Sunday, May 31, 2009

Jezebel (1938)

"This is 1852 dumplin', 1852, not the Dark Ages. Girls don't have to simper around in white just because they're not married."

Director: William Wyler
USA 1938
104 min

See it on YouTube here.

High society, New Orleans, 1852.
Julie (Bette Davis) and Preston (Henry Fonda) are soon to be married, and they are constantly battling about the power over the relationship. When Preston has to break a promise to Julie to help her pick out a dress for a society ball due to bank business, Julie chooses a provocative red dress when all unmarried women are supposed to wear white. An unhappy Preston takes her to the ball, makes his best to embarrass Julie among the whispering society people (see film clip below), and after the ball breaks the engagement. A too proud Julie makes no effort to win him back, and he soon moves to "the North".

Time travels one year ahead. Preston is coming back to New Orleans, and waiting for him is a hopeful Julie who has been deeply depressed since he moved. She has realized that she was unfair to him, and now hopes to repair their relationship. But oh, no! He brings with him a wife. This leads to manipulation behind a friendly face, a social act that eventually ends with the shed of blood.

Partially this film is a masterpiece, and Bette Davis is at her very finest. I was, however, not really satisfied with the ending. I can't put my finger on it, but it felt like it was too easy and too quick. But otherwise, there's nothing to complain about. George Brent is just swell as the provocative gentleman Buck Cantrell, and Henry Fonda is great too. His character is quite flat and boring, it's true, but he's doing great - especially if you consider that he was a last minute choice for the part, and that his wife was in labour and about to deliver their daughter (Jane Fonda) and had to run off the set every now and then.

What is there more to say? A lot, I guess. But I'm satisfied with what is said, and that Bette Davis and Fay Bainter (aunt Belle) deserved their Academy Awards.

Bette Davis and William Wyler take a snack during the filming of Jezebel.

Fay Bainter, Jack L. Warner and Bette Davis at the Academy Awards, 1939.


Aunt Belle: Expecting a man to go to a dress makers with you! I declare, I hope Pres doesn't come!
Julie: He will.
Aunt Belle: But Julene!
Julie: Now dumplin', don't you fret about Pres - I've been training him for years!
Aunt Belle: Like that man-killing horse you bought!
Julie: Pres was outrageous! He had no right to tell me what I could ride and what i couldn't!
Aunt Belle: The horse showed you what you couldn't! You broke your collar bone and your engagement!
Julie: And they both mended, so I was right after all
[Smiles at Aunt Belle happily]

Julie: Why did you do it Prest?
Preston Dillard: Because I love her.
Julie: But you had my love.
Preston Dillard: And lost it.

Buck Cantrell: I like my convictions undiluted, just like my bourbon.

In reality (according to movie god Robert Osbourne), Julie's dress was bronze colored. It would look better in black and white than red. (But of course, I colorized it red anyway.)


retroliving said...

Great post the dress Bette work to the awards was amazing.

Lolita said...

Thanks! Well, when was Bette Davis not amazing? :)