Cast & Crew
On a desolate, snowbound Canadian farm, Jill Banford and Ellen March struggle to make their living by raising chickens. The more dependent and sensitive Jill tends to the kitchen chores and the bookkeeping, while the stronger and self-sufficient Ellen handles the heavier work--rebuilding broken fences, chopping wood, and stalking the red fox that raids their chicken coops. Jill seems happy with this arrangement, but Ellen is frustrated, particularly sexually, and she resorts to masturbation for satisfaction. One night a merchant seaman, Paul Grenfel, arrives to visit his grandfather, the deceased former owner of the farm. Having no other plans, Paul persuades the women to let him spend his leave with them and help with the work. Trouble develops when his obvious attraction to Ellen arouses Jill's bitter resentment. During a heated argument between the two women Paul takes a shotgun, goes out into the night, and kills the fox. Then, on the eve of his departure, he takes Ellen to an abandoned cabin, makes love to her, and urges her to go away with him. But Ellen cannot bring herself to abandon Jill. When Paul finally leaves to return to the sea, the depressed Ellen permits Jill to make love to her; and, as time passes, the women resume their former life. Ellen writes Paul, rejecting his marriage proposal. Then, while they are chopping down a dying oak, Paul suddenly returns. Taking the axe from Ellen, he warns Jill to step back lest the tree twist when it falls. But Jill petulantly ignores his advice and is killed as the giant oak crashes to the ground. Once Ellen has buried Jill and sold the farm, she goes with Paul. All that remains of the life the three persons shared is the skin of the dead fox, still hanging on the barn door where Paul nailed it.
Lewis John Carlino
William A. Fraker
Dennis was back in 1967 when Mark Rydell's movie The Fox, based on a 1923 story by D.H. Lawrence, brought bisexuality to the screen more candidly than anyone would have thought possible a couple of years earlier. Along with the 1969 movie of Women in Love, directed by Ken Russell with his usual mischievous pizzazz, Mark Rydell's adaptation of The Fox consolidated Lawrence's reputation as a naughty novelist whose books had newfound relevance in the dawning era of (mostly) uncensored cinema. Raymond Stross, the film's producer, wanted to create exactly that impression with scenes of nudity, masturbation, and lesbian sex that were dramatically justified and tastefully handled-a combination he felt would give the picture broad appeal.
To be fair, Dennis played the nice-girl role-or rather, the not-so-bad-girl role-in The Fox, leaving the sex and nudity to costar Anne Heywood, except for a kissing scene with both of them. Seen today, even the film's raunchiest material seems barely out of PG-13 territory. But in 1967 such stuff was fresh and unfamiliar, and The Fox drew added publicity from the mini-controversy that greeted it.
Dennis and Heywood play Jill and Ellen, two lively young women living on a small Canadian farm. Although they raise ducks and chickens for income, their real reason for moving away from civilization was to enjoy "the good life, independence and all that," as Jill puts it. But it's easy to suspect that the real reason is sexual attraction between them. Even if they haven't acted on their feelings, repressed same-sex love would account for the pleasure they take in an isolated life with no close neighbors and not a man in sight.
The man situation changes when a guy named Paul shows up, unaware that the farm's former owner (his grandfather) sold the place before his death. Paul has no other place to stay, so the women agree to put him up if he'll help with the heavy chores. Before long he's fixing the roof, shooting wild ducks for dinner, killing the fox that's been raiding their henhouse, and-trouble ahead!-falling for Ellen, who gradually comes to share his feelings. Eventually they tell Jill, who angrily says there's no room on the farm for a married couple. Paul goes away to get things ready for his new life; when he returns to fetch Ellen, the love triangle gets resolved in a sadly unexpected way.
The Fox had two screenwriters. One was Lewis John Carlino, a relative newcomer who'd penned the excellent science-fiction movie Seconds in 1966; the other was Howard Koch, a veteran with 1940s classics like Casablanca (1942) and Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) to his credit. The most important choice they made in adapting Lawrence's book was to change the setting from England in 1918 to Canada in the present day, apparently hoping to make the story more relevant for modern moviegoers.
From today's perspective, however, this carries a big drawback. It's easy to imagine two Englishwomen of the late Edwardian era being clueless about their lesbian inclinations--like female versions of the Brokeback Mountain cowboys--but it's less likely that savvy, independent Canadians of the late 1960s would feel compelled to hide their feelings even from themselves, at least until lusty Paul arrives to raise the household's sexuality level. It's also worth mentioning that Keir Dullea plays Paul as a self-confident young gentleman, a far cry from the unsophisticated twenty-year-old of Lawrence's novel.
Pauline Kael noted problems like these when she reviewed The Fox, saying that even if such an adaptation "should be done with artistry, even if Lawrence's conceptions should be retained," the result would probably lack "the kind of impact that Lawrence's writing had" when it originally appeared decades earlier. Kael also complained about the film's klutzy symbolism, which the distributors tried to clarify in ads explaining that the fox is "the symbol of the male." The show-biz newspaper Variety provided explanations too, telling readers that the "shotgun, axe, carving knife, tree, pitchfork, etc." are examples of "phallic symbology." Thanks for enlightening us!
Although some critics found The Fox too tasteful for its own good, others commended it for challenging Hollywood's sexual timidity. In the acting department, Heywood and Dullea got generally good notices. So did director Rydell, making his feature-film debut after a dozen years of TV shows. Variety said he showed "meritorious pictorial ability" even though the film is "dramatically uneven."
As for Sandy Dennis, reviewers were mixed. Roger Ebert said she did well with a role that "could have become ridiculous." Time said she made her character "fully as enraging and pathetic as she should be." Renata Adler of the New York Times said Dennis was burdened with the need "to shout lines of plot exposition almost at the top of her lungs," but conceded that eventually her tone begins to "work within the part rather than against it." Kael, who rarely minced words, said Dennis showed courage for taking on a difficult role, but had "made an acting style out of postnasal drip."
It's hard to say what D.H. Lawrence would have made of the movie, but chances are he would have approved, if only because it helped to break down a worn-out censorship system. And he would surely have hooted at viewers who were offended by its elegantly photographed sexuality. "Pornography is the attempt to insult sex," he wrote in 1929, "to do dirt on it." That's something Rydell's movie never does.
Producer: Raymond Stross
Director: Mark Rydell
Screenplay: Lewis John Carlino, Howard Koch, based on D.H. Lawrence's novella
Cinematographer: William Fraker
Film Editing: Thomas Stanford
Art Direction: Charles Bailey
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Sandy Dennis (Jill), Keir Dullea (Paul), Anne Heywood (Ellen), Glyn Morris (Overstreet).
by David Sterritt
Oh March, you're terrible!- Jill Banford
How come you've never married? You're not bad looking... You've never had a man. That's your problem.- Paul Renfield
Locaton scenes filmed around Toronto, Canada.
The Country of Canada
Released in United States Winter December 29, 1967
Film marks Mark Rydell's directorial debut.
Released in United States Winter December 29, 1967