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Jezebel (1938 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jezebel (1938 film poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam Wyler
Written by
Based onJezebel
1933 play
by Owen Davis
Produced byWilliam Wyler
CinematographyErnest Haller
Edited byWarren Low
Music byMax Steiner
Warner Bros.
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release dates
  • March 10, 1938 (1938-03-10) (New York)
  • March 26, 1938 (1938-03-26)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.25 million[1]

Jezebel is a 1938 American romantic drama film released by Warner Bros. and directed by William Wyler. It stars Bette Davis and Henry Fonda, supported by George Brent, Margaret Lindsay, Donald Crisp, Richard Cromwell, and Fay Bainter. The film was adapted by Clements Ripley, Abem Finkel, John Huston, and Robert Buckner, from the 1933 play by Owen Davis Sr.

The film tells the story of a headstrong young Southern woman during the antebellum period whose actions cost her the man she loves.

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Fonda and Davis in a trailer for the film.
Fonda and Davis in a trailer for the film.
At Halcyon, Julie puts on the white dress she had originally planned to wear to the Olympus Ball as she waits to humble herself before Pres on his return from the North. (George Brent is second from the left.)
At Halcyon, Julie puts on the white dress she had originally planned to wear to the Olympus Ball as she waits to humble herself before Pres on his return from the North. (George Brent is second from the left.)

In 1852 New Orleans, spoiled, strong-willed belle Julie Marsden is engaged to banker Preston "Pres" Dillard. In an important meeting, Pres is trying to convince the board to invest in railroads, as Northerners are doing, and supporting Dr. Livingstone's plea for measures to prevent another outbreak of yellow fever.

In retaliation for Pres refusing to leave the meeting and accompany her to the last fitting for a ball gown, Julie buys a brazen red satin dress ordered by a notorious woman. Unmarried women are expected to wear virginal white at the Olympus Ball, the most important social event of the year. All of Julie's friends are horrified, but no one can convince her to give up her whim.

At the Olympus Ball, Julie's attire is met with shock and disgust by all present. She begs Pres to take her away, but instead he forces her to dance with him while all the other couples leave the floor. When the orchestra stops playing at the instruction of one of the ball's sponsors, Pres tells the conductor to continue. Pres and Julie finish the dance.

Afterwards, Pres takes his leave of Julie, implicitly breaking their engagement. In a final act of spite, Julie slaps him in the face. Aunt Belle Massey urges her to go after him, but she refuses, stating that he will return to her. Instead, he goes North on business. Julie shuts herself up in her house and refuses to see visitors.

A year later, Pres finally returns, bringing his Northern wife, Amy, to a homecoming party in his honor at Halcyon Plantation, Julie's estate. Aunt Belle cannot find Julie in time to warn her. Wearing a luminous white gown, before Pres can stop her, Julie humbles herself and begs for his forgiveness and a return of his love. Then Pres introduces her to Amy.

Julie eggs on her longtime admirer, skilled duellist Buck Cantrell, to quarrel with Pres, but the scheme goes awry. It is Pres's inexperienced brother Ted who is goaded into challenging Buck. In an unexpected twist, Ted kills Buck.

Then, as Dr. Livingstone foretold, a deadly epidemic sweeps through the city. They fight it with cannon and smoke and, believing that yellow fever is highly contagious, a quarantine so rigid that people who try to escape the city are shot. In New Orleans, Pres is stricken and, like all other victims, is to be quarantined in the leper colony on Lazaret Island. Julie goes to Dr. Livingstone's place and nurses Pres for a night and a day. The family arrives, thanks to a pass from the governor. When the wagon comes for Pres, Amy begs to go with him, but Julie tells her that she is not equipped to fight for Pres. She does not know the creole words for food and water, or how to deal with the conditions or the people there. Julie begs to go in her place to try to redeem herself. Before agreeing, Amy asks if Pres still loves Julie. Julie declares that he loves only his wife. Amy blesses them, and Julie accompanies Pres on a wagon loaded with other victims and caregivers.


Bette Davis in Jezebel trailer 1.jpg
Bette Davis as Julie Marsden
Henry Fonda in Jezebel trailer.jpg
Henry Fonda as Preston Dillard
George Brent in Jezebel trailer.jpg
George Brent as Buck Cantrell
Donald Crisp in Jezebel trailer.jpg
Donald Crisp as Dr. Livingstone
Fay Bainter in Jezebel trailer.jpg
Fay Bainter as Aunt Belle Massey


The Turner Classic Movies Database states that the film was offered as compensation for Bette Davis after she failed to win the part of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind.[2] Despite a radio poll showing Davis the audience favorite for the role in that film, David O. Selznick never seriously considered her for it. Jezebel was her second Best Actress Oscar win after winning for Dangerous three years earlier. This win established her as a leading lady from this point on.[3]

Selznick reportedly hired Max Steiner to score Gone with the Wind (1939) on the strength of his work on Jezebel.[4]

Warner Bros. originally sought to cast Cary Grant to co-star, but the studio ultimately balked at his salary demand of $75,000 and cast Henry Fonda instead.


Bette Davis in the titular role
Bette Davis in the titular role

Contemporary reviews were generally positive and praised Davis' performance in particular, although some found her character's redemption at the end of the film to be unconvincing. Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times wrote that the film "would have been considerably more effective ... if its heroine had remained unregenerate to the end. Miss Davis can be malignant when she chooses, and it is a shame to temper that gift for feminine spite ... It is still an interesting film, though, in spite of our sniffs at its climax."[5] Variety reported that the film was "not without its charm" and "even completely captivating" at times, but found it detracting that the main character "suddenly metamorphoses into a figure of noble sacrifice and complete contriteness," and described the ending as "rather suspended and confusing."[6] Film Daily called it "a really outstanding screen triumph for Bette Davis. She plays an emotional role that calls for running the gamut of emotions, and she handles the part with consummate artistry."[7] Harrison's Reports called it "Powerful dramatic entertainment ... It is not what one would call cheerful entertainment, and may not appeal to the rank and file, but it should please those who like good acting."[8] John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote, "Something went wrong with 'Jezebel,' possibly nothing more than the plot, and all its rich dressing-up can't make it alive ... no scene quite comes off, and at the end, when the she-devil suddenly turns into a saint and a martyr, one isn't even interested. This Jezebel just seems daffy."[9] The film has scored more positive reviews in later years, and has a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[10]


Bette Davis in Jezebel
Bette Davis in Jezebel
Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[11] Outstanding Production Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke (for Warner Bros.) Nominated
Best Actress Bette Davis Won
Best Supporting Actress Fay Bainter Won
Best Cinematography Ernest Haller Nominated
Best Scoring Max Steiner Nominated
National Board of Review Awards[12] Top Ten Films 8th Place
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
Venice International Film Festival Mussolini Cup (Best Foreign Film) William Wyler Nominated
Special Recommendation Won

In 2009, Jezebel was included in the annual selection of 25 motion pictures added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant, and recommended for preservation.[13][14][15]

DVD commentary

In 2006, film historian Jeanine Basinger recorded a comprehensive scene-by-scene commentary as part of the re-issued DVD of the film. In her commentary about Davis, Basinger relates that this film is distinctive in the realm of women's pictures because of Orry-Kelly's brilliant costume designs for the actress. Basinger states that the viewer is compelled to watch Davis in four stylings in particular: the riding crop/outfit in the beginning of the film, the scandalous scarlet red dress at the Olympus Ball, the virginal white dress she wears when she attempts to woo back Henry Fonda, and finally the cape she dons at the end of the film when she must go to help care for Fonda. In Basinger's opinion, this was the performance at the height of Davis's career and Jezebel is the quintessential American woman's film.

See also


  1. ^ "Top Films and Stars". Variety. 4 January 1939. p. 10. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  2. ^ "Jezebel: Trivia". Turner Classic Movies.
  3. ^ Haver, Ronald (1980). David O. Selznick's Hollywood. Bonanza Books. p. 243. ISBN 0-517-47665-7.
  4. ^ "Jezebel (1938) - Articles -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2022-10-15.
  5. ^ The New York Times Film Reviews, Volume 2: 1932-1938. New York: The New York Times & Arno Press. 1970. p. 1479.
  6. ^ "Film Reviews". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. March 16, 1938. p. 15.
  7. ^ "Reviews". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 6 March 11, 1938.
  8. ^ "Jezebel". Harrison's Reports. New York: Harrison's Reports, Inc.: 50 March 26, 1938.
  9. ^ Mosher, John (March 19, 1938). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. pp. 73–74.
  10. ^ "Jezebel". Rotten Tomatoes.
  11. ^ "The 11th Academy Awards (1939) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  12. ^ "1938 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  13. ^ "25 new titles added to National Film Registry". Yahoo News. Yahoo. 2009-12-30. Archived from the original on January 6, 2010. Retrieved 2009-12-30.
  14. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-05-01.
  15. ^ "Michael Jackson, the Muppets and Early Cinema Tapped for Preservation in 2009 Library of Congress National Film Registry". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-05-01.

External links

This page was last edited on 12 May 2023, at 22:50
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