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Star of the Month: Fredric March
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Another Part of the Forest

From about the mid-1930s through the mid-40s, Lillian Hellman was one of the best-known and most successful playwrights in America. Her play The Children's Hour premiered on Broadway in 1934, running for nearly 700 performances and was turned into a well-received (if drastically altered) film These Three (1936). Her own personal favorite play and by far her most critically and commercially successful, The Little Foxes, opened in New York in early 1939 and ran for 410 performances. The story of a greedy, duplicitous family in the turn-of-the-century South (Hellman was born in New Orleans in 1905), it was adapted to film in 1941, earning nine Academy Award nominations and big box office. When the picture opened at Radio City Music Hall, it set an attendance record of 22,000 people on its opening day.

Buoyed by the success of that film, Hellman wrote a "prequel" about the nasty Hubbard family, showing the characters many years earlier and depicting the roots of the family's problems and machinations. Hellman herself directed the Broadway production of Another Part of the Forest, which opened in November 1946. It was not quite the commercial success of its predecessor, running for 182 performances, but it was well-received critically, earning among other awards a Tony for Patricia Neal in her Broadway debut as the younger version of Regina Hubbard, the lead character from The Little Foxes created by Tallulah Bankhead on stage and Bette Davis on film.

When Universal bought the film rights to the play for its 1948 release, Hellman was not hired to adapt the script. That was entrusted to Vladimir Pozner, who had received an Oscar nomination for his original story for The Dark Mirror (1946), his sophomore screenwriting effort. The Little Foxes had been brought to the screen by the esteemed director William Wyler, but this follow-up was entrusted to Michael Gordon, who up to this point had only directed low-budget crime thrillers. A couple years later he would guide José Ferrer to an Oscar-winning performance in Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), but Gordon's career was truncated by the Hollywood Red Scare of the 1950s. When he finally returned to feature film directing, he took on light romantic comedies, notably the Doris Day vehicles Pillow Talk (1959) and Move Over, Darling (1963), and the Lana Turner melodrama Portrait in Black (1960).

Although not the box office success of the earlier Hellman film about the Hubbard family, the prequel did garner some good reviews. The New York Times called it "a compelling entertainment" and praised Pozner's screen treatment and Gordon's direction. Time magazine said Gordon's work was a "nearly perfect example of how to film a play. There is hardly a shot which does not set up visual tension against the lashing, steel-spring dialogue; there is not a single performance which is short of adequate."

Pozner received a Writers Guild of America nomination for Best Written American Drama and another for Screenplay Dealing Most Ably with Problems of the American Scene.

Ann Blyth, best known to audiences up to this time as the scheming Veda in Mildred Pierce (1945), plays the Bankhead-Davis character as a young woman getting a lesson in shrewdness and amorality from her older brothers Oscar (Dan Duryea, playing the father of the character he played in The Little Foxes) and Ben (Edmond O'Brien) and their father Marcus, a businessman who got rich on shady deals during the Civil War. Marcus is played by Fredric March and his long-suffering wife Lavinia by March's real-life wife, Florence Eldridge, the first time the two played spouses on screen but not their first film together. Although she stayed busy on stage, Eldridge had not acted in a movie since her role as Queen Elizabeth I in the Katharine Hepburn vehicle Mary of Scotland (1936), which also featured March as Hepburn's love interest.

Some sources claim Hellman had intended to make her story of the Hubbard family a trilogy, but she never completed a third installment.

Director: Michael Gordon
Producer: Jerry Bresler
Screenplay: Vladimir Pozner, based on the play by Lillian Hellman
Cinematography: Hal Mohr
Editing: Milton Carruth
Art Direction: Robert Boyle, Bernard Herzbrun
Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Fredric March (Marcus Hubbard), Dan Duryea (Oscar Hubbard), Edmond O'Brien (Ben Hubbard), Ann Blyth (Regina Hubbard), Florence Eldridge (Lavinia Hubbard)

By Rob Nixon

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