HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 August 2004
A biblical passage about greed tells of hungry foxes prowling vineyards to eat grapes, while the little foxes, too small to reach the grapes, chew on the bases of the vines and destroy them. Greed is the main theme of this magnificent 1941 adaptation of Lillian Hellman's stage play of the same name, the little foxes being the grasping Regina Hubbard Giddons (Bette Davis), who married upright Horace Giddons (Herbert Marshall) for his money, and her equally grasping Hubbard brothers (Carl Benton Reid and Charles Dingle) and nephew (Dan Duryea).
While Horace, the president of Planters Trust, a bank in the deep South, has been recuperating from a serious illness, away from home, his Hubbard brothers-in-law and nephew have been running the bank--and fleecing the poor and the black. Eventually, the Hubbards steal money from the absent Horace in order to become partners in a new cotton mill, but the sickly Horace returns home and discovers the theft, along with the treachery of his wife (Davis). Only his nubile daughter Alexandra (Theresa Wright) is true to his heritage of honesty and generosity of spirit.
As Regina, Davis as a cold-hearted villainess, imperious and demanding, without an ounce of generosity. The very young Teresa Wright, as daughter Alexandra, is her naïve antithesis. Author Hellman, who wrote the screenplay for the film, apparently recognized the need to offer some hope for the younger generation and an upbeat note to the film, including a new character, David Hewitt (Richard Carlson), a journalist, who is in love with Alexandra. In new scenes in which the two converse, and in scenes at the bank, a rounder picture of the transition from old to new economy evolves.
Set around the turn of the century, this powerful set piece, directed by William Wyler, depicts the change from a traditional landed aristocracy to newly rich entrepreneurs, like Regina's brothers, who lack positive values. The cast, many of whom created their roles in the stage play, is letter perfect in the attitudes they convey and in their complete mastery of their material. Many of the scenes, beautifully filmed interiors, with the staircase and its balcony playing a key role, allow Davis to look down on those below her. The exterior shots give a wider view of the society and provide some relief from the dark intensity of the drama surrounding the ill Horace. Nominated for nine Academy Awards, including acting, directing, supporting actor, score, and interior decoration, the film seamlessly integrates its many facets in a directorial triumph for Wyler. Mary Whipple