For Hicksflicks.com, July 11, 2014

"The Little Foxes" (1941, b/w) is Lillian Hellman's play about greed and deception in an aristocratic Southern family at the turn of the 20th century, and it received lavish, top-of-the-line film treatment from the Samuel Goldwyn Company, directed by the great William Wyler ("The Letter," "The Best Years of Our Lives") and featuring several members of the original Broadway cast.

The film has been out of print for years and was released with no fanfare last week by Warner Home Entertainment.

Bette Davis is positively regal, wearing kabuki-white makeup in a manner that brings to mind a death mask, as the cold-as-ice matriarch of the family, required to rely on money held by her sickly husband (Herbert Marshall) while her buffoonish brothers (Charles Dingle, Carl Benton Reid) are wealthy, thanks to family inheritances at the time going strictly to male heirs.


           Herbert Marshall, Bette Davis, 'The Little Foxes'

But she's determined to outperform her brothers when a business deal presents itself to increase profits from the family's cotton fields. Her husband, aware of the business venture's negative impact on workers, declines to invest the necessary funds, so Davis takes matters into her own hands. And be assured it won't end well.

A subplot about Davis and Marshall's daughter (Teresa Wright in her first film) being comically romanced by a local newspaperman (Richard Carlson) who isn't crazy about her family manages to lighten the mood here and there. And Dan Duryea as Wright's double-dealing cousin really makes an impression (while making his film debut as well).


For those who think old movies in the pre-color/pre-widescreen era are soft and bland, here's an example of a cynical, dark exploration of greed and family in-fighting that can't be improved upon in terms of what it achieves. Davis is in top form and the rest of the cast scrambles to keep up with her.