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Bette Davis' Kabuki Makeup in Key Scene in LITTLE FOXES


FredfromNJ
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One of the most famous scenes in Bette Davis' career (SPOILER ALERT) is when she permits husband Herbert Marshall to die by not giving him his medicine in THE LITTLE FOXES when he suffers an attack. Cinematographer Gregg Toland's deft use of depth of field photography memorably shows us Davis' implacable cold stare in the foreground while in the distance behind her Marshall struggles futilely to make it up the stairs.

 

In the prelude to this action, Davis' Regina enters the scene with starkly chalky makeup rendering her almost like a Kabuki actor or a warmup for her facial as Baby Jane. It rather too strongly (to me at least) telegraphs that we have a death scene coming up.

 

The pallid makeup adds a note of eeriness to Regina's glacial gaze as her husband goes through his death throes. However, at least in my viewing last night I found the makeup heavy-handed and distracting from the drama of the situation.

 

I checked on this and according to at least one Wyler biography, Davis and director William Wyler clashed over her interpretation of Regina. Wyler thought her makeup made Davis look like a clown but she clung to her depiction of the character which was apparently closer to Tallulah Bankhead's portrayal in the play than Wyler wanted.

Wyler wanted the character to be lighter and more nuanced but Davis wanted to be no less a monster than Bankhead.

 

Did anyone else here find Davis' makeup distracting or too artificial for the scene?

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Great post, Fred. I just finished watching this and that scene is fresh in my mind.

 

I am going to side with Davis on this one. Hellman's story could easily be retitled Monsters and Devils. These are inwardly grotesque people, and I think Davis is right to say it must reflect outwardly, too.

 

This is not a drama as much as it is a horror story.

 

I noticed the way they kept denying the audience close-ups of these characters during their confrontation downstairs. Marshall only gets two brief close-ups and Davis tends to be given medium shots. Sometimes in this film I think they are featuring the furniture and the other set design too much at the expense of the story. If Hitchcock had filmed this, he would have let Davis play a monster without a fuss, and he would have taken it in to close-ups and extreme close-ups, especially when Marshall collapses.

 

Even upstairs, when he is on his deathbed and Teresa Wright's character is at his side, they are afraid to give him a lengthy close-up. In fact, they cut to the domestic servant and then go right down to Davis telling her brothers that Marshall just died.

 

So I have more of an issue with the editing and camera shots, then I do with Davis' interpretation of the role and her make-up.

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are you kidding? The use of the rice powder makeup was one of the most brilliant decisions I've heard of. It reflects the true cold nature of Regina, and also shows that she is no longer a young and beautiful woman, and needs to apply lots of makeup. Her cold steely eyes, the tight red lips , her painted white face reflected against the netting hanging off her hat when she came in and found out about the bonds from Horace,,,oooo what a moment. I actually held my breath! When that movie ends, I just feel like the world needs to be silent for 5 seconds before just saying "what a great movie". How in the world did Bette Davis not win the best actress award for The Little Foxes I will never understand.

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I *LOVE* when she does that with her hair. It is a master-stroke of characterization. It's especially great that we don't even really see the hair, but Regina does and she must deal with it.

 

One thing the stark white makeup does is make her teeth look ghoulish (back in the day before everyone in Hollywood had bleached white Chiclets for teeth.) So that when she smiles--which is usually an unpleasant thing--her teeth are much darker than her face and add to that monstrous quality.

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