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The Little Foxes
Director: William Wyler (Dir)
Release Date:   29 Aug 1941
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 20 Aug 1941
Production Date:   28 Apr--3 Jul 1941
Duration (in mins):   115-116
Duration (in feet):   10,447
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Cast:   Bette Davis (Regina [Hubbard] Giddens)  
    Herbert Marshall (Horace Giddens)  
    Teresa Wright (Alexandra Giddens)  
    Richard Carlson (David Hewitt)  
    Dan Duryea (Leo Hubbard)  
    Patricia Collinge (Birdie Hubbard)  
    Charles Dingle (Ben Hubbard)  
    Carl Benton Reid (Oscar Hubbard)  
    Jessie Grayson (Addie )  
    John Marriott (Cal)  
    Russell Hicks (William Marshall)  
    Lucien Littlefield (Manders)  
    Virginia Brissac (Mrs. Hewitt)  
    Terry Nibert (Julia)  
    Henry "Hot Shot" Thomas (Harold)  
    Charles R. Moore (Simon)  
    Alan Bridge (Hotel manager)  

Summary: In the deep South of 1900, shrewish Regina Giddens readies her household in anticipation of a dinner to honor William Marshall, a wealthy Chicago industrialist who is thinking of building a cotton mill in their small town. Gathered at the table to honor Marshall are Regina's sweet young daughter Alexandra, her greedy brothers, shopkeepers Ben and Oscar Hubbard, and Oscar's wife and son, Birdie and Leo. When the kind-hearted Birdie begins to chatter, Oscar cruelly accuses her of living in the past glory of her failed family fortune and once grand plantation. After an evening of listening to the brothers' blandishments, Marshall agrees to go into business with them, invites Regina to visit him in Chicago, then bids them goodnight. When Regina suddenly declares that she plans to move to Chicago with Alexandra, her brothers unceremoniously remind her that first she needs to convince her absent husband, Horace, the head of the Planters Trust Co. bank, to invest his money in the cotton mill. Aware that her brothers need Horace's third to complete the deal, the rapacious Regina insists on a larger share of the venture. Oscar then maliciously retorts that her invalid husband is less than eager to abandon the refuge of his hospital room in Baltimore for Regina's icy charms. Ben settles the argument by offering his sister a forty-percent share, with the balance coming from Oscar's portion. Oscar reluctantly agrees on the condition that a marriage between his shiftless son Leo and Alexandra be part of the deal. To lure Horace home, Regina orders Alexandra to travel to Baltimore and bring her father back. The next day on the way to the train station, Alexandra says goodbye to David Hewitt, a young newspaper man with whom she is infatuated. On the trip home, Horace, suffering from a serious heart condition, is forced to rest at a hotel in Mobile to regain his strength, thus delaying his arrival. As Regina readies the house for her husband, her brothers taunt her about Horace's tardiness. Later, Oscar criticizes Leo's incompetence and Leo, a clerk at Horace's bank, mentions that he has been rifling his uncle's safe-deposit box and discovered $90,000 in negotiable bonds. Leo's disclosure causes the avaricious Oscar to consider "borrowing" the bonds. When Horace finally arrives, Regina briefly feigns concern for her husband until, no longer able to contain her malevolence, she lashes out at him, knowing that he is dying. When her odious brothers appear, Regina reconciles with Horace to expedite the business deal. As Horace swallows a spoonful of his heart medicine, Ben badgers him about investing his money. Pleading illness, Horace asks to postpone his answer, thus engendering Regina's fury. Later, after a party at the Giddens house, Oscar informs Regina that he must leave the next day for Chicago to close the deal. Marching into Horace's room, Regina and her brothers demand his answer, and Horace denounces the deal on the grounds that it will cheat the town's working poor by undercutting labor costs. As a furious Regina argues with Horace, Ben and Oscar descend the stairs and Oscar instructs Leo to "borrow" Horace's bonds. Later, Ben smugly informs his sister that Oscar is on his way to deliver the money to Chicago. Overhearing their conversation, Horace denounces Regina and her brothers as vultures, and Regina fires back that she hopes he dies soon. One day, while Regina is out of the house, David and Alexandra join Horace, Birdie, and the family's faithful maid, Addie, for an impromptu party. Slightly tipsy, Birdie recalls her family's contempt for the Hubbard family's exploitation of the poor who shopped at their store, and confides that Oscar married her only to gain control of the cotton in her family's fields. When Addie comments about the "people who eat the earth like locusts" Horace recites a quotation from the Song of Solomon about the little foxes who spoil the vines. Birdie then admits that she drinks to "stop the pain" and warns Alexandra that this will be her fate, too. Later, Horace visits the bank to examine his will. Stunned, Leo tries to distract Horace as he leafs through the safe-deposit box. After Leo leaves the room, Horace reopens the box and discovers the missing bonds. When Horace asks Cal, his driver, to fetch the Giddens' lawyer from Mobile, Leo overhears their conversation and alerts his father. That night, as David and Horace play cribbage, David confides that he has fallen in love with Alexandra. Regina, meanwhile, is having a dress fitted by David's seamstress mother, and coldly informs her that she objects to David's courtship of Alexandra. When Regina returns home, Horace tells her about the theft and spitefully declares that he has decided to allow her brothers the loan of the bonds, thus insuring that Regina will never share in the profits. Regina's venomous response induces Horace to suffer a heart attack, and when Regina refuses to bring his medicine from the bedroom, the stricken Horace crawls up the stairs and collapses. Regina withholds Horace's medication until the damage is irreversible. Drawn by the news of Horace's attack, Oscar and Ben hurry to the Giddens house. When Regina reveals Horace's decision to "lend her brothers the bonds," Ben and Oscar take a keen interest in his health. After Regina demands seventy-five percent of the business in the event of her husband's death, Ben scurries to bring a second doctor. Soon after, Horace dies and Regina threatens to jail her brothers for theft unless they accept her terms. Alexandra overhears their conversation, and after her uncles depart, declares she is leaving Regina and denounces her as "one who eats the earth." As Alexandra runs off into the night with David, Regina watches from the shadows of her bedroom window, completely alone. 

Production Company: Samuel Goldwyn Productions, Inc.  
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: William Wyler (Dir)
  William Tummel (Asst dir)
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn (Pres)
  Samuel Goldwyn (Prod)
Writer: Lillian Hellman (Scr)
  Arthur Kober (Addl scenes and dial)
  Dorothy Parker (Addl scenes and dial)
  Alan Campbell (Addl scenes and dial)
Photography: Gregg Toland (Photog)
Art Direction: Stephen Goossón (Art dir)
Film Editor: Daniel Mandell (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Howard Bristol (Set dec)
Costumes: Orry-Kelly (Cost)
Music: Meredith Willson (Mus dir)
Sound: Frank Maher (Sd rec)
Make Up: Perc Westmore (Miss Davis' Makeup)
Production Misc: Dalton S. Reymond (Tech adv)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the play The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman, as produced by Herman Shumlin (New York, 15 Feb 1939).
Authors: Herman Shumlin
  Lillian Hellman

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Samuel Goldwyn 21/8/1941 dd/mm/yyyy LP10694

PCA NO: 7450
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Historical
Subjects (Major): Family relationships
  Small town life
  United States--South
Subjects (Minor): Bankers
  Heart disease
  Husband murder
  Mobile (AL)
  Safe-deposit boxes

Note: The film opens with the following quotation from The Song of Solomon . II.15: "Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines; For our vines have tender grapes." The following written prologue then appears onscreen: "Little foxes have lived in all times, in all places. This family happened to live in the deep South in the year 1900." According to a Jan 1940 DV news item, Samuel Goldwyn purchased the rights to Lillian Hellman's play on a sliding scale based on the picture's gross. According to the producer's biography, Goldwyn liked the play but felt that the character of "Regina" was too venomous to arouse audience identification. Consequently, Goldwyn asked Hellman for some changes and she then invented the character of newspaper man "David Hewitt" as a love interest for Regina's daughter "Alexandra." After Goldwyn called for even more revisions, Hellman suggested her friends Arthur Kober, Alan Campbell and Dorothy Parker for the rewrites, according to Goldwyn's biography.
       In order to secure the services of Bette Davis from Warner Bros., Goldwyn offered to trade Gary Cooper, who was under contract to the producer, for a one-picture deal. Warner Bros. accepted the offer and cast Cooper in Sergeant York (see entry below). This was Davis' only loanout from Warner Bros. until the expiration of her contract in 1949. According to Davis' autobiography, the star strongly disagreed with director William Wyler over the interpretation of the character of Regina. Wyler preferred to soften the character, while Davis argued for a harsher presentation, much like that of Tallulah Bankhead, who portrayed Regina on Broadway. According to Davis' autobiography, she walked off the set on May 12 1941 but returned several days later. Jun 1941 NYT items add that Davis withdrew from the film over disagreements with Wyler, but returned to the set after a twenty-one day absence.
       According to an Apr 1941 HR news item, the road company of The Little Foxes closed for three months during the filming of the picture. Patricia Collinge, Charles Dingle, Carl Benton Reid, Dan Duryea and John Marriott reprised their Broadway roles for this picture, which marked their screen debut. The film also marked the motion picture debut of Teresa Wright and Jessie Grayson of the Hall Johnson choir. According to a Jul 1941 HR news item, backgrounds for the picture were shot at the Belle Helene plantation near Baton Rouge, LA. Although a Feb 1941 news item states that Goldwyn was considering James Stephenson for a role, Stephenson died shortly after completing the 1941 film International Squadron (see entry above).
       The Little Foxes was Goldwyn's first production since splitting from United Artists. The film was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Music Scoring of a Dramatic Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Directing and Best Art Decoration. Both Patricia Collinge and Teresa Wright were nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Davis was nominated as Best Actress. On 10 Oct 1941, Great Moments from Great Plays broadcast a version of Hellman's play on the CBC radio, starring Tallulah Bankhead. On 16 Dec 1956, The Hallmark Hall of Fame broadcast a televised version of Hellman's play starring Greer Garson, Franchot Tone and Sidney Blackmer and directed by George Schaefer. The 1948 film Another Part of the Forest (see entry above) was based on a Hellman play that was a prequel to The Little Foxes . In that film, Dan Duryea appeared as "Oscar Hubbard," the father of the character he played in The Little Foxes . Modern sources add Kenny Washington, Lew Kelly, Hooper Atchley and Henry Roquemore to the cast. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   16 Aug 1941.   
Daily Variety   19 Jan 1940.   
Daily Variety   12 Aug 41   p. 3.
Film Daily   12 Aug 41   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Dec 40   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Feb 41   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Apr 41   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   2 May 41   p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Jul 41   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Aug 41   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   23 Aug 41   p. 217.
New York Times   1 Jun 1941.   
New York Times   22 Jun 1941.   
New York Times   22 Aug 41   p. 19.
Variety   13 Aug 41   p. 8.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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