The Heiress (1949): Why Not Disinherit Catherine?

Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson) disapproves of the man his daughter Catherine (Olivia DeHavilland) loves. In the third act of the movie he threatens to alter his will again as he does in the 1st act.

When Catherine agrees that he should alter the inheritance and takes pen in hand to begin dictation of his new will, Dr. Sloper changes his mind. His excuse for not following through on the threat is that, "I don't want to disinherit my only child."

Richardson plays Dr. Sloper's scene with anguish.

Why doesn't he follow through on the threat? Why doesn't he want to disinherit his only child? She defies his authority and wants to marry a man who will only harm her financially, emotionally and perhaps physically. To disinherit would be to make known his opinions, his disapproval of his daughter's decisions. He does not wish to fund her foolishness.

Catherine would still be well-off due to her mother's inheritance, which Dr. Sloper cannot alter. With both her parents' money, Catherine is simply excessively wealthy.  She would not become impoverished when her father disinherits her.

So why not go through with the threat? For three reasons.

  1. Dr. Sloper, believes that "family feeling is very proper." Were he to disinherit his daughter, he would push against his own values of service and protection of the family. 
  2. This is 1840s New York; a woman of Catherine's station must have money or a marriage to live comfortably or to have any power or influence. To disinherit Catherine would be to take away some of that influence. 
  3. Taking away her money makes Dr. Sloper like the man he despises - Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift).

Morris is Catherine's feckless fiance who presumably would also have dissolved her fortune. He would have dissolved it, not in one fell swoop, but year after year in extravagance as he has done with his own inheritance. Morris loves no one but himself, his own selfish desires.

Dr. Sloper, on the other hand, cares for Catherine in his own way. He's not a likeable person. In his attempts to teach Catherine to be sociable and gracious he is instead abusive. However, to disinherit would be too cruel even for him.

See also:
The Heiress (1949): Her Mother's Presence
The Heiress (1949): The Garden Muse


  1. He's like the male equivalent of Gladys Cooper's Mom ("Mrs. Henry Vale?" I don't recall her having a first name) to Bette Davis in NOW, VOYAGER. If I remember correctly, Cooper threatens to disinherit the "reformed" Davis more than once, but never follows through on her threat.

    I don't understand "#3." I don't think anything makes Dr. Sloper like Morris Townsend.

  2. Anonymous,

    What I mean by #3 - perhaps I didn't explain it clearly- is that if Dr. Sloper were to disinherit his daughter, he himself would believe that he is devoid of "family feeling," something that he mentioned was so important earlier. That lack of family feeling is something that he suspects Morris has, and he is right.

    Thanks for dropping by.


Thanks for your contribution to Java's Journey.


About Java

"Java's Journey: A really fun, informative well-written blog that explores all of the things - and I mean all - I love about classic films."-- Flick Chick of A Person In The Dark Email:


Blog Archive

Writer's Block Doesn't Stand a Chance