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Robert Z. Leonard
The ruthless, moneyed Hubbard clan lives in, and poisons, their part of the deep South at the turn of the 20th century. Regina Giddons née Hubbard has her daughter under her thumb. Mrs. Giddons is estranged from her husband, who is convalescing in Baltimore and suffers from a terminal illness. But she needs him home, and will manipulate her daughter to help bring him back. She has a sneaky business deal that she's cooking up with her two elder brothers, Oscar and Ben. Oscar has a flighty, unhappy wife and a dishonest worm of a son. Will the daughter have to marry this contemptible cousin? Who will she grow up to be - her mother or her aunt? Or can she escape the fate of both? Written by
For the second straight year, a William Wyler directed Bette Davis vehicle was nominated for Best Picture, Director and Actress at the Academy Awards. (The year before the film in question was The Letter (1940).) And for the second straight year, everyone went home empty-handed. See more »
When Regina returns home to find Horace in her part of the house, she clearly takes her left glove off before walking towards the staircase. Seconds later, after Horace tells her about the investment in the cotton mill, she turns around at the bottom of the staircase and takes her left glove off again. See more »
The only other film I can think of that matches this one for its study of greed is TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. Both have a rather downbeat and moralistic ending, but here the sudden end to the story comes as a bit of a disappointment. Too bad that William Wyler didn't stress the "loneliness" theme of Bette's character to give more strength to the ending that merely shows her watching her daughter walking away from her in the rain with a young man.
But aside from the abrupt and rather weak ending, this is a magnificent version of the Lillian Hellman stage play. I saw Elizabeth Taylor in a Broadway revival of the show years ago and she left none of the impact that BETTE DAVIS does here. Davis had the benefit of William Wyler's direction, as did all other members of the cast.
HERBERT MARSHALL is excellent as the only truly decent main character in the story. His performance here is reminiscent of the work he did as Bette's weak husband in THE LETTER--but the scene where she denies him his medicine is as brilliantly played and filmed as any scene in the entire film.
TERESA WRIGHT is a bit sugary as the sweet daughter but rises to the final moments--although I thought her last confrontation with her mother could have been even more harsh than Wyler permitted it to be. She and Davis were both Oscar nominated but lost to others. This scene loses some of its vitality due to Wright's low-key playing.
All the other performers are more than equal to their tasks and the beautiful deep focus B&W photography of Gregg Toland is remarkable and deepens the tone of the story. Charles Dingle stands out particularly in the supporting cast, as Bette's conniving brother who is left, in the end, with nothing but a "sense of humor" about the outcome. Dan Duryea is convincing as the dumb Leo and Richard Carlson does nicely as Wright's boyfriend who realizes that she has a lot of learning to do about the household before she grows up.
Most chilling aspect of the whole film is Bette Davis' towering performance as Regina--perhaps the most realistic of all of her "bad" roles.
But for an even more powerful study of greed, I suggest you watch TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE.
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