Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Foxes not of Harrow

One of tonight's Fredric March movies is Another Part of the Forest (11:00 PM), based on the play by Lillian Hellman. The family in this story is the same one in Hellman's earlier play The Little Foxes which was also turned into a movie, so I'm doing today's post on The Little Foxes.

Bette Davis plays Regina Giddens, married sister in an Alabama family from the turn of the 20th century which includes the Hubbard brothers: married Oscar (Carl Benton Reid) and unmarried Ben (Charles Dingle). Regina married the town banker Horace (Herbert Marshall), but he's been sick with a heart issue and seeing specialists up north in Baltimore. Regina wants Horace to return home, so she's gong to send their daughter Alexandra (Teresa Wright), nicknamed "Xan", up to Baltimore.

Regina has good reason to want her husband home. The Hubbards have been negotiating a business deal with Marshall, an industrialist from Chicago. He wants to open a mill down south to handle the cotton, but he needs a deal with the people who have the cotton, which means the Hubbards. The problem is that the Hubbards have to put up money, and it's going to come one-third from each sibling, more or less. The "more or less" is because Regina being a woman doesn't have the control over the family money that her brothers have. She needs Horace to approve of investing.

When Horace returns, we learn that he has no intention of investing the Giddens money. More alarmingly, we learn that he's going to die because his heart condition is untreatable. He's relatively OK with dying, too, because he and Regina have been at each other's throats for years thanks to a whole bunch of issues. Among them is the question of whom Alexandra should marry. Alexandra has been seeing, in an oh-so late 19th century way, David (Richard Carlson), who works at the local newspaper and is a nice young man but not of the Hubbard's financial class. Horace worries that the rest of the family is going to try to marry Xan off to her cousin (Oscar's son) Leo (Dan Duryea), who is in Horace's mind a nasty piece of work.

Horace is right to fear Leo. Leo works in Horace's bank, probably because he wasn't able to get any other job. Leo has been thoroughly unethical, to the point of rummaging through Uncle Horace's safety deposit box. He's found that Horace has $90,000 in bonds convertible as cash, which would be more than enough to cover that one-third of the investment in the cotton mill. Leo knows that Horace only looks at his safe deposit box twice a year or so, and isn't going to look at it again until the autumn, so Leo could "borrow" those bonds for five months, which would be enough time to raise the money to replace them. Leo, however, tells his father so much about them that we just know Horace is going to discover that his bonds are missing....

The Little Foxes is a really fun little movie, a sort of light version of Tennessee Williams' southern Gothic. I think not going all the way to Williams' level makes it better, since I tend to find Williams to go way over the top. Davis is ruthless but actually also tones it down from some of her other movies, again to the benefit of the movie. Wright is good as the young woman who has to grow up; Reid and Dingle are more than passable in supporting roles. Duryea nearly steals the show as a thoroughly nasty man in his first real role (IMDb claims he had an uncredited role in one movie before this). It's an obvious precursor to those noir heavies he'd play. The one weak link is Patricia Collinge as the crazy aunt. She's more obnoxious than possibly insane.

I was very favorably impressed by The Little Foxes, and I think you'll be, too.

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