The Little Foxes (1941)
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"Take us the foxes,
The little foxes that spoil the vines.
For our vines have tender grapes."
-- Song of Solomon 2:15
Little Foxes have lived in all times, in all places. This family
happened to live in the deep south in the year 1900.
-- Prologue to THE LITTLE FOXES
One of the most caustic, and yet,
exceptionally engaging films ever made, THE LITTLE FOXES (1941) is the
story of a family torn apart by greed. It features Bette Davis
in one of the most villainous roles of her career, and exceptional
performances by a host of first-rate supporting actors. But besides
featuring an engrossing story and complex characters, THE LITTLE FOXES is
also a masterpiece of cinematic craftsmanship. The photography, shot
composition, set design, costumes, music and editing all work together to
contribute to the mood of a particular scene or the emphasis of a
particular shot. For this reason, though the story is an unpleasant
one, THE LITTLE FOXES is a film I find myself watching over and over
As matriarch of the Hubbard family, Regina Hubbard
Giddens is one of the most malevolent characters in the history of cinema
-- the personification of selfishness and greed. Throughout the
production, leading lady Bette Davis
(left) fought bitterly with director William Wyler
over details related to Regina's appearance and demeanor.
felt that despite the character's flaws, Regina should still be portrayed
as a handsome, charming woman.
Davis however, never bashful about appearing unattractive on film when
necessary, insisted she needed to look older for the role -- at 33, she
felt she looked too young to play a 41-year-old mother with a
seventeen-year-old daughter --, and she whitened her face with calcimine,
much to Wyler's chagrin.(*1)
Davis also projected more venom in her interpretation of the role than Wyler desired,
and their artistic differences of opinion eventually led
Davis to take a sixteen-day hiatus from the set before she finally
came around to complete the film.(*2) Tensions
between Wyler and
Davis aside however, the mood on the set of THE LITTLE FOXES was
generally cordial and friendly, and the veteran cast members (including
Davis) got along well with the film's many Hollywood newcomers.
To play Regina's brothers, Ben and Oscar Hubbard,
producer Samuel Goldwyn
imported Charles Dingle and Carl Benton Reid (with
Davis at right) from the Broadway production of Lillian Hellman's play
which had starred Tallulah
Bankhead in the role of Regina. Dingle had made a few prior
films, but THE LITTLE FOXES marked Benton Reid's screen debut.
Cut from the same cloth as their sister, Ben and Oscar
devise an investment scheme to build a cotton mill in their small Southern
town and exploit the poverty and cheap labor in the area. But in
need of $75,000, they ask Regina to talk her estranged husband Horace into
becoming a partner on the deal. Regina invites Horace to return
home, and the conspiring, villainy and back-stabbing begin.
- "Oscar, you should know me well enough by now to know I don't
ask for things I don't think I can get." --Regina Giddens.
- "Why, Alexandra. You have spirit after all. I used to think
you were all sugar water." --Regina Giddens.
Oscar's son Leo Hubbard (played by Dan Duryea),
represents the rising generation of the Hubbard family. He is
unscrupulous, uncouth, sneaky, restless and confused. In the scene
at left -- a defining moment in the establishment of his character -- Leo
catches a fly in his hand while sitting in the living room, listening to
his cousin Alexandra play the piano.
- Jan Herman, A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood's Most
Acclaimed Director, William Wyler (Da Capo Press, 1997) 224.
- Herman 225.
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