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Theatre / The Little Foxes

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"Addie said there were people who ate the earth and those that stood around and watched them do it. And just then Uncle Ben said the same thing. Really the same thing. Tell him from me, Mama, I'm not going to watch you do it."
Alexandra Giddens

The Little Foxes is a 1939 play by Lillian Hellman.

The Hubbards are a Big, Screwed-Up Family in a small town somewhere in the Deep South. Brothers Oscar and Ben Hubbard are selfish and greedy. Oscar mentally and physically abuses his broken-down wife, Birdie; their son, Leo, is shiftless and lazy. Oscar and Ben's sister, Regina, was left out of their father's inheritance because she's a woman, so at some point in the backstory she married Horace Giddens, a local businessman. Horace has done well for himself but his marriage with Regina has long since curdled into mutual hatred. The only thing they have in common is their daughter, Alexandra, who is honorable and decent like her father instead of mean and greedy like her mother and her mother's family.

The Hubbards have hit upon a new business opportunity: namely, the construction of a cotton mill in town. All three of the Hubbard siblings desperately want the deal, which will make them a lot richer than they already are. However, the brothers need Regina's support, and she doesn't control the family finances—and her husband Horace is not that eager to fund the construction of a cotton mill that will enrich the Hubbards by exploiting the cheap labor available in the town.

In 1941 it was adapted into a feature film directed by William Wyler, starring Bette Davis as Regina, Herbert Marshall as Horace, and Teresa Wright in her film debut as Alexandra. Four actors—Dan Duryea, Charles Dingle, Carl Benton Reid, and Patricia Collinge—reprised their roles from the stage play. Lillian Hellman adapted her own play for the screen.

A 1951 operatic adaptation of the play, Regina, was written by Marc Blitzstein.


  • Adaptation Expansion: The character of David the newspaper writer was added to the film to give Alexandra a love interest and to have a second sympathetic male character.
  • Affably Evil: Ben. While Regina is cold as ice and Oscar is almost cartoonishly brutish, Ben is cheerful, always chuckling, quick with a joke. He is also just as greedy as the other Hubbards and just as willing to lie, cheat, and steal.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: The last line of the play and movie (and last spoken line of the opera), from Alexandra to Regina. After Regina steals a glance at the room that contains her freshly-dead husband, she asks Alexandra to stay with her in her room. Alexandra asks, "Are you afraid, Mama?" Then she leaves, and the movie ends with Regina watching her go from the window.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Hubbards. The planned first-cousin marriage between Alexandra and Leo would not have been the first in the family. All the Hubbard siblings are greedy and selfish and hate each other. Oscar basically forces Leo to steal $75,000 in bonds from Horace.
  • Bitch Slap: Oscar overhears his wife Birdie warning Alexandra about the Arranged Marriage planned between her and Oscar's son (and Alexandra's cousin) Leo. As Alexandra heads off to bed and Birdie, about to leave with Oscar, passes him near the doorway, he cruelly slaps her across the face. Alexandra tries to approach Birdie to see what happened to her, but she dismisses her and tells her that she only twisted her ankle.
  • Broken Bird: Birdie married twenty years ago into the Hubbard family, and received a husband who browbeats and humiliates her and smacks her around, and stole her family's plantation. She is a cringing, weepy shell of a woman who drinks constantly.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Leo has to go outside and grab a smoke after Horace shows up unexpectedly at the bank.
  • Complete-the-Quote Title: It's from Song of Solomon 2:15 (KJV): "Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes."
  • Costume Evolution: Alexandra starts out the film in these frilly, girlish outfits that express her optimism. After her father dies, she's a bit more jaded yet with the big hair ribbon holding her long hair with less frills and leaves her bad mom.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Horace often snarks at the behavior of his in-laws, such as noting that his brother-in-law Oscar is being "unselfish" all of the sudden.
  • Domestic Abuse: Oscar slaps Birdie across the face. It's pretty clear that this is a common occurrence.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Oscar is framed this way at the Giddens home right before he slaps Birdie.
  • Graceful Loser: When Regina demands 75% of the mill, Ben accepts cheerfully, as fits his Affably Evil character, but he also implies that he may investigate the suspicious nature of Horace's death.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "You're being very gay with my money."
  • Jacob Marley Warning: Birdie warns her niece-in-law Alexandra: "Don't love me. Because in twenty years you'll just be like me. They'll do all the same things to you."
  • Lady Drunk: Birdie, as she candidly admits, to escape her miserable existence. The stories about her "headaches" are a lie.
    "I drink...all by myself."
  • Literary Allusion Title: See Complete-the-Quote Title above.
  • Murder by Inaction: Right after telling Regina that he's cutting her out of his will, Horace has a heart attack. Regina watches, refusing to get his medicine, waiting until he collapses to call for help. Horace dies a few hours later.
  • Nouveau Riche: The Hubbards remind William Marshall that they are not aristocrats but traders as they close a deal with him that will make them definitely rich. Dialogue explains how the Hubbards made their money by cheating and exploiting the ignorant black population of the town. In the backstory Oscar was able to use his new wealth to marry Impoverished Patrician Birdie and take control of her farm.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance: Horace plans to write a new will disinheriting his wife Regina. She's lucky that he dies first.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Regina defeats her brothers and gets control of the mill. But her daughter abandons her, leaving her alone in the world.
  • Sexless Marriage: Regina has not let her husband sleep with her for years. She claimed that there was something medically wrong with her, and hated him for believing her lie.
  • Slut-Shaming: Alexandra is scolded by her father for snubbing a friend's "powdered" acquaintance.
  • Stealing from the Till: Leo, who works at the bank, is strong-armed by his father into stealing $75,000 of Horace's bonds after Horace refuses to fund the mill.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: David bumps into someone as he follows the train saying goodbye to Alexandra.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Leo, a foppish young man who abuses horses and seems to use his job at the bank mostly as an opportunity for womanizing.
  • Villain Protagonist: All Regina wants is to receive the wealth that her brothers inherit (since only they can be heirs), yet she is also hostile towards her husband and daughter, and evens murders her husband when she does nothing to save him when he suffers a heart attack- and suffers no consequences for any of it.
  • White Sheep: Alexandra. Out of the whole family, the only ones are can be called decent or good are Birdie, Horace, and Alexandra; Alexandra stands out since she's the only one who is blood related to the Hubbards.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Horace is dying of heart disease. This makes him less willing than he used to be to put up with Regina.