This is a generally good film. One main reason it is so good is because Samuel Goldwyn was able re-cast many of the actors that originated their roles in this dark story of an avaricious Southern family. However in the pivotal roles of Regina Giddens, Horace Giddens and Alexandra Giddens he cast three actors with significant drawing power at the box office.
Regina is played to an icy tee by the formidable Bette Davis. The scene in which Horace has a fatal heart attack is ten times more chilling than any of the horror camp classics Davis would make later in her career. And it exemplifies her performance. Her body is taut and bound, her jaw and mouth are locked into a hard line which thaws only when she turns on the sexual heat. And in that early 1900s way, she does do it! To Regina power is sex and when she gets the upper hand on her brothers, her eyes glitter and her smile is bright. Some of those Davis-isms like the swinging hips and spider-like hands come out to great effect.
Horace Giddens is played in a subdued fashion by Herbert Marshall, a largely forgotten actor now but in his time was much used as a romatic lead, then the upstanding husband type. Marshall is unforgettable in this part. Even though Horace's body is failing, he still wants to believe he is in control. He is still trying to fulfill his role of concerned parent. He even wants to be a loving husband to his embittered wife Regina.
Teresa Wright, whom Goldwyn wanted to make a star, was cast as Alexandra, the guileless daughter whose eyes are opened to her mother's true ways in the nick of time. Wright had played Alexandra on tour in 1940 so she had a knowledge of the part. She is sweet and refreshing as a glass of lemonade with blueberries.
The rest of the cast is challenged to bring something new to roles they had lived with for two Broadway seasons. And they do! Each and every one of them from Charles Dingle as the domineering Hubbard brother Ben to Jessie Grayson as the loyal maid Addie gets an extra mile from their characters. But special words must be spoken about Dan Duryea as the pusillanimous Leo Hubbard. Duryea is the essence of a sleazy overentitled young man without a sense of responsibilty. And Patricia Collinge, as his mother Birdie, is brilliant. She has the challenge of establishing so much of her character is so little time. And she does it in a true and enduring fashion. It is a heart-breaking performance that stays with the viewer long after her final scene. And Collinge shows she was a fine, fine actress.
There is a lot of back story on this film and how Davis was at a loss to approach Regina in a different way. There are even stories about how she may have been replaced by Katharine Hepburn because of her many skirmishes with director Wyler. Who cares? The final product endures with strength and pride, in spite of a horrid score by composer Meredith Willson.