THE LITTLE FOXES (1941) B/W 116m dir: William Wyler

w/Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, Teresa Wright, Richard Carlson, Patricia Collinge, Dan Duryea, Charles Dingle, Carl Benton Reid, Jessie Grayson, John Marriott

From The Movie Guide: "Time has proven Bette Davis right --- no-one could top Tallulah Bankhead's Broadway portrayal of the vituperative Regina Giddens, the central figure of Lillian Hellman's now creaking, but still compelling Deep South potboiler. During filming, William Wyler was often heard to say, 'We'll have to get Bankhead.' Would that he had. Davis, in an impulsive stampede to make the role her own, took an opposite track to the character. Or perhaps Wyler did; every Davis bio tells it differently. Either way, it's wrong. In her rice powder, with her mouth drawn into a tiny, hard line (it makes her look more beaked and birdlike than ever) she loses the hothouse-flower sensuality that Bankhead brought to her manipulations. And it was precisely that certain quality that justified Regina's ability to manipulate men to high heaven in the turn of the century South.

"FOXES tells the story of the Hubbards (whose exploits are also detailed in ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST [1948], from Hellman's prequel), as greedy a bunch as ever drank mint juleps. Regina's brothers (Dingle and Reid) ask her to persuade her husband Horace (Marshall) to supply the rest of the cash they need to build a cotton mill. Milking her position for all the leverage possible, Regina sends her daughter (Wright) to fetch Horace, recovering from a heart attack at a Baltimore sanitarium. The weakened man, however, proves a bigger hurdle than anyone had bargained for.

"This is the third and last time Davis worked with Wyler, following the triumphs of JEZEBEL and THE LETTER. The furious battles enacted by the two on FOXES are Hollywood legend --- a sad farewell to a legendary collaboration. Perhaps the rest of the cast didn't cotton to Davis's tantrums (having grown accustomed to Bankhead's); except for Wright, in her film debut, they look like wolves successfully moving in on her acting territory. Collinge, in fact, almost steals the movie. The other newcomer, Duryea, does move in; it's overkill that needed slapping down.

"We are not, however, discounting FOXES's impressive technical achievement. Many of the sequences directed by Wyler and shot by cinematographer [Gregg] Toland (famed for his deep-focus work in CITIZEN KANE) have been hailed by film scholars, especially during the memorable murder scene (featuring Davis's Kabuki look). Orry-Kelly's costumes for Davis are either great or wrong. Somehow FOXES feels embalmed instead of lived; still we enjoy the drama done aloud."

THE LITTLE FOXES was nominated for nine Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actress (Davis), Supporting Actress (both Collinge and Wright), Screenplay (Hellman), Editing (Daniel Mandell), Score (Meredith Willson), and Art Direction (Stephen Goosson, Howard Bristol).