Little Foxes [1941]

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 Southern 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

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