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The film was directed by legendary William Wyler, produced by legendary Samuel Goldwyn and starred legendary Bette Davis, who gives a masterful performance. But that being said, it's not necessarily a Bette Davis movie as say Dark Victory (1939) or Now, Voyager (1942) were. It's part Bette Davis movie, part William Wyler movie and part Samuel Goldwyn movie, all tied together with a screenplay by Lillian Hellman, authoress of the original play. Each of these creative powerhouses contributing his or her own expertise to conceive a film classic.
Hellman had brought her play to Broadway in 1939, starring the infamous stage actress Tallulah Bankhead in the juicy role of vicious Regina Giddens. The films director, William Wyler immediately wanted to cast Bette Davis as Regina. The two had worked together on two previous films, Jezabel (1938) and The Letter (1940), as well as allegedly having a torrid affair. Warner Brothers, Davis' home studio, never loaned their biggest star out to anybody. However, Jack Warner arranged to have her loaned out this one time as a trade for Gary Cooper, who he wanted to star in Warner's upcoming biopic Sergeant York (1941). It was the only time between 1934 and 1949, when her contract ended at Warners that the studio loaned her services out.
Davis, famous for tour de force, eye-popping, shoulder jerking performances, underplayed the role to great effect. Her Regina is cold and calculating as she and her equally greedy brothers (Charles Dingle and Carl Benton Reid) try to manipulate her gravely ill husband (Herbert Marshall) into investing money in a cotton mill venture that could make them all wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. She is a vision of controlled, steely determination, in the fine period dress and rice powder makeup provided for her by famed make-up artist Perc Westmore.
The film is visually sumptuous. Producer Samuel Goldwyn, well known for his use of high production values in his films, displayed these abundantly with lush interiors. Through architectural nuances, like bold archways and rich decor of dark wood and exquisitely upholstered furnishings, the old south aristocracy is brought vividly to life. As it does in many examples of director Wyler's work, the use of sweeping staircases creates a dramatic stage on which his actors perform, as well as a visual focal point, with much of the action taking place on or around the grand corridor. Master cameraman Gregg Toland uses deep focus photography to capture a sharp and realistic image, enhancing the intensity of the unfolding drama.
Besides Davis, the ensemble cast showcases some superb performances from Dan Duryea as Regina's lazy, imbecilic nephew Leo, Patricia Collinge as the pathetic, drunken Birdie and Teresa Wright, who, in her film debut, gives an Oscar nominated portrayal of Regina's naive but maturing daughter Zan. In all The Little Foxes received 9 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Davis and Best Supporting Actress for both Wright and Collinge.