Jezebel (Bilingual) [Import]
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Jezebel is also noted for its sumptuous sets and costumes, Fay Bainter's Oscar-winning performance and William Wyler's vivid direction, highlighted by a horrifying recreation of a yellow fever epidemic. But the film's greatest strength is Davis, whose titanic talent has never been better displayed than in Jezebel.
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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'.
In Jezebel, Miss Julie (Bette Davis), a headstrong and somewhat spoiled Southern girl, intentionally flounts the conventions of her time and manipulates people for her own amusement. But, after she humiliates her finacee, Preston (Henry Fonda) by wearing a red dress to a ball to which unmarried women only wear white, he feels she has gone too far with her selfishness and insensitivity to others and breaks off the engagement. Finally, Julie/Jezebel is able to redeem herself for her actions when Preston falls ill with yellowjack, a deadly fever.
Anyhow, even though the plot of Jezebel may make it seem like an average melodrama, the movie is far better than most because of Bette Davis' brilliant performance as Miss Julie (which won her an Oscar), the script, which mixes in other themes about the old South, and the direction, by William Wyler.
Since it is impossible not to hear the echoes of Margaret Mitchell's novel in the plot of "Jezebel," just enjoy the ride. It seems that Julie is upset with her fiance Preston Dillard (Henry Fonda), and intends to embarrass him at the Olympus Ball, the main social event in New Orleans where their engagement will be formally announced. Instead of wearing the traditional white gown worn by unmarried women, Scarlett shows up in a Julie dress, I mean Julie shows up in a red dress (unfortunately this is a black & white film, but you get the idea). However, her gambit backfires, the engagement is broken, and three years later Ashley, I mean, Preston arrives at Miss Julie's plantation with his bride Melanie, I mean, Amy (Margaret Lindsay). The climax of the film comes when a yellow fever epidemic sweeps New Orleans and strikes down Preston. Will Miss Julie risk her life to care for the man she loves? Hey, this is the south's greatest romance, is it not? By its own admission.
You might find Fonda a bit stilted as a dashing Southern gentleman, but this is Bette's film from start to finish. Both director William Wyler and Warner Bros' Studios helped fashion a superior character study with solid production values. Wyler would go on to direct Davis to other noted successes in "The Letter" (1940) and "The Little Foxes" (1941). Of course, Vivien Leigh would win the Oscar the following year and the two roles certainly have in common the fact they could not possibly have been viewed with more a critical eye by movie audiences.
Best Romantic Lines: (1) "I'm terribly sorry to be late. I had trouble with the colt....So sorry, but you know, when a colt gets high-handed, teach him his manners right now or ruin him."
(2) "Wasn't that memory more real than anything she had to give to you? Oh, don't be cross with me, Pres, just tell me. You must." (3) "I'm askin' for the chance to prove I can be brave and strong and unselfish. Help me, Amy. Help me make myself clean again as you are clean. Let me prove myself worthy of the love I bear him."
If you like "Jezebel," then check out these other films on the AFI's list: #2 "Gone With the Wind." Why? Sheesh, were you not paying attention to anything I said above?
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Bette Davis is an entertaining vixen, though at times her character Julie seems more like...Read more
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