William Wyler and Bette Davis made their third and final collaboration their finest with this striking 1941 adaptation of Lillian Hellman's acidic play. The titular foxes are a particularly ravenous turn-of-the-century Sou... more »thern moneyed clan, the Hubbards, and the most cunning of them all is sister Regina Giddens, the brilliant but ruthless woman played by Davis. In contrast to the manipulative Regina and her scheming brothers (Charles Dingle and Carl Benton Reid) is her guileless sister-in-law Birdie (Patricia Collinge in a delicately flighty performance) and her sickly, humanistic husband Horace (Herbert Marshall), whom she tolerates only for his money and position--until he stands in the way of a scheme that could bring her a fortune. Teresa Wright is the hope of the next generation as Regina's thoughtful daughter, Alexandra, who stands in marked contrast to her graceless, greedy cousin Leo (Dan Duryea). Wyler's longtime cameraman, Gregg Toland, fresh from his groundbreaking work on Citizen Kane, fills the film with amazing deep-focus compositions and razor-sharp images, showing off the grandly handsome mansion set in all its old-world splendor. But for all its beauty Wyler reveals it as a cold, lonely world ruled by a heartless woman. Excellent performances by all make Hellman's sharp dialogue glint like the edge of a knife, which ultimately cuts deep into the soul of this powerful classic. --Sean Axmaker« less
"Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines."
Mary Whipple | New England | 08/05/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A biblical passage about greed tells of hungry foxes prowling vineyards to eat grapes, while the little foxes, too small to reach the grapes, chew on the bases of the vines and destroy them. Greed is the main theme of this magnificent 1941 adaptation of Lillian Hellman's stage play of the same name, the little foxes being the grasping Regina Hubbard Giddons (Bette Davis), who married upright Horace Giddons (Herbert Marshall) for his money, and her equally grasping Hubbard brothers (Carl Benton Reid and Charles Dingle) and nephew (Dan Duryea).
While Horace, the president of Planters Trust, a bank in the deep South, has been recuperating from a serious illness, away from home, his Hubbard brothers-in-law and nephew have been running the bank--and fleecing the poor and the black. Eventually, the Hubbards steal money from the absent Horace in order to become partners in a new cotton mill, but the sickly Horace returns home and discovers the theft, along with the treachery of his wife (Davis). Only his nubile daughter Alexandra (Theresa Wright) is true to his heritage of honesty and generosity of spirit.
As Regina, Davis is a cold-hearted villainess, imperious and demanding, without an ounce of generosity. The very young Teresa Wright, as daughter Alexandra, is her naïve antithesis. Author Hellman, who wrote the screenplay for the film, apparently recognized the need to offer some hope for the younger generation and an upbeat note, creating a new character for the film, David Hewitt (Richard Carlson), a journalist, who is in love with Alexandra. In new scenes in which the two converse, and in scenes at the bank, a rounder picture of human values evolves.
Set around the turn of the century, this powerful set piece, directed by William Wyler, depicts the change from a traditional landed aristocracy to newly rich entrepreneurs, like Regina's brothers, who lack positive values. The cast, many of whom created their roles in the stage play, is letter perfect in conveying attitudes through gestures and expressions. Many of the scenes, beautifully filmed interiors, with the staircase and its balcony playing a key role, allow Davis to look down on those below her. The exterior shots give a wider view of the society and provide some relief from the dark intensity of the drama surrounding the ill Horace. Nominated for nine Academy Awards, including acting, directing, supporting actor, score, and interior decoration, the film seamlessly integrates its many facets in a directorial triumph for Wyler. Mary Whipple "
Mark Norvell | HOUSTON | 12/31/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"William Wyler's film of Lillian Hellman's play is a fine old example of masterful filmmaking. Scripted by Hellman, it tells of the ultimate greedy Southern clan circa 1900. Thankfully most of the leading players came from the play with the exception of Bette Davis who assumed the role of Regina---originally played by Tallulah Bankhead---and she is magnificent. Regina is embroiled with her brothers in a greedy and corrupt get-rich-quick scheme to open a cotten mill and needs the final third of the money to come from her ailing husband (a grand Herbert Marshall) who is opposed to the plan with good reason: he's honest and sensible. The brothers are cold, evil and despicable. But Regina is all that and more---she's smarter and greedier. Since Marshall won't give her the money, she withholds his heart medicine and allows him to die knowing she'll get the money now that he's dead. This is an unforgettable scene and there are many in this outstanding film. In contrast to the evil characters, there's Teresa Wright in her film debut as Alexandra---Regina's daughter---who represents innocence and hope and the marvelous Patricia Collinge (from the play) as the sweet, alcoholic and abused sister-in-law Birdie who represents the painful trampling of gentility by corruption and greed. Her performance is heartbreakingly good. Beautiful b&w photography and the recreation of small town Southern life are right on target here. And Davis is at her best as the wicked Regina. She performs feats of acting magic that no other actress could have accomplished in this role. "The Little Foxes" is a must see and a vintage classic that garnered 9 Oscar nominations for 1941. It deserved every one of them. Excellent DVD treatment from MGM as well. A collector's item."
The Hollywood Golden Age summit
Stephen H. Wood | South San Francisco, CA | 06/14/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
On its surface Lillian Hellman's play THE LITTLE FOXES (1941) seems to be about a wealthy family destroyed by greed in the Deep South of 1900. Matriarch Regina Giddens (Bette Davis at her icy best) presides over a family with a crippled husband (Herbert Marshall) and assorted morally weak and greedy relatives. Repeating their stage roles are Patricia Collinge, Dan Duryea, Charles Dingle, Carl Benton Reid, and John Marriott, according to Leonard Maltin. Making their film debuts are Collinge, Duryea, Reid, and Teresa Wright. Fans of movie trivia should remember that Collinge and Wright played mother and daughter in Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1942). Collinge plays the weak Birdie here, while Wright is the hope for the future as Regina's daughter. It has a bitter and bitchy family at odds with one another. There is a cotton mill the family owns in town. Since it is prosperous, there are fights over ownership of it. And when a lot of bonds are taken from a safety deposit box in the town bank by family members, Regina wants them returned--or else the equivalent amount of money given to her in cash. As for husband Marshall, Regina stays with him for his money. This is gripping and superbly played drama. It is a complicated family drama, and I hope any errors on my part in terms of relationships are not serious and can be ignored.
Actually, THE LITTLE FOXES seems to me to not be about plot at all, but rather is an exercise in Hollywood Golden Age style. It is fabulously crafted by some of the greatest talents the movies have ever seen---producer Samuel Goldwyn, director William Wyler, writer Hellman, and star Davis in one of her greatest roles. Gregg Toland did the elegant deep-focus B&W photography (such beautiful antique lamps!) the same year he shot CITIZEN KANE. Art director Stephen Goosson won an Oscar for Capra's LOST HORIZON (1937). Costume designer Orry-Kelly won an Oscar for Wilder's SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959), with considerable credits in between. Editor Daniel Mandell won an Oscar for THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946). The background score is by THE MUSIC MAN's Meredith Willson. And the cast is world-class, if not household names. This is such an exquisite movie to look at visually, to study the period re-creation carriages and wallpaper, to marvel at the old-fashioned vested suits, to listen to Hellman's dialogue. And moments of silence. Watch the chilling scene where Regina's foreground face is frozen in a chair while crippled husband Marshall tries to climb a blurry background staircase to get some medicine.
So THE LITTLE FOXES is a feast of a drama for discriminating audiences, and Bette Davis admirers in particular. Samuel Goldwyn also deserves a lot of credit. He didn't produce a lot of movies during the 1930's and 1940's, but each one seems hand-crafted and outstanding now, including THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942) and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946). William Wyler had previously worked with Davis on JEZEBEL (1938) and THE LETTER (1940); Davis won an Oscar for the former and a nomination for the latter. And Wyler directed Teresa Wright to an Oscar the following year, 1942, with Best Picture Oscar winner MRS. MINIVER. And Hellman's dialogue is cutting sharp and her characters treacherous. THE LITTLE FOXES is an extraordinary movie made by truly extraordinary talents on both sides of the camera. It is really a must-see and may even be a masterpiece, if it catches you in the right mood.
A Gloriously Atmospheric Moral Fable
snalen | UK | 02/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ben and Oscar Hubbard (Charles Dingle and Carl Benton Reid), their sister Regina Giddens (Bette Davis) and Oscar?s son Leo (Dan Duryea) are not nice people. They are a family of profiteering entrepreneurs who have grown to prominence in a small southern town, grabbing the assets of its oldest aristocratic family through Oscar?s cynical marriage to Birdie (Patricia Collinge) who has since been driven to alcoholism by his abusive lovelessness. Ben and Oscar?s latest plot is to do a big deal with a business bigshot from Chicago who is keen to set up a new cotton mill with them on the understanding that the wages will be extremely low. Ben and Oscar are keen. Regina is keen. But Regina can?t come into the deal in her own right: she must persuade her husband to do so. And her husband Horace (Herbert Marshall) is a very different kind of man from her brothers. To complicate matters further he is dying. Meanwhile her daughter Alexandra (Teresa Wright) is getting close to idealistic young journalist David Hewitt (Richard Carlson) and, not, as her scheming relatives intend, to the useless and corrupt young Leo. This 1941 movie is adapted from a Lillian Hellman?s classic 1939 play of the same year. The dates make it closer enough where we are - an era when the overwhelming political issue in the USA was whether to join a European war against Hitler. It?s not hard to see from this where Hellman?s sympathies lie. The movie?s theme is the division of humanity three ways: the bad people, the good people who fight the bad people and the good people who just sit by and watch the bad people as they destroy the world; and the clearly articulated thought is that, for good people, sitting by and watching, is not, ultimately, an option. The movie is a classic and richly deserves to be. The performances are remarkable: notably Davis at her most magnificently malign, Dingle splendidly hateful as her cynical and brutal brother, Duryea as the good-for-nothing Leo, Marshall as the profoundly decent but physically desperately weak Horace and Collinge as the pathetically wrecked Birdie who adumbrates horrifically what, if they are not resisted, her unspeakable relatives might eventually contrive to turn the charming young Alexandra into. Wyler directs brilliantly and the camerawork by Gregg Toland is astonishing in its use of shadowy, long, deep-focus shots. The oppressive atmosphere of hostile emotions running far too high in the southern heat is captured to perfection. There is certainly a degree of simple-mindedness in the moral landscape of the film. The characters divide rather neatly into two sorts: very good, gentle, decent people and irredeemably evil people. There are no shades of grey, just jet black and lustrous white. And of course the world isn?t that black and white. But perhaps insofar as the play is about the issues that World War II was fought over, that is an excusable fault; for those issues, if any ever have been, really were that black and white."
One of the True Greats of Cinema
Review Lover | At a place... | 01/03/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The first thing you notice at the end of 'The Little Foxes' is that, for a change, Ms. Davis' performance hasn't overshadowed all those around her. Although touted as the main character, Davis' portrayal of Regina is a cleverly understated performance, lacking almost all of the trademark Davis moves (the constant cigarette, the acidic voice) that we've come to know and love. She plays it down, to huge success, and gives what is one of her best ever performances in this 1941 production of Lilian Hellman's smart, insightful play.The titular 'Little Foxes' are Regina and her greedy, scheming brothers, Ben (Charles Dingle) and Oscar (Carl Benton Reid). The Hubbard Boys are from a once-wealthy family, fallen on hard times in a Southern community where wealth and family prestige are interchangable. They each need a share of $75,000 dollars to bring a lucrative Yankee cotton mill to their town, and will stop at nothing to get it. Regina, who has married money, and possessing an intelligence and drive that both of her brothers lack, fails to legitimately get her share of the capital from her ailing husband Horace (Herbert Marshall). Under increasing pressure from their Yankee investor, the Hubbards beg, borrow and steal for the money, at the risk and ultimate destruction of all those around them.Bette Davis is, in 'The Little Foxes', simply one of several excellent performances given by a highly-talented ensemble cast. Charles Dingle and Carl Benton Reid are superb as the Hubbard Boys, both being highly individual characters while retaining familial similarities. Ben Hubbard is non-confrontational and winning, whereas Oscar is quick to anger and wades in with all guns blazing. They're both as greedy as all get-out, though, and we see this in their private exchanges with each other, Regina, and Leo Hubbard (played as comedy-without-sentimentality by an excellent, young Dan Duryea), the dullest nephew since time began.
Herbert Marshall as Regina's long-suffering husband Horace gives a performance with sympathy and pathos. He is a beacon of unselfishness and decency in a fog of money-grabbing. His final scenes with Regina are simultaneously touching and tense, thanks to Marshall's superior talents.
Bette as Regina Hubbard is something of a revelation. Like I mentioned, she's abandoned almost all of the usual Davis idiosyncrasies to give a performance as impressive as it is hard-edged. As the flinty, cold, manipulative Regina, she excels through her considerable talents as a versatile actress. The contrast between her scenes with Horace and their daughter Alexandra is strong, and an excellent illustration of an over-ambitious woman's mind. The remainder of the supporting cast is strong, with a notable mention going to Patricia Collinge as Oscar's abused, alcoholic wife Birdie - an excellent performance in what could so easily have been a role played for sentimentality.Direction is top-notch; William Wyler's last collaboration with Bette Davis is arguably the best, with some sweeping vistas of the Giddens mansion interior, and beautiful lighting to complement the gothic, amoral tone of the film. What is essentially a one-room stage play is kept moving at a fast pace in Wyler's capable hands, never slowing or boring the viewer with cliches.The transfer to DVD isn't the best, but certainly above average for a 63 year-old movie. It doesn't impede on the movie in any way, and what we have in 'The Little Foxes' is a chilling masterpiece that every film fan should own. Excellent."