Wednesday, March 25, 2015


(Post 9 of 50)

I had the good fortune to meet both of director William Wyler's daughters (Melanie and Cathy) at our library as part of the Southern Literary Trail film series. We showed Cathy's 80's documentary about her father as well as the William Wyler/Bette Davis collaborations Jezebel and The Little Foxes.

Jezebel is a story set in 1850's New Orleans featuring a cast of thousands, a look at pre-Civil War plantation life, Southern chivalry and traditions, some catchy Negro spirituals, an unfortunate red dress, a case of Yellow Jack and of course Bette Davis. Davis's role may remind some viewers of Scarlet O'Hara, but Davis really makes this her own and it is hard to argue with her receiving the Academy Award for her role.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...George Brent. I was browsing through David Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of American Film when I came across his piece on George Brent.

Bette Davis and George Brent in Jezebel
Brent was typed as a romantic lead despite his somewhat porcine face and his sticklike acting--his performances divide neatly between those in which he's wearing and mustache and those in which he isn't; not much else distinguishes them.

Ouch!...That may be a bit harsh! He's no Henry Fonda and is certainly outclassed by Ms. Davis in this picture, but he does a decent enough job as Bette's alternate love interest, Buck Cantrell. You know, somebody's go to be the second tier leading man, David!

Bette Davis in The Little Foxes
The Little Foxes is a drama based on a play by Lillian Hellman set in Demopolis, Alabama, 1900. It is a dialogue heavy story of shady business dealings and unethical characters in the deep south. The film doesn't really hits its stride for me until the second half when we really get an idea of the characters (mostly bad) true motivations. And Bette Davis plays an evil dame unlike anyone else of her time.

Teresa Wright in The Little Foxes
And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Teresa Wright. A lot of unlikable characters in this film, but that description certainly doesn't apply to Teresa Wright, whose nice girl daughter is a marked contrast to mother Bette Davis's manipulative opportunist. Teresa truly had success with her appearances in Wyler films. She received an Academy Award nomination for her role as the daughter in Little Foxes. The following year, she won the supporting actress Academy Award for Wyler's Mrs. Miniver. And after the war, she had a nice role in Wyler's classic The Best Years of Our Lives. Teresa was also in Pride of the Yankees and had a rare lead role in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt.

And thanks again to the Wyler daughters!

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