The Little Foxes (1941)
The Little Foxes (1941)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

Release Date: August 29th, 1941 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: William Wyler Actors: Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, Teresa Wright, Richard Carlson, Dan Duryea, Charles Dingle, Patricia Collinge, Carl Benton Reid

 


 

I

n the deep South in 1900, Regina Giddens (Bette Davis), the matriarch of a sizable family, insists upon having breakfast with her energetic, perky daughter Alexandra “Xan” (Teresa Wright), while also worrying over her absent husband Horace (Herbert Marshall), the president of the The Planters Trust Company (a bank), away in Baltimore for his health. Meanwhile, her brother Ben Hubbard (Charles Dingle) concerns himself with an upcoming meeting that evening with a potential cotton mill business partner. Along with other brother Oscar (Carl Benton Reid), who fusses over his scatterbrained wife Birdie (Patricia Collinge) and disapproves of his easily distracted, lazy son Leo (Dan Duryea), the clan stands to make a considerable amount of money, provided that the details can be properly negotiated – particularly as Regina’s wealthy husband appears to be an uncertain yet crucial investment aspect. “There is nothing to worry about.”

The townsfolk, including aspiring newspaperman David Hewitt (Richard Carlson), who has his eyes set on Xan, don’t think too highly of the Hubbards and the Giddens, as their business dealings tend to affect – or infect – the whole area. But even as David and Xan contend with communication failures when it comes to their playful flirtations, the Hubbards and Giddens’ external congeniality is about to fall apart. Gossip, backstabbing, thievery, and manipulation spell certain doom; insatiable greed has a way of destroying even the most foolproof schemes.

“I don’t like nervous people. I can’t trust ’em.” The cast is exceptional, especially Davis and Dingle, who seem to compete over who can be more perfectly viperous and wily in an alternating fashion. And Duryea is equally spectacular, assuming the part of a weaselly, sniveling, impressionable kid – and an important piece of the central betrayal. As an adaptation of a stage play, the film is nicely concentrated around performances, examining the inner-workings of devious characters as they conspire against one another, clawing for opportunities at unlikely fortunes, revealing the motives and truths behind their unconcealable contempt.

Despite the severe, potent turns, with plenty of poisonous influence over the innocents, there are also weighty notes on race relations, taking advantage of the poor, and the regret and guilt and disdain that can be secreted away by the people who feel forever trapped by their misguided circumstances. The Hubbard/Gidden household is a hotbed of deceit and discontent – and its dramatic destruction is exquisite. This kind of dialogue-heavy, action-less ordeal full of despicable personas entangling themselves in criminal endeavors won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s an excellent occasion for Davis to show her chops as a villain (perhaps lending to her eventual portrayal in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”) – and for the cinema to design a supremely fitting comeuppance for her.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10