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Difficult Women

February 15, 2010

by John Farr

Bette Davis. Ann Blyth. Mary Tyler Moore. Three masterful portrayals of nasty women.

The Little Foxes (1941)


Married to husband Horace (Herbert Marshall) for his money, Regina Giddens (Bette Davis) and her leech-like brothers steal from him to invest in a cotton mill while the poor man recuperates from heart problems. When Horace returns and discovers the theft, Regina must cover her tracks, and inevitably becomes the victim of her own consuming greed.


Adapted from Lillian Hellman’s Broadway smash, the third and final collaboration between William Wyler and leading lady Bette Davis, again playing a viper in petticoats, is a poisonous, effective drama set in the turn-of-the-century South. Davis was never so wicked, playing Regina to the icy hilt. A fabulous cast and authentic 1900s detail bring Hellman’s loathsome characters to vivid life. Is this what they mean by Southern hospitality?

Mildred Pierce (1945)


This timeless, tawdry Joan Crawford melodrama is based on the James Cain story of a ruthless career woman (Joan Crawford), who will do anything to ensure her daughter Veda (Ann Blyth) gets all the advantages she never enjoyed. Veda grows into a spoiled monster, but the other characters surrounding the hard-working Mildred aren’t too sympathetic either, whether it’s the oily Monty Berrigan (Zachary Scott) whom Mildred thinks she loves, or lascivious realtor Wally Fay (Jack Carson), who just might help Mildred if she becomes friendlier. There’s a foul odor in this town, and it may be the scent of murder.


Here Curtiz the master creates a diabolical murder yarn. Crawford resuscitated her fading career with the driven Mildred, a part she was born to play. The Oscar- nominated Blyth grates as the hateful Veda (hard for her not to), and Scott and Carson each ooze their particular brand of acid as the calculating men in Mildred’s life. For a vicarious glimpse into seamy small town intrigue, you can’t beat this one. Joan won an Oscar.

Ordinary People (1980)


Adolescent-aged son Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton) must painfully rebuild his life and relationships, particularly that with his parents (Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore), after his beloved older brother dies in a boating accident.


“People” is one of the more harrowing films out there (without blood or violence) thanks to Redford’s inspired direction and flawless turns by Sutherland, Moore and especially Hutton. Penetrating and painful to watch, the film delivers ample emotional rewards. Redford’s first foray behind the camera, the film won the Oscars for Best Picture and Director, as did young Hutton for Supporting Actor. A must.

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