Monday, January 10, 2011
Bette Davis in The Little Foxes -- Evil Personified
In her prime, Bette Davis played many different types of strong women, some willing to commit acts of violence from desperation, some with less than moral scruples. However, she played true evil as Regina Giddens in Lillian Hellman's play The Little Foxes. First performed on Broadway by Tallulah Bankhead, Regina's character was given the Davis touch and delivered to movie audiences of 1941 a woman with no redeeming qualities at all. It is impossible to see any other actress in the role after seeing Davis. The Goldwyn Company was able to borrow Davis from Jack Warner because he owed a gambling debt of $300,000 to Goldwyn. When Davis found out about this, she demanded more money for her work, and got it. That was only the beginning of difficulties for Goldwyn in making the film. Davis and director William Wyler clashed on several points of the portrayal of Regina -- Wyler wanted Davis to play her as Bankhead did, a desperate, aging southern belle under the thumb of her evil brothers. Davis saw the part in a different way, and eventually got her way, even to the physical appearance of Regina, which Wyler hated. Wyler was wrong. Davis' interpretation was brilliant, and created one of the most memorable roles of her career. After The Little Foxes, Davis and Wyler never worked together again, so vitriolic was their relationship during filming.
In my opinion, one of the strongest performances comes from Patricia Collinge as Birdie, Oscar's pitiable wife. Collinge brings the bullied Birdie to distressing life, a sweet woman whose life with the cold, calculating husband has been pure hell. She is loved by everyone except her husband and son Leo, but she is too damaged to overcome the tragedy of her life. Collinge was mainly a well known stage actress, but did a few movies, including Shadow of a Doubt and The Nun's Story.
There are movie-goers who confuse a role with the real person of the actor, such as was Gene Tierney's experience after she played the wicked Ellen in Leave Her to Heaven. Tierney was accosted by some people who told her she should be ashamed of herself. This type of reaction is quite a compliment to an actor's performance. I do not know if this ever happened to Bette Davis after The Little Foxes, but she is so realistic and chilling, it would not be a surprise if it had. Davis, one of the strongest and most determined actresses in Hollywood history, plays a part that highlights her incredible talent as Regina in The Little Foxes. She is so good that she is easy to hate, but Bette, we still love you!