William Wyler's The Little Foxes was based on Lillian Hellman's noted stage play, with Bette Davis in the lead role that Tallullah Bankhead had played with great success on Broadway. Since The Little Foxes opened just a year before Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons comparisons between the two films were inevitable. Surprisingly, some critics favored the Wyler film. For example, one critic wrote that Little Foxes dealt with similar themes but had more cumulative power than Magnificent Ambserons, though admitted that Wyler's film lacked the tremendous talents that Welles demonstrated in his.
Significantly, the nasty viciousness in the Hellman's work remained intact in the film version. Set at the same time as Magnificent Ambersons, around 1900, Hellman's morality drama examines the corruption and greed of the Hubbards, a second-generation family, in the Old South.
Regina Giddens (Bette Davis), a shrewd businesswoman, schemes, first against her dying husband, then against her two brothers. “You'll wreck the town,” charges Horace (Herbert Marshall) at his ambitious wife, “you'll wreck the country, if they let you, you and your kind.” Trapped in a loveless marriage to submissive, sickly man, Regina retorts, “I've always had contempt for you.” “Why did you marry me” asks the helpless Horace. “I thought you'd get the world for me,” she replies, conveying her disillusionment with love and marriage.
At the end, Regina cold-bloodedly lets Horace die by refusing to hand him his medicine. As a result, she also loses her only daughter, Alexandra (Teresa Wright), whom she truly loves. Left alone, Regina is framed behind a window, imprisoned in her own house, as her daughter leaves with David, the son of the poor seamstress from the “wrong” side of the tracks.
Regina's greedy and domineering matriarch stands in sharp opposition to Isabel's submissive and sacrificing mother in Magnificent Ambersons. And Alexandra, the sensitive adolescent, stands in diametric opposition to selfish brat that George, Isabel's son is.