179 of 1001 Movies: Jezebel (1938)

I’m pretty sure that William Wyler ranks in the top of directors. He is the earliest ones of making a great story. I haven’t seen a movie so far where he fails to make complex, intriguing characters that you don’t forget after watching the movie. This was also the second movie I’ve seen with Bette Davis, and I can see why her name is known. The lead character, Julie, is probably one of the better female characters I’ve seen on screen. She is well developed, and I thought very complex as far as how you feel about her.

Summary: Julie is a very strong and stubborn young woman growing up in Antebellum Louisiana. ¬†Society is trying to get her to conform to the ideas of what being a woman during that time is all about. Including being ready for her man, but never disturbing him while he’s away, always appearing pure, and not voicing your mind. When she intrudes on her fiance’s business meetings, and makes him and her the gossip of a dancing event by wearing red instead of white as the other unmarried girls do, her fiance, Preston, is pushed too far. Now she is set on winning him back no matter what the cost.

Acting: The acting is really good I think, and it brings out the very difficult situation of everyone amid an epidemic of a disease, yellow fever, and the very fractured love situation going on in the plantation house everyone is stuck residing together in for part of the movie. Bette Davis makes Julie likable and unlikable. You feel the excitement of her love returning, and her heartbreak when she finds he isn’t returning to see her. You also see why Preston wouldn’t want to be with her though as their personalities are not meant for each other. Henry Fonda is Preston, and I think Fonda is one of the best early actors I’ve seen who doesn’t over play a part. He tries to have real reactions as a person in the real world might react. He doesn’t over use his face to emphasize emotion.

Filming: I think the way Wyler shoots the scene brings a lot of highlight to the romantic scenery and yet the contrasting death happening in the city from yellow fever. I also found the music that accompanies the film to be well placed, and well done in creating further the setting of the time the movie was set in. When the characters get angry or sad he also knows how to shoot them so we don’t have these ridiculous facial expression shots that sometimes show up in earlier films.

Plot: I think what I like about the plot is how is how it builds up to the title of the movie. It’s basically a huge slap in the face to Julie when that moments arrives and she is told by the person she loves that she now reminds them of Jezebel. The viewer even feels the sting of the words because we’ve been watching this character the entire time and we do see moments where she does seem kind to the ones around her. She seems to be letting her own fight to compromise no part of her self be her greatest enemy though in connecting with others because ultimately while you should be true to who you are you shouldn’t let it make you so unrecognized of others needs at times, which is what she does. I think the viewer knows she has potential to feel real emotions, but no one in her daily interactions does.

Jezebel is probably one of the best from the 30’s that I have seen. It has a very complex lead character who has a lot about herself to learn. The saddest part for me is how she wouldn’t move on from Preston. I just didn’t think the guy was a good romantic interest for her, and after he considered hitting her with a cane I thought really lowly of him. I didn’t understand her attraction to him even after she witnessed he was capable of considering doing that enough to bring the cane with him to her room. I think the sickness, yellow fever, also adds an element to the movie that works, and gives the romantic layout a dramatic twist.

Rating 8 of 10.

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