Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Bette as Jezebel, 1938

While movie fans were abuzz over who might play Scarlett O’Hara in the upcoming GONE WITH THE WIND, Bette Davis got another Southern belle role – and gave a fiery performance that won the 1938 Best Actress Academy Award. Davis plays Julie Marsden, a New Orleans beauty whose constant attempts to goad fiancé Pres Dillard (Henry Fonda) to jealousy backfire. Angry and disgraced, Pres breaks their engagement and leaves town. Julie endures a year of remorse until Pres comes home – married. Then her vengeance explodes.
JEZEBEL is also noted for its sumptuous sets and costumes, Fay Bainter’s Oscar-winning performance and William Wyler’s vivid direction, highlighted by a recreation of a yellow fever epidemic. But the film’s greatest strength is Davis. Whose titanic talent has never been better displayed than in JEZEBELSo ran the dvd blurb. 

I saw some clips of it at the BFI in 1972 with Bette in attendance to discuss them, but had not actually seen it in full before. Its fascinating now, and surely Bette's most ferocious performance since her 1934 OF HUMAN BONDAGE. Her capricious Julie is certainly one of her greatest roles, Fay Bainter is marvellous too, but Henry Fonda seems a dull fellow here - what does Julie see in him and go to such lengths to look after him when the dreaded yellow fever strikes? Then there is George Brent, dull as ever; and of course all those happy slaves down on the plantation with all that hanging moss and antebellum gracious living ..... Bette has some powerful scenes during the first half, but the second half is rather turgid wth duels, plague and all that plot. Warners though were making films in colour that year (Erroll's ROBIN HOOD) so why wasn't this also in colour, to highlight that famous red dress ..... its a brilliant sequence though and Max Steiner contributes that great score and Orry-Kelly as usual costumed her. Davis of course had two more huge successes with Wyler with 1940's THE LETTER and THE LITTLE FOXES in '41. They may be her three greatest roles, apart from NOW VOYAGER and ALL ABOUT EVE

1 comment:

  1. Color would certainly have helped, and you're right about Pres being something of a drip, but then, so was Ashley Wilkes (at least as embodied by Leslie Howard).