Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Little Foxes


Dir: William Wyler (Ben-Hur; Roman Holiday; The Best Years of Our Lives; Wuthering Heights)

Very entertaining Bette Davis vehicle, at the height of her enormous powers as the most electrifying actress in American cinema. Almost no one has filled a screen like her, her body a bomb that obliterates anyone with a look, pose, head movement, or just her presence. She plays one of three siblings who seek money for a business scheme in turn of the century Alabama. To get it, they must convince her dying husband to give up the money. He knows the plan will exploit the townspeople, and that the money is what his cold and vindicative wife wants, so he refuses.

Caught in the middle is Davis' daughter, coming of age and searching for her way in the adult world. As my viewing partner stressed on me, all of the political machinations between the siblings are a side story to the mother/daughter relationship, implied throughout the film but brought to a central place in the film's closing scenes. The last shot is so powerful that it is creepy, a perfect combination of Bette Davis' raw talent and a smart script saving its best for last.

The acting is very stong throughout. The plot is intriguing, and the backstabbing between the partners unpredicatble yet within character. The love story is a little flat, but serves an important narrative purpose. Wyler's mis en scene is very nice, making the entire town come alive with plenty of exterior shots on the streets and among people.

But let's face it; you watch a Bette Davis movie for Bette Davis. I fear she is being lost among the Hepburns as the great actress of the Golden Age. She is always bracing, and a dynamo unlike any other actor.

See this and many more of her films.