Top positive review
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Oscar-Winning, Oscar-Deserving. Excellent.
on March 11, 2004
Poor Jack Warner. Imagine having to be the man who denied Bette Davis the role of Scarlett O' Hara. Imagine Bette's rage at the success of that particular picture. Imagine poor Jack's mind working nineteen tot he dozen, desperately searching for something, ANYTHING, to appease the wrath of The Davis.
Happily, Jack Warner came up with this: a 1938 movie about a spoilt southern Belle whose willful machinations eventually lose her the man whom she truly adores.
In my opinion, this is quite possibly Bette Davis' best ever moment in motion pictures. As Jezebel, she is old enough and established as an actress to bring real depth and credibility to the role, while being young enough so as not have established the Davis Trademarks to demean the role with. Playing the part of Julie Marsden, the titular Jezebel, Davis displays a rare understated pathos and a real sense of connection to her role. As with Regina Giddens in 'The Little Foxes', Bette's mastery of her craft is best displayed in the role of Julie. She is an emotional powerhouse, and the 'Let's raise a Ruckus' scene, as well as the final scenes of the picture, showcase that Oscar-winning mastery beautifully.
Henry Fonda is totally acceptable as the henpecked, hapless Preston Dillard, and in places gives a performance to match Bette's own. Other impressive supporting cast turns come in the shape of Margaret Lindsay as Yankee interloper Amy Bradford Dillard and the always-excellent Fay Bainter as Aunt Belle Massey.
Direction for the period is superior, too. Paced perfectly and beautifully photographed, William Wyler (whose talent is surely the only one to rival Joe L. Manckewiecz) has created a visual backdrop of opposite poles of emotion - the hubbub of city life, the quiet languor of plantation, and the terror and chaos of the epidemic are all as convincing as they are captivating. The infamous Red Dress scene has lost none of it's power, even after 74 years, Wyler's depiction of social ostracisation and slow realisation is masterful.
The DVD transfer for a 74 year old film is as good as can be expected. Sadly in parts the contrast between black & white is not as sharp as it could be, and the special features are not so good, but neither of these minor bad points will detract rom the overall majesty of 'Jezebel'.