Jill Banford and Ellen March struggle to support themselves by raising chickens on an isolated farm in rural Canada. Dependent Jill tends to household chores and finances while the self-sufficient Ellen deals with heavier work, such as chopping wood, repairing fences, and stalking the fox that keeps raiding their coops, although she is hesitant about killing it. Jill seems content with their secluded existence, but the frustrated Ellen is less enchanted by the solitude.
In the dead of winter, merchant seaman Paul Grenfel arrives in search of his grandfather, the now-deceased former owner of the farm. With nowhere else to go while on leave, he persuades the women to allow him to stay with them in exchange for helping with the work. Tension among the three slowly escalates when his attentions to Ellen arouse Jill's resentment and jealousy. When he proposes marriage to Ellen, Jill is first outraged, then hysterically fearful, even trying to bribe Paul to leave.
Eventually Paul tracks and kills the fox. Just before his departure, he makes love to Ellen and asks her to elope with him, but she confesses she would feel guilty if she abandoned Jill. After Paul returns to his ship, Jill confesses her feelings for Ellen, and the two women make love. Ellen writes to Paul, explaining that her place is with Jill and that she cannot marry him.
Several weeks later, Paul returns unexpectedly as the two women are chopping down a dying oak. He offers to complete the job and warns Jill to move away from the tree's potential path. In a standoff of wills, Jill refuses to move as Paul continues to chop at the tree. The falling tree crushes Jill, and she dies.
Ellen sells the farm, and she and Paul set off to start a new life together. Knowing that she is silently mourning the loss of Jill, Paul assures Ellen that she will be happy in her new life. Sadly and uncertainly, she asks, "Will I?"
In adapting Lawrence's novella for the screen, Lewis John Carlino and Howard Koch opted to change the setting from 1918 England to contemporary Canada in an effort to make the plot more relevant for late-1960s audiences.
The film was shot on location on a farm in Laskay, Ontario and at a studio lot in Kleinburg, Ontario.
The song "That Night," with music by Lalo Schifrin and lyrics by Norman Gimbel, is performed by Sally Stevens.
The film was released soon after the dissolution of the Motion Picture Association of America Production Code and includes scenes of nudity, masturbation, sexual activity involving Paul and Ellen, and physical relations between two females. Rated R at the time of its original release, it was re-edited and rated PG in 1973.Sandy Dennis ..... Jill Banford
Anne Heywood ..... Ellen March
Keir Dullea ..... Paul Grenfel
The film score was composed, arranged and conducted by Lalo Schifrin and the soundtrack album was released on the Warner Bros. label in 1968. The main theme has since acquired notoriety in France as the music for Dim tights commercials.
All compositions by Lalo Schifrin except as indicated
Lalo Schifrin – arranger, conductor
Vincent DeRosa, Richard Perissi – French horn
Sheridon Stokes, Louise Dissman – flute
John Neufeld – clarinet
William Criss – oboe
William Herzberg – bassoon
Artie Kane, Caesar Giovannini – piano
Tommy Tedesco – guitar
Ken Watson, Joe Porcaro, Emil Richards – percussion
Erno Neufeld, Marvin Limonick – violin
Myra Kestenbaum – viola
Raphael Kramer – cello
Dorothy Remsen – harp
Sally Stevens (track 7), Anne Heywood (track 10) – vocals
Lloyd Basham – orchestra manager
- "Theme from the Fox" – 2:26
- "Frost Trees" – 2:19
- "Soft Clay" – 1:58
- "Ellen's Image" – 3:27
- "Dead Leaf" – 2:50
- "Foxhole" – 2:11
- "That Night" (Schifrin, Norman Gimbel) – 2:39
- "Foxtail" – 2:11
- "Paul's Memories" – 2:04
- "Roll It Over" (Schifrin, Gimbell) – 2:17
- "Trembling" – 2:40
- "Lonely Road" – 2:04
- "Dripping Icicles" – 3:02
Renata Adler of The New York Times called the film "a good and interesting movie" and continued, "The pace and the quality of the color, muted and unnatural, with many scenes photographed in shadows of various kinds, convey a brooding sense of something not quite right with everyone, rather like the tone of Reflections in a Golden Eye."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the film "a quiet, powerful masterpiece" and added, "Do not go to see The Fox because of its subject matter, and do not stay away for that reason. The scenes which disturbed Chicago's reactionary censors are filmed with quiet taste and an intuitive knowledge of human nature. And they are only a small part of a wholly natural film. Indeed, it is the natural ease of the film that is so appealing . . . The delicately constructed atmosphere of cold and snow, of early sunsets and chill lingering in the corners, establishes the tone . . . Miss Dennis has a difficult role [that] . . . could have become ridiculous, but [she] manages it well. Dullea is also stronger than he has been in other recent performances. Since David and Lisa, he has been trapped into playing a series of insecure, weak characters; this time, as the dominant personality, he is altogether successful. And he meets his match in Miss Heywood."
TV Guide called it "an uneven adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's novella" and rated it three out of five stars.
The film was the fifth most popular movie in general release in Britain in 1968.
Awards and honors
Because it was made in Canada, the film qualified for, and won, Best Foreign Film in the English Language at the 25th Golden Globe Awards. It also was nominated for Best Screenplay and Best Director, and Anne Heywood was nominated Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama.
Lalo Schifrin was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Music Score and the Grammy Award for the Best Original Score from a Motion Picture or Television Show.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – Nominated