Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday Viewing: The Little Foxes, 1941

Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
--Song of Solomon 2:15

Bette Davis—at the height of her career—had as much power in Hollywood as any man. She was considered, in fact, “the fifth Warner Brother.” The executives at Warner Brothers were probably quite happy to loan Bette—a constant thorn in their collective sides—to RKO in 1941 for the prestigious film production of Lilian Hellman’s 
The Little Foxes.

The Little Foxes was one of Lillian Hellman’s many triumphs on Broadway. Opening to much acclaim in 1939, the stage version of the show starred the great Tallulah Bankhead. Bankhead, however, was not considered “box office” enough for the film version, and, so, RKO recruited Miss Davis who accepted the part with glee.

RKO Pictures
Davis plays “Regina Giddens” in this historical drama set in the South in the early 1900’s. Regina likes to think of herself as the head of her family. She holds great dominion over her sympathetic teenage daughter, Alexandra (played beautifully by the wonderful Teresa Wright), her infirm husband (Herbert Marshall in a brilliant performance), and, to some extent her greedy brothers, Ben and Oscar Hubbard (played by Charles Dingle and Carl Benton Reid respectively). Of particular note is Patricia Collinge as Oscar’s wife Birdie, the last surviving member of an aristocratic Southern family. Collinge reprised the role she had played in the stage version. One of finest actresses of her day, you may remember her from Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt in which she, again, was teamed with Teresa Wright. Dan Duryea plays Oscar’s smarmy son, Leo, with his usual oily flare. And Richard Carlson plays Alexandra’s beau.

The story centers around the Hubbard families lust for wealth and power. They conspire to form a deal with a wealthy Chicago businessman. However, they don’t have the required funds to enter into the deal. Thus, Regina’s brother’s attempt to steal the money from her husband, Horace. Regina, however, gets the upper hand. Or does she?

This film is a cinematic masterpiece directed by William Wyler (
Jezebel, The Heiress, The Letter, among many other great films) who clashed with his former lover, Bette Davis constantly throughout filming. Their friction, however, produced one of Bette’s finest and most subtle performances.The Little Foxes is a must-see film. The clip below should whet your appetite.

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