Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bette Davis in The Little Foxes

Bette Davis received her fifth/sixth Best Actress nomination for playing Regina Giddens, a greedy and heartless Southern woman in William Wyler's Best Picture nominted classic, The Little Foxes. I really don't know what to think about her chances of winning that year. I can even imagine that she was the least likely to win. She was the only previous Oscar-winner of the line-up, she even had two of them. However, Bette was always a threat to win the award. If the rumour is true about Olivia being second, than I would say that Bette was fourth. Stanwyck had a great year, which I think gave her the edge over Bette. Still, we'll never know.

The Little Foxes is an excellent movie about greed. I remembered it being more of an ensemble movie, and I remembered much less of Davis. The screenplay (the work of Lilian Hellman) is simply terrific, full of great, memorable lines, and I think it should have won an Oscar. This story is so universal and it still hasn't lost its credibility. A brilliant job. Well, it's true that the authors write the best adaptations of their works. All the actors give very strong performances and I would say that Patricia Collinge even deserved the Oscar. Wright is also very good, though she's always a bit underwhelming.

However (I like using this term so much, I admit), The Little Fox is The Bette Davis show. I'll also admit that Davis was a brilliant actress. Although I dislike some of her movies/performances (I'd like to forget The Letter, for example), I still think she's marvelously talented and versatile. Moreover, she's versatile, even by playing basically two types of roles: the bitch and the tragic heroine. She gives different characteristics to all of them. Let me explain this: Margo Channing and Regina Giddens both belong to the bitchy group and yet the two characters cannot be more different. Regina is cold-hearted, even heartless, vicious, moneyed, greedy, manipulative and fake-nice. It's interesting that although these characters are highly unlikeable, they have an enormous popularity among people. What's the reason for that? I guess, it's basically two words: Bette Davis.

Regina is so realistic and hateful (quite rarely seen in a 40s movie), and this great achievement is 100% because of Bette. She even fell out with William Wyler because of her interpretation of Regina. Wyler wanted to make her more likeable (and it seems to have been the better decision at the time). This would have resulted in more love from the audience and probably even a third Oscar win for Bette. However, Bette made a right decision and by this she created one of the most memorable characters of the silver screen. Not only did she make Regina immortal, but she also put on a performance that so lacks the obvious 40s acting. While watching some 40s nominees and their overly sentimental acting, I seriously consider blowing my own brains out. With Bette, everythign went so smoothly.

From the very beginning, we can see that Regina is a very controlling woman. I read in Alex's review about the movie about Regina meaning queen in many languages, and it's really interesting. It was the best decision of Lillian hellman to name her Queen and by this, she showed Regina's superiority to her environment. I guess Bette also realised this and put this crucial thing into this performance, and by this, she created such a dazzling portrait of this woman.

Naturally, the bitchy line deliveries are dead on, still it's not the thign I like most about Bette in The Little Foxes. What I like the most, is the really wide range of emotions that Davis covers with her acting, and she's able to show so many faces of Regina. She's confident when she's negotiating with her stupid, greedy brothers, desperate when she has to achiveve everything she wants, and terrified when she has to face the conequences of her acts. She comes out triumphant out of all the battles and yet she somehow loses the war, because of her coldness. Actually, I feel that Regina had some love for her daughter, quite much I think. The reason for her actions is also the benefit of her child. Despite being very greedy, I don't think that Regina is that selfish. Davis showed so thrillingly that Regina wanted to give everything to her daughter which she did not have at her age. Their last scene together is really chilling: Regina asks Alexandra to sleep in her room and talk to her. Davis' face in this scene is unbelievably expressive and she blew me away.

So, I can say after all, that Bette Davis gives one of her strongest and most memorable performances as Regina Giddens, the greedy Southern woman. She put all her experience and knowledge into it, worked hard, made it all look easy and created one of the greatest and most complex characters of the 1940s. An excellent, chilling work of a great actress. Bravo.
I know I said I would leave her last, but I just couldn't resist.

Time for the final predictions!


Fritz said...

A really great performance!

Anonymous said...

Entirely expected and deserved.

Louis Morgan said...

She will win.

Anonymous said...

She will obviously win, she was really perfect in this film (as always) and it is one of her strongest and best performances. Definitely 5 Meryls!