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The little foxes spoil more than the vines in William Wyler's viciously entertaining version of Lillian Hellman's acidulous stage play, about a steel-willed Southern matriarch (Bette Davis) who stops at nothing to see that she gets what she feels is her due.
The little foxes spoil more than the vines in this viciously entertaining version of Lillian Hellman's stage play about an aristocratic Southern clan scheming to secure the money to build a cotton mill. Davis replaced Tallulah Bankhead when the play transferred from stage to screen, playing the venomous matriarch Regina Hubbard Giddens in a manner as grand as her character's name. Denied her inheritance because only males could be heirs, the steel-willed Regina is burdened with debts and an ailing husband, and stops at nothing to ensure she gets what she feels is her due. Gregg Toland's deep-focus photography captures every tawdry detail of the nasty happenings as the family succumbs to blackmail and what looks very much like murder. Davis' third film for director William Wyler proved to be both fraught and final: star and director struggled over everything from the fright-white makeup Davis insisted on using to age herself beyond her thirty-three years, to the opulent set design and characterization of Regina (Davis conceived of her as a calculating bitch, Wyler as sexier and funnier). While the breach between Wyler and Davis proved permanent, the film itself was a triumph, securing nine Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and two for Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Collinge and Teresa Wright).