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The Little Foxes (1941)

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Article 1

Peace Comes to 'The Little Foxes'

By Thomas Brady

The New York Times June 22, 1941 page IX 4

After a twenty-one day absence, Bette Davis has returned to the set of Samuel Goldwyn's "The Little Foxes," made up with rose-bud mouth, the pompadour hair of the Nineteen Hundreds and the chalky, self-willed prettiness of Regina Giddens.  William Wyler, the director had shot around her so that the production did not halt while she was away, but the picture still has four weeks to go.

The rumors that Miss Davis would not return to the set have naturally been stilled by her reappearance, and the Goldwyn company has quoted physicians to demonstrate that illness caused her absence.  Asked about reports that she stayed away because of differences with Wyler, Miss Davis said curtly, "I won't discuss it. I was sick, and that's all there is to it."

But the tension on the set between the director and the star, who have worked together before on "Jezebel" and "The Letter," is apparent to observers.  Miss Davis seemed intent last week on interpreting her role with gaiety and daring; Wyler wanted subtle repression.  Miss Davis was icy in deferring to his wishes, and each was monstrously patient with the other.

When one scene reached its eighth or ninth take, Mr. Wyler told Miss Davis she was rattling off her lines.  Her response was cool enough to make the set suitable for a Sonja Henie skating spectacle.  She said she found his statement remarkable because it wasn't her habit to waste film.  Their careful politeness never varied, and once Miss Davis walked quickly off the set during the same scene without speaking, appeared to regain her composure, and then went on with another take.

Later Mr. Wyler, who is known as a ruthless man when his films are concerned, spoke of the difficulties and said he was at a loss to determine the source of the trouble.  He admitted the conflict between his interpretation and Miss Davis's interpretation of the Regina character. He said he was trying to get her to abandon her usual style of acting, but he had no solution for the impasse.

Miss Davis thinks the role is a fine one.  She even admires Regina Giddens, the vicious heroine, and she says she likes to play that kind of woman "because they have the courage to do the brutal things I've always wanted to do but couldn't."  Miss Davis saw Tallulah Bankhead do the play in Cleveland and enjoyed her performance exceedingly, but says she would have preferred not to see it before doing the part herself.  Mr. Wyler, she says, insisted that she go to the play however.

The film version of "The Little Foxes," which Lillian Hellman adapted from her play, differs little from the original.  Miss Hellman's chief concession to cinematic convention was the introduction of a newspaper reporter, played by Richard Carlson, to provide a romantic interest for the Alexandra Giddens character.

Goldwyn approved of the play so thoroughly that besides paying Miss Hellman $100,000 for it, he also brought five members of the New York cast to the Coast for the screen version.  Patricia Collinge, who plays Birdie Hubbard, says she is the only one of them who had difficulty in altering her performance to suit the screen.  She, too, apparently experienced some of Mr. Wyler's ruthlessness, but now that her scenes are virtually finished, she looks back at the assignment as an exceptionally interesting one.

* * *

"What I had to do," she explained, "was learn not to project my performance as I had on the stage.  There wasn't anybody twenty-five rows back that I had to reach."

As a lady dipsomaniac, she drank slightly less for the camera than she did for Broadway.  Otherwise, she says, her performance was the same, except that her emotions had to be more thorough and more restrained for Mr. Wyler than they had been in the theatre.  She added that she was constantly surprised by the similarity in staging between the film and the play.

The other recruits from the Broadway cast are Carl Benton Reid, who plays Oscar Hubbard; Charles Dingle, who plays Ben Hubbard; Dan Duryea, who plays Leo Hubbard, and John Marriott, who plays the Negro butler.  Herbert Marshall fills Frank Conroy's stage role, that of Horace Giddens, Regina's husband, and Russell Hicks appears as William Marshall, the Chicago financier, played in New York by Lee Baker.

One newcomer in the cast is exciting great enthusiasm in the company.  She is Teresa Wright, who played Mary in "Life With Father" on Broadway.  Wyler says she is the most promising young actress he has ever directed.  Miss Wright, herself, has no illusions about the movies, and her contract with Goldwyn permits her to return to the stage for six months out of every year.

If unrest among the company will produce a great picture, Greg [sic] Toland, the camera man of "The Little Foxes," provides the final touch of discontent to make it colossal.  He photographed the notable "Citizen Kane," and he says that only about once a year does a picture come along that is interesting for the camera man. Toland is thoroughly unhappy because "The Little Foxes" made it impossible for him to photograph "How Green Was My Valley," which John Ford is directing at Fox. "How Green," Toland thinks, would have been this year's interesting picture.

© 1941 The New York Times

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