Monday, February 22, 2010

113. JEZEBEL (1938)

Running Time: 103 minutes
Directed By: William Wyler
Written By: Clements Ripley, Abem Finkel, John Huston, Robert Buckner, from play by Owen Davis
Main Cast: Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, George Brent, Donald Crisp, Fay Bainter


I hope you all enjoyed the Top 20 list that I posted and it was nice being able to reflect on all of the films that I've watched this far, good and bad. I'm ready to tackle the next 100 films in the book and we're kicking it off with "Jezebel", a film that had massive potential, in the form of, William Wyler, John Huston, Bette Davis and Henry Fonda, but seemed to come up a bit short, at least as far as my tastes are concerned.

Bette Davis plays the lead role of Julie Marsden, a spoiled, southern belle who is engaged to banker Pres Dillard (Fonda). When she interrupts him in the middle of a big banking deal and forces him to go with her to shop for a new dress, he refuses. In retaliation for his refusal, she buys a red one, a big no-no at the time, as only white dresses were meant to be worn by unmarried women. Despite his arguments telling her to change the dress, her strong will prevails and she wears the red one to the Olympus Ball. Once at the ball, Julie realizes the mistake she made, as everyone is staring at her, but Pres doesn't budge, forcing her to live with her blunder and dance with him. When they arrive back home, later that night, they break off their engagement. After her embarrassment and her broken engagement, Julie takes shelter in her home, refusing to leave or see visitors.

One year passes and Julie still dwells in her home, regretting her decision to wear the red dress and thus cause arguments between her and her true love, Pres Dillard. Meanwhile, Pres has gone North, and word arrives that he's arriving back in town, to help Dr. Livingstone (Crisp), to convince city authorities to take measures against a recent outbreak of yellow fever. When Julie hears that Pres is returning, she decides that she'll make the best of it, suiting up in her best white dress and planning to beg forgiveness of Pres. Her and her family take refuge in their big plantation house and await the arrival of Pres and other visitors. Julie can't wait to see Pres and reconnect with him, however, when he arrives he unveils his new wife, whom he married in the North. The moment when Julie meets Amy, Pres' new wife, is a absolutely gripping one, where we wait for Julie to go into hysterics, but it never happens. With an outbreak of yellow fever sweeping New Orleans, the love triangle plays out and eventually Pres is sent into the heart of the infected area, possibly never to return.

I am a huge Henry Fonda fan and didn't even know he was in this until the beginning credits rolled. He was fantastic in it, playing the good guy with a stern head about him and Bette Davis was fine too, as the spoiled belle. This was actually my first Bette Davis movie ever and so far, I'm semi-impressed with what I've seen, although I'd have to chalk up most of my disappointments to the plot in general. It just wasn't for me, and I never imagined Henry Fonda as a 19th century, New Orleans banker, although, I'll say it again...he played it well. I just couldn't get into this one as much as I would've liked to and I really have no out and out reasons why. I just wasn't feeling this one at all, and despite some really good performances, I'd have to call this one a fairly average film. There are some really good scenes though, such as, when Julie meets Amy and the duel between Julie's other lover, Buck and Pres' brother, Ted, which Julie eggs on and the scene is carefully constructed and plays out very well.

RATING: 5/10 I'm glad Fonda is on the scene now, as I really love his work and acting and I'll look forward to future Bette Davis roles, that suit my taste better.

NEXT UP: The Adventures of Robin Hood...I've been waiting a long time to see this one and after seeing Flynn in "Captain Blood", I can't wait to see what he does with the story of Robin Hood.

February 22, 2010 5:01pm


  1. I hope 'The Letter' is on your list. Probably Davis' finest moment.

  2. I just checked and "The Letter" isn't on the list. I'll have to take your advice and check it out in my free time though. Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. I'm not sure if you check old posts for comments, but have only just been able to catch up with this one. Warners attempt to do a spoiler for GWTW
    This started SO well, and I thought I was in for a cracking time.. and I was for most of it, but it faded towards the end. I loved how one's sympathy for Julie was altered so skillfuly.. At first you are very much with her. What is so wrong with appearing to friends in a riding dress (not that she was muddy or sweaty.. and even a riding dress of the time was so formal. Loved the way she hoked up the trail of it to go up the steps.She is open and friendly.. even seems respectful and polite to the slaves. But then she gets petulant when dennied her way.. So OK, Pre's had promised to see the dress, but he was caught in an important business meeting.Like it or not getting caught in important busines meetings is what important business people do. Sorry Julie, if you want a rich persons life style, you have to let someone make money. (and I somehow don't thing it's going to be you..)
    Now her stubbeness in defying convention, so likeable in one case, looks like a stroppy 2 year old, and she will not be told - by anyone. So deep in, there is little escape, but even back home, she won't back down a little and apologise or have someone call him back.
    What we were supposed to make of Pres' behaviour that evening, I'm not sure. At first it seems supportive. He will take her. He defiently stares down people who look outraged, and will dance with her. He insists on the band continuing to play. Is he saying 'She is my love and I stick by her' - or is he humiliating her by refusing her pleas to go home? And did Buck chicken out of being seen with her in THAT dress - or did he realise her game and refuse to play?
    So far, very good. Very good indeed - the film is heading full stream for at least 8 or 9 points. But then film convention says an indipentant minded woman has to be brought down and put in place. Pres behaves attrociuosly by just turning up a year later with a newly aquired wife - no advance notice of having met someone, no invites to the wedding.. not even a curt Emil or text.. just suddenly 'look, I've married someone'.. and we have to see Julie humiliated and suplicating before him. And that sacrificial ending. Oh dear...
    But still, I'd rate it well it.. and it is a good day or two shorter than GWTW.
    By the way, 'The letter' is good.

  4. Yeah Ray, I see all the comments on the main page when I visit blogger, old or new. Thanks for taking the time to write such a well thought out and lengthy comment.

  5. I could never shake the feeling that this was somehow a low(er) budget version of Gone with the Wind. The movie itself was fine but unremarkable except for Bette Davis, who does a good job making you care for her even when her behavior is less than admirable. I generally like Henry Fonda, but I couldn't buy him as a Southerner.
    What most stuck me about the film was its treatment of slavery. It didn't strike me as particularly pro-slavery or racist, but it also definitely wasn't anti-slavery. Really the topic of slavery wasn't directly addressed - the slaves were just there. Could you make a film today about Southern slave owners without directly addressing the issue of slavery?

    1. Hmmm good question. I'm sure it could be done, but would have to be treated with kid gloves and even then you'd have people coming out of the woodwork to condemn something, like that. I seem to remember many old films where slaves are just THERE and not really addressed.

  6. We continue to be very grateful for the 'recent comments' feature...
    Greetings again William...with a very good point.
    It sounds wrong.. but I have to say that in a film like this, the slaves just 'being there' is perfectly valid. No comment is needed. You can then make different (named) characters react in differing ways, thus revealing aspects of their (personal) character, without having to comment on the institution.Today, one feels it would be necessary to make a point.

    1. I guess the slaves just being there is probably true to life too, because that's probably how it was. I think it COULD be done today, but, like I said, it would be tricky and you'd still have people jumping their case about it.


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