The Fox (1967)

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Just in time for winter. Adapted from a novella by D. H. Lawrence, The Fox tells the tale of Jill and March, two women who’ve found they can manage a remote farm in the Canadian woods without any men around. Jill is the more neurotic and childish of the two women, played convincingly by Sandy Dennis. Sexy Anne Heywood plays the more obviously ‘hungry’ March–the more ‘masculine’, reflective woman with missing pieces where men are concerned.

Both women, though devoted to each other, become interested in Paul (Keir Dullea), an oddly attractive young man passing through the farm, the winter, and their  superficially stable lives. His initial interest in the indecisive March eventually leads to the triangle conflict and a brutal betrayal of Jill who has her own issues and missing pieces where the other two are concerned.

The movie unfolds slowly and leisurely in a timeless 1967 farm and woods setting with ominous animal (the fox of the title, birds and fowl) and nature (the “still-living” tree) symbolism. Numerous connections are made between intense male, female, and fox gazes (via close-ups and lighting) suggesting that the plot is largely about Nature and its larger ways of attraction, desire, passion, as well as an underlying ‘predatory human possession or ownership’ theme. In fact, there is a playful sensuality and edginess throughout the plot, even in the relatively unresolved, inconclusive denouement.

Characterization is mysterious, subtle, and harshly honest at times. (All three actors are at the peaks of their careers here.) Atmospheric music, by the great Lalo Schifrin, adds to the emotionally frozen winter landscape and the unstraightforward love triangle. Director Mark Rydell, who later directed On Golden Pond, shows a similar talent to keep everything under control (and wraps) while leaving the viewer in uncertainty and doubt as to where all the tense, anxious manoeuverings are headed. He and famed co-scriptwriter Howard Koch are to be applauded for their successfully adapting and filming Lawrence’s tricky original without any false steps.

*Recommended for viewers who like relationship triangles with a pronounced edge (e.g., X, Y and Zee or Sunday Bloody Sunday), for Lawrence fans, or for anyone who wants to see a surprisingly, flawless, moody, well-acted Canadian film.

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