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Home » Culture and Criticism

The Little Foxes

Submitted by on December 27, 2007 – 5:24 PM7 Comments


“If I’d known you would age into Richard Burton’s face, Horace, I’d never have married you to begin with.”

My sense before seeing the movie was that it was a quintessential Bette Davis film, but once I got to the end of it, I felt like she wasn’t really in it that much. She was, of course, but compared to something like All About Eve, she didn’t register as strongly somehow. It’s a perfect role for her, but it’s as though she’s not filling it out, quite.

Partly, it’s because the daughter takes up so much room in the film. The actress assigned to this thanklessly uncharismatic task, Teresa Wright, is a gamer, but she’s got a ratty period hairpiece clamped to the back of her neck with a bow that manages to look cheap even in black and white; she’s playing a character who’s in her late teens, but acts about eight, and Wright looks about thirty (she was actually in her early twenties); and the opening sequence is meant to establish the family’s relationship to the town and so on, but takes too long to get where it’s going, and it’s time we have to spend with a simpy and uninteresting character.

Once the plot gets rolling, though, the movie’s quite good; again, Davis comes off rote in places, but she’s still entertaining, and Dan Duryea as the dipshit Leo is fantastic — completely committed, and he’s a got a William Sadler way about him that’s very appealing even though the character is a weasel. And now and then people slap each other, which keeps things lively.

It’s a credit to the movie that, like The Maltese Falcon, a lot of the key plotting is delivered in conversation instead of shown, but it doesn’t bog the pace down at all; it’s only the soggy bits with Xan and the Dave-and-Maddie thing she has with the neighbor (played by the foxy Richard Carlson, with rather more brio than Xan seems likely to inspire) that slow things up.

It’s worth a watch if you see it scheduled on AMC; the famous scene on the stairs is the payoff, and while it runs a tad long, Davis in the foreground of the shot is just amazing, doing about a dozen things while barely moving, even if she’s a bit disappointing elsewhere. Top-notch acting, well paced once it gets going, but a minor classic at best.




  • RJ says:

    I was raised a Bette Davis fan, but I’ve never been able to sit through this movie. I guess I’ll have to give it a try – I’m sure it’s hidden somewhere in my parents’ massive collection of VHS tapes. “All About Eve” is my favorite Bette Davis movie, and I think Margo Channing was her best role; my second favorite is the chick flick classic, “Now, Voyager.” I can barely stand Paul Heinreid, but I love Bette and Claude Rains. :)

  • Kerry says:

    Man, now I have the theme song from “Weeds” in my head.

  • Charlie says:

    I LOVE this movie!! I watched it over and over again early this year. The daughter was great in it as was Bette. Now I want to watch it again to see the hairpiece. My only beef was the excessive yapping by the old men.

  • Chris says:

    I loved this movie. She played such a bee-otch, I wanted to reach out and strangle her! I have it on DVD as well as All About Eve. My favorite one of hers was the one where she goes blind (I can’t remember the name of the movie – Blind Victory, I think). I liked Theresa Wright’s character; although I wondered how old she was supposed to be. She looked older. I did feel sorry for the aunt though.

  • Sars says:

    Oh, the poor aunt! She was so sweet, burbling away, and then her husband would inevitably tell her to shut it. That actress was wonderful in the role, too.

  • angela says:

    I adore that play – if you haven’t read it, you should! It’s a lot tighter, likely because we don’t have to waste time on the drippy love story between David and Alexandra (David isn’t in the play). I loved the movie, too, though. I think Ben is my favorite – the actor somehow manages to be completely charming and terrifying at the same time. “I agree with Alexandra. What IS a man in a wheelchair doing on a staircase. I ask myself that.” “And what do you answer?” So great.

  • rootlesscosmo says:

    The blindness one is Dark Victory. There’s also Beyond the Forest–with the “What a dump!” line that Elizabeth Taylor’s Martha quotes in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?–and The Great Lie, in which Bette butches up while Mary Astor is in labor with the baby Bette will adopt (don’t ask) but is all femmed out again for the happy ending.

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