The Hand That Smokes the Cigar

†††††††† An aspect of The Heiress, a 1949 film adaptation of Henry Jamesís 1880 Washington Square, that was extremely eye-catching was William Wylerís use of men smoking cigars. The smoking of cigars seems to represent a sense of domination or control by the male characters, in particular Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson) and Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift).

†††††††† In one of the beginning scenes at a party being held at the Almond residence, Dr. Sloper very strikingly lights up a rather fat cigar. At this point in the story, Dr. Sloper is in absolute control of his daughter Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland). It is as if Dr. Sloper knows of his power over her and lights his cigar in satisfaction. He knows that Catherine would do anything to please him. He holds her fate in his hands by controlling her social and educational life and her inheritance. However, when Morris Townsend enters the picture, Dr. Sloperís control rapidly declines.

†††††††† Catherine falls quickly and hard for the charming Morris, who, unfortunately, wants only to get his hands on Catherineís inheritance. By laying on his charm and manipulating through elements of persuasion, Morris changes Catherineís entire view of her father. Before long, Catherine is willing to go against her fatherís wishes in order to marry Morris. Upon realizing this, Dr. Sloper takes his daughter on a trip to Europe in order to regain his control and eliminate Morris from her thoughts. While Dr. Sloper and Catherine are away, a scene from home reveals Morris taking delight in Sloperís study and ironically smoking one of Dr. Sloperís cigars. It is as if Morris is celebrating his victory not only over Catherine but over Dr. Sloper as well. He knows that Catherine would defy her father to marry him, and he therefore controls her fate. Upon Dr. Sloperís return, he finds the remnants of one of his cigars and curses the audacity of Morris. It is as if he knows that he has lost and that Morris now controls Catherine.

†††††††† As it ends up, Catherine not only denies her father but Morris as well once she learns the truth. She comes to control her own life and finally begins to develop a sense of self. Catherine refuses to be dominated. How perfect the ending would have been if the final scene had shown Catherine lighting up her very own cigar.

Michelle Farney

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