But that isn't what happened; instead, Dr. Sloper basically ground Catherine's spirit and confidence under his heel on a daily basis all her life, until she had little left. He not only did his daughter an unforgivable disservice, he also disgraced the memory of the wife he supposedly loved so much. Think of how hurt Mrs. Sloper would have been that not only has she been reduced to a shallow idealization, but that her memory is used as a cudgel against her own daughter.


It is an amazing portrayal of a warped and warping man.


It most certainly is. Sir Ralph Richardson's portrayal is nothing short of masterful, and should be used to silence the conventional wisdom that Marlon Brando invented nuanced film acting.

Re: Richardson as Sloper

Wonderfully said, Lauraeileen!


Re: Richardson as Sloper

Eloquently said. He also doesn't believe Townsend loves her, because he finds her unlovable.
It starts in the film when she wears the cherry red gown, and he says "but your mother was fair. She dominated the color". Just a little poke, but it found its mark.
Ralph Richardson was perfect: Charming and cruel at the same time. Are there really posters on this board who found him innocuous? I'll have to look through the board!

Re: Richardson as Sloper


Are there really posters on this board who found him innocuous?


There are comments saying that he was only trying to protect her, and some apples-and-oranges comparisons to fictional fathers who were abusive in more obvious ways.

Re: Richardson as Sloper

I saw some of those. He wasn't trying to protect her at all. There was nothing loving or caring in his attitude towards her. He held her in contempt. If there had been anything of love and concern for her well being, I think she might have forgiven him. But she figured it out (wasn't as stupid as he thought). Of course it's all fictional. I will have to read the book for comparison. The newer version was interesting with its "happy ending" of her with the school.
And Ralph Richardson was perfection in this role.

Re: Richardson as Sloper

Yes. He was a cold SOB, and seemed to dislike Catherine for not being like her mother, at least in looks. I love both Richardson and DeHavilland in this film.

Re: Richardson as Sloper

what british medical school did he attend?....I always loved his acting, but he's quite miscast or he could have used an english american accent. i might be wrong, but even that James loved Britain, his characters are very american.

Re: Richardson as Sloper

Ralph Richardson was one of the greatest actors of the 20th Century and gave many extraordinary performances. None more so than in The Heiress. Although the 'love story' between Clift and Dehavilland appears to be the main business of the film, Richardson so dominates the story that everything else assumes a secondary importance. While making the film, Monty Clift, no slouch as an actor himself, said that he had never seen anything like Ralph Richardson, so powerful an actor, so confident, so fixed in his performance, Clift had to run just to keep up. The Heiress is one of the great films of the studio system. It is the perfect companion piece to another William Wyler masterpiece from about eight years earlier, The Little Foxes. See them both, then watch them again. They never get old, no matter how they are or you are.

Re: Richardson as Sloper


The Heiress is one of the great films of the studio system. It is the perfect companion piece to another William Wyler masterpiece from about eight years earlier, The Little Foxes. See them both, then watch them again. They never get old, no matter how they are or you are.



So true! Great point best_of.

FilmFan50

Re: Richardson as Sloper

Richardson was brilliant, one of the great screen performances, really, ever given. It is difficult to imagine anyone else doing it.

However, imagine this role performed by the actor who originated it on Broadway and the result is chilling: Basil Rathbone. Wow.
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