THE HABITATION OF DRAGONS is the most unattractive adaptation of a stage piece in recent memory. Part of a seemingly never-ending cycle of domestic dramas by Horton Foote, this Southern Gothic puts the emphasis on its sour lead characters while around them, more tragedy occurs than can be
found in the collected works of Euripides.
Spurred on by his family's preferential treatment of his older brother Leonard (Fredric Forrest), struggling attorney George Tolliver (Brad Davis) defies family expectations by running for a county advocate seat. In the meantime, Leonard selfishly welcomes his brother-in-law Billy Dalton (Horton
Foote Jr.) into his legal firm instead of George, who was counting on the position. On the home front, Leonard is too self-absorbed to spot his wife Margaret's (Hallie Foote) ongoing affair with Wally (Elias Koteas), his business partner.
The Tolliver clan has been suffering under a curse since their patriarch committed suicide with a shotgun to escape financial ruin. Having declined to help his brother save face, the now penniless Uncle Virgil (Pat Hingle) throws himself on the mercy of his sister-in-law Lenora (Jean Stapleton).
While tending Leonard and Margaret s children on a fishing trip, Wally is unable to save them from drowning. Declaring these deaths to be a judgment on her adultery, Margaret breaks down. In the meantime, Billy rashly confronts Wally in a show down which precipitates Billy s shooting of Wally.
Defending Billy proves costly, as Leonard feels pressured to pay blackmail to Lester Whyte (David Smith), who confiscated Margaret and Wally's love letters, and to Wally's landlady Evelyn Sparks, who saw the shooting and holds a grudge against the proud Tollivers.
After Billy gets off, greedy Leonard reconciles with his brother and forgives his wife. Humbled by tragedies galore, Leonard discovers his humanity in the simple act of forgiveness.
THE HABITATION OF DRAGONS plays like an overwrought revamp of "The Little Foxes." But unlike Hellman s clear-sighted, still-timely work, this barnstormer feels like it s been packed in mothballs. Awarded the Pulitzer prize for drama in 1995, Horton Foote can write consummate, character-driven
masterworks (A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL, the screenplay for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD), but, taken as a whole, his oeuvre could charitably be called inconsistent. Not that this shrill, made-for-cable rendition of his work does much to emphasize the finer points of his script. Had the film contained a few
toned-downed performances and a graceful mise-en-scene, perhaps this familiar domestic tragedy might have proved more effective.
The emphasis here is on the Tolliver family's numerous secrets and tragedies, each of which seems more patently artificial than the next: among them, the Cain and Abel-like wrangling over property, sudden drownings that serve as a deus ex machina, and the family patriarch's hushed-up suicide.
Reducing every confrontation to Wysteria vine cliches with his unsubtle theatrics, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg further trivializes the character's emotions with proscenium staging which transforms the actors into puppets in a Dixie-style Punch and Judy Show instead of sticks, the participants
beat each other over the head with stored-up resentments.(Violence, adult situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: THE HABITATION OF DRAGONS is the most unattractive adaptation of a stage piece in recent memory. Part of a seemingly never-ending cycle of domestic dramas by Horton Foote, this Southern Gothic puts the emphasis on its sour lead characters while around them… (more)