In one of her most renowned roles, Bette Davis portrays Julie Marsden, a spoiled Southern belle who risks losing her suitor with her impetuous behavior. Engaged to successful banker Preston Dillard, Julie pushes him away with her arrogant and contrary ways, leading to a scandalous scene at a major social event and his subsequent departure. When Preston eventually returns and Julie attempts to win him back, she discovers that it may be too late.Written by
As Mrs. Kendrick and Stephanie go up the steps to the porch of Julie's house, we see a diagonal ray of light shine across the front door. Just before Uncle Cato opens the door, the light is gone. See more »
Boy, stop here.
Might as well get us a bottle.
Julie'll have plenty to drink at the ball.
Yes, pardon Dick - always messed up with cherries n' such. Come on.
Wait right here.
Yes sir, Mr. Cantrell sir.
[Buck and Dick enter the St. Louis Hotel]
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The credits are blurred across the screen. See more »
Also available in a computer colorized version. See more »
An der schönen, blauen Donau (On the Beautiful Blue Danube), Op. 314
Music by Johann Strauss See more »
"Girls don't have to simp around in white"
There are lots of cases in classic-era Hollywood where a hit movie has been followed by a lesser copycat from a rival studio. However, the gargantuan and protracted production of David O. Selznick's Gone with the Wind was of such public interest that Warner Brothers could actually pre-emptively get on board the antebellum melodrama bandwagon before it really got going. And thus Jezebel became Warner's 1938 vehicle for its top female star, Bette Davis.
Davis had already won considerable critical and popular acclaim, establishing her type as the archetypal woman scorned. Despite having already won an Oscar for Dangerous in 1935, this is her first really magnificent performance. Her earliest work, while certainly very powerful, was often a little exaggerated and lacking control. In Jezebel however she manages to cram in all that fiery personality, even into tiny details like the way her head bobs as she walks, but with so much more finesse and restraint. The result is very realistic but still utterly engaging. Her lead man Henry Fonda could not match her for experience but he has a decent manly presence that makes him well-cast here. Fine support is given by Fay Bainter, acting like the movie's conscience, numerous reactions playing out on her face. There's also Donald Crisp, struggling with a southern drawl even though he was normally a master at accents, but giving a commanding turn all the same. And finally, watch out for a young(ish) Eddie "Rochester" Anderson.
It's no wonder there is so much top class acting in Jezebel when the director is William Wyler. Wyler, known for his repeated takes and painstaking perfectionism, no doubt had a hand in shaping Davis's sublime performance. But what Wyler also does is actually draw our focus upon the right person and the right facet of their performance for any given moment. Look at the social gathering scene where we first meet Davis and Bainter's characters. Wyler is continually rearranging the players and the camera to frame one face or another. The following scene at the bank's boardroom begins with a fairly standard establishing sweep across the table. Now, remember that Henry Fonda wasn't an especially big star at the time and audiences wouldn't necessarily have picked him out. And yet Wyler makes us realise that he is the one to watch by the way he is staring thoughtfully ahead, the only one whose face we really see full on, the one who stands out even though other characters are talking and nodding their heads. And that's in this innocuous camera move, without any obtrusive close-up or dolly in on Fonda. This is the beauty of Wyler's direction – he makes you notice things without noticing you've noticed them.
And now a few brief words on the Max Steiner musical score. Steiner represented a growing trend in Hollywood of lavish, blaring scores that underlined every single emotion in the picture. His work in particular is rather blunt and even distracting at times. This however is among his more restrained scores, and also happens to be nice and low in the mix. As it's not blasting out over every scene you can actually appreciate just how much complexity and timing there is at work here. Different characters and ideas have their own little leitmotifs. When Davis hears that Pres is returning, their love theme cuts seamlessly into the score on the very instant his name is mentioned. There is even a little peal of bells when she mentions the possibility of marriage. It's still not necessarily the best way of adding music to a motion picture, but one must at least admire the skill and precision that has gone into the score's construction.
Despite the similarities in setting and spitfire heroine, Jezebel is of course very different from its competitor Gone with the Wind in terms of scale. The latter movie, for all its melodramatic roots is a tour de force in lavish historical sweep and epic storytelling. Jezebel by contrast is a firmly small-canvas picture with a rather trite storyline, and the only thing to really keep the viewer hooked throughout is Bette Davis's arresting acting performance. Still, it is far from being some cheap knock-off, and can be considered a light piece of chamber music to Gone with the Wind's orchestral symphony.
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