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on 18 July 2005
Legend has it that Bette Davis was offered the lead in Jezebel because Warner Bothers refused to lend her out for Gone With the Wind. The decision proved to be somewhat prophetic because Bette went on to win the 1938 Best Actress Oscar for her role as Miss Julie Morrison, the spoiled, willful, and coquettish Southern Belle who unashamedly weaves a web of betrayal and seduction.
While Jezebel is most notable for Bette's fiery, strong-willed and multi-faceted performance, the film also serves as a wonderful period piece, a deftly written romantic melodrama that astutely portrays early 1850s New Orleans ante-bellum society. The world is industriously on the move, and the whole of the United States is undergoing profound change.
The abolitionist movement is gaining momentum and the South feels as though its slave-driven way of life is under threat. There are rumbling hints of war between the Northern States and to add to this, there's the constant threat and the continual scourge of yellow fever - an illness that people were convinced could be passed on through the air.
The movie begins as Julie (Davis) is courting Preston Dillard (Henry Fonda). Julie loves Preston but she's willful and young, and when she goes against his wishes and wares an inappropriate red dress to a local ball, she ends up embarrassing him and making a public spectacle of herself. Preston unceremoniously dumps her and she becomes an outcast, a wealthy recluse with only her kindly Aunt Belle (Fay Bainter) to keep her company.
When Preston eventually appears on the scene again with a wife, Julie decides to fight to get him back. She manipulates and connives, unleashing a series of catastrophic events involving her best friend and Southern gentlemen Buck Cantrell (George Brent), who also secretly loves her. Consequently, Aunt Belle labels Julie a "Jezebel" at the most crucial plot point. Julie is eventually humbled by her experiences and ends up giving of her time, energy, and health during the deadly Yellow Jack outbreak. She is able to overcome her shallowness and selfishness, eventually becoming almost martyr to the deadly disease.
It's easy to see why Davis won the Oscar for this role, and it's one of her very best performances. Yes, she's a "Jezebel" but perhaps in name only, because she's also a naively frail young girl, whose only real fault is that, she's impetuous and doesn't really think too much before she acts or opens her mouth. Of course, she pays a bitter price for this behaviour, but the beauty of the story is that she's able to redeem herself, and hopefully find true love again.
Jezebel is a must see for diehard Bette Davis fans. Admirers of period pieces will also get a lot out of this film. The best scene is when Julie stubbornly goes to the ball - realizing what she has done, she begs Preston to take her home, but he stoically soldiers on, making her dance much to the chagrin of the other party goers, determined to teach her a lesson and show her the error of her ways.
The costumes and the sets have been sumptuously recreated, however, the movie works best at portraying Southern life during the middle of the 19th century. It's a grand, sweeping, superbly acted film, and a splendid character study of a flawed woman, and it shows the young Bette at her vampish, coquettish, and sardonic best.
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on 4 February 2010
I've seen this described as a Bette Davis vehicle, but even though the lady does dominate, certainly, there's a bit more to Jezebel than that. The story, set in pre-Civil War New Orleans in the ballrooms and plantations of the Southern gentry, is rooted at first in the jealousy and honour territory of the woman's picture as Bette Davis and Henry Fonda bicker and manoeuvre for the moral advantage in their relationship. Then an outbreak of Yellow Fever darkens the tone as our protagonists discover that the rules and imperatives of the greater world cannot be kept at bay. In the last ten minutes, however, the connection with social reality is thrown out of the window as the film abruptly embraces wild melodrama, with Miss Davis driven on by a pot-pourri of love, steely determination, self-sacrifice and egoism in a pretty good imitation of Florence Nightingale.

While the script is pretty good, it's the style and treatment of this heady brew that raise the film to classic status. The opulent sets and costumes are a delight, even in b/w, though the importance of an errant red dress is ipso facto diluted somewhat by the lack of colour. I found the music a bit overbearing and over-explanatory to begin with, but it soon calmed down. Henry Fonda, sporting a Montgomery Clift hairstyle, is his usual quiet but authoratitive self; the stubbornness that underlies his initial deference to the will of Miss Davis is an effective check on her strong will.

Remarks about Bette Davis 'chewing up the scenery' etc are almost always wrong, in my view, and in Jezebel what stands out is the way in which she is directed, lit and photographed differently from the other actors. As in their collaboration two years later in The Letter, Director William Wyler shows her in a series of close-ups, half-lit from one side against a blurred background so that the eye concentrates on her and her enormous eyes alone. She shares the frame with other characters less often than one might expect, but when she does, I wasn't aware of her trying to steal their thunder. Though no great beauty, here she looks if not quite a million dollars then 100,000 of them. Her acting in the scene where, all unawares of his marriage, she's confronted by Henry Fonda and new Yankee wife is a masterpiece as by turns her face expresses shock, incomprehension, false hope, then apparent magnanimity before she drops a deep curtsey of welcome in her radiant ball gown.

If you're looking for a lavish studio picture illuminated by a ***** performance, this is your movie.

ps the next person I see writing "They don't make them like that any more" can write out "change is an ineluctable fact of life" 500 times before breakfast.
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on 12 October 2009
This is classic Bette at her best.
Some people say she only got the oscar as a consolation for not being cast a Scarlett O'hara, but this is much more her kind of character, ignoring the similarities to Gone With Wind, it is a superb piece of story telling.
The story is one of jealousy and manipulation, as is usual in many of her films, set against a backdrop of the deep southern states preparing for a coming war with the North, and trying to cope with an keeping yellow fever at bay.
She portays Julee, a spoiled indulged heiress engaged to Clem (Henry Fonda)who demands undivided attention from him and all around her.Flouting convention, in a fit of pique against Clem she attends the Olympus Ball dressed in a Bright red gown, knowing that unmarried girls were expected to wear white. She realises she has gone too far and begs to be taken home but Clem forces her to dance with him, shaming them both.
Clem leaves her, and New Orleans sortly after, and despite her conviction that he will call to see her as he usually does when she's been wilfull, he is gone for nearly a year.
On hearing of his return Julee invites him up to her plantation and plans to beg him to forgive her and take up where they left off. Her plans are spoiled however when he arrives with a new "Yankee" wife. Not deterred she tries to seduce him and is rejected. Now as a woman scorned she sets in motion a scenario which ends in a duel and a death. Added to this is an outbreak of yellow fever and you have all the ingredients for the kind of dramatic ending Bettes films are famous for.
A must for any Bette Davis lover
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It's truly astounding that the only practical way of buying this fine film on DVD is from Korea. Certainly one of Bette Davis' finest, even if I prefer her in her less regal dramas, such as All About Eve. I have two of Bette Davis' boxsets; Jezebel is not on either, nor could I find it on any other ones.

However, it's beautifully photographed, directed and acted; the sense of period superb and as an early major role for Henry Fonda, he is her match - tall, handsome and dignified. That luminosity that graces all the best Silver Screen classics of that time shimmers around Davis and she is resplendid, but also catty and spoilt. Those wanting to buy it will probably be already familiar with the plot and in any case others have kindly provided this in their reviews.

Bette won her second Oscar for her portrayal of Julie Morrison, here (her first was for 1935's 'Dangerous') and Stephen Spielberg bought both statuettes when they came up at auction and gave them back to the Academy, to "protect an Oscar from further commercial exploitation".

My drop of one star is because the transfer is rather muddy-looking and a bit grainy, lacking the crispness that no doubt the original had. Also, my DVD player always plays Korean imports with a shudder during panning shots, however slow. The sound is very good, though, but you need to go into the subtitles menu at the start to turn off the default Korean subtitles. Then, it's like any other DVD.

Without mentioning other sites by name, I got my copy a fair bit cheaper than currently offered by Amazon. Look around.
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on 11 December 2013
Lovers of Bette Davis will love this film, made in 1939 and winning for her a well deserved Oscar. With Henry Fonda, she plays magnificently a spoilt southern belle who truly loves her beau, but has such confidence in his love for her, that she feels she can do anything and get her way no matter how far she tries him. Inevitably, but to her, unbelievably, when she has overstepped the mark, in the New Orleans society, he leaves for a position in New York. With a good supporting cast, including George Brent, the film develops and her love remains strong even in her man's absence. Of course dramatic action occurs on his return with a sweet wife from the north. It has been said that this film was produced as an answer to the fact that Bette, like many other actresses, did not win the part of Scarlet O'Hara in Gone With The Wind, so showing that she is more than able to play a Southern Belle, accent and all. Highly recommended.
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on 25 May 2001
Never had Davis been so convinsing at being a spoilt cow as she is in this wonderfull Melodrama of the 1930's. Henry Fonda is almost equally as good, playing Davis's fiance. Jealousy, rage, wickedness and moral honour give this film a truely memorable flavour of the middle classes of the period. Watch out for the 'Red Dress' scene its painfully powerfull. A great film and made even better by a excellent performance from an Oscar winning Davis.
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on 15 February 2013
Not Bette's best. I think she is better in THE LITTLE FOXES, but it was a goodish melodrama. Nowhere near the quality of GONE WITH THE WIND which keeps being mentioned in the same breath.
It all feels a lot smaller and maybe even... Cheap. It is all filmed inside on sound stages and thats obvious. The plantations and mansions feel small. Especially the "exteriors", The costumes are also a bit off for some reason.
I also found the Bette's character totally unlikable the entire way through the film and even her "sacrifce" at the end of the film felt like it was self serving and so I couldn't relate to or like her.

The print is also not very good. But it is the only copy available so we should perhaps be grateful.
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on 7 April 2011
just to state, that the jezabel dvd was not remastered, which they never said it was, so i take back my un positive feedback, the delivery and service was excellent, it came the next day.
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on 23 January 2006
A classic Bette Davis, but the quality of the print was very disappointing.
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on 10 May 2012
Jezebel [DVD] [1938] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

This film was a favourite of my daughter's, and for me it still ranks as one of the very best of her films. As older films rarely get an airing on TV, the only way to watch these movies is to purchase them - and enjoy!
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