Popular and beautiful Fanny Trellis is forced into a loveless marriage with an older man, Jewish banker Job Skeffington, in order to save her beloved brother Trippy from an embezzlement charge, and predictable complications result.
Set in antebellum New Orleans during the early 1850's, this film follows Julie Marsden through her quest for social redemption on her own terms. Julie is a beautiful and free spirited, rapacious Southern belle who is sure of herself and controlling of her fiancé Preston Dillard, a successful young banker. Julie's sensitive but domineering personality--she does not want so much to hurt as to assert her independence--forces a wedge between Preston and herself. To win him back, she plays North against South amid a deadly epidemic of yellow fever which claims a surprising victim. Written by
Adam Brodsky <email@example.com>
It is 1850's New Orleans, and Julie Marsten (Davis), a head-strong young woman who doesn't find it the least improper to be late for her own engagement party because she feels like riding her horse instead, is getting married to Preston Dillard (Fonda). Unfortunately, Preston isn't at the party because he is hammering out business at his family's bank; when they are married, he and Julie will be moving north, an almost sacrilegious action during this time. Buck Cantrell (George Brent) is Julie's former beau, who remains a family friend and still defends Julie's honor. One day, when Preston doesn't drop everything to attend a dress fitting for Julie that he had originally promised to attend, she defiantly insists that she purchase a red dress, breaking the white dress only tradition for the ball they were attending. Despite the protestations of everyone she knows, including Preston, she wears the dress to the ball, causing her to be ostracized and the official break up of her engagement to Preston when he realizes that he cannot deal with her headstrong attitude. He leaves for the north without her, and comes back a year later with a surprise, and sees that Yellow Fever has gripped New Orleans, a peril that threatens everyone.
"Jezebel" is a tale of defiance, love and redemption. Davis plays her role so well that it is hard to determine whether you want to support her or marginalize her as a spoiled brat. I think that even when the film was made, (1938) the lines were still blurred as to how many freedoms and how much free-thinking should be afforded to women. It is easy for me to say that Julie's red dress was much ado about nothing, but then again, this is the millennium, when nothing is overtly shocking anymore. The mere fact that I thought so much about a classic film (which generally has throwaway plots) is a true testament to Davis' performance and the writing, under William Wyler's direction. "Jezebel" is essentially "Gone with the Wind" without the budget or the color, and was made the year before that film was released. Most of the characters are fairly throwaway, but the subject is Julie, and her development is amazing and very believable, despite the melodramatic genre. This is a film that most classic film lovers have seen, I'm sure (I am apparently a late bloomer in regard to this film) but if you are one and you haven't seen it, or are a Bette Davis fan, see this movie. Most of her late 30's to 1950 films are so spectacular just because of her performance (if the rest is good, it's gravy), and this is one of her best known performances. 7/10 --Shelly
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