Jezebel

1938

Jezebel

Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.

94%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 16

83%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 5,631
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Movie Info

In 1938, Jezebel was widely regarded as Warner Bros.' "compensation" to Bette Davis for her losing the opportunity to play Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind. Resemblances between the two properties are inescapable: Jezebel heroine Julie Marsden (Davis) is a headstrong Southern belle not unlike Scarlett (Julie lives in New Orleans rather than Georgia); she loves fiancé Preston Dillard (played by Henry Fonda) but loses him when she makes a public spectacle of herself (to provoke envy in him) by wearing an inappropriate red dress at a ball, just as Scarlett O'Hara brazenly danced with Rhett Butler while still garbed in widow's weeds. There are several other similarities between the works, but it is important to note that Jezebel is set in the 1850s, several years before Gone With the Wind's Civil War milieu; and we must observe that, unlike Scarlett O'Hara, Julie Marsden is humbled by her experiences and ends up giving of her time, energy, and health during a deadly yellow jack outbreak. Bette Davis won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Julie; an additional Oscar went to Fay Bainter for her portrayal of the remonstrative Aunt Belle (she's the one who labels Julie a "jezebel" at a crucial plot point). The offscreen intrigues of Jezebel, including Bette Davis' romantic attachment to director William Wyler and co-star George Brent, have been fully documented elsewhere. Jezebel was based on an old and oft-produced play by Owen Davis Sr.

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Cast

Bette Davis
as Julie Marsden
Henry Fonda
as Preston Dillard
George Brent
as Buck Cantrell
Margaret Lindsay
as Amy Bradford Dillard
Fay Bainter
as Aunt Belle Massey
Richard Cromwell
as Ted Dillard
Donald Crisp
as Dr. Livingstone
Henry O'Neill
as Gen. Bogardus
John Litel
as Jean LeCour
Gordon Oliver
as Dick Allen
Janet Shaw
as Molly Allen
Spring Byington
as Mrs. Kendrick
Georgia Caine
as Mrs. Petion
Georges Renavent
as De Lautrec
Ann Codee
as Mme. Poulard the Dressmaker
Lou Payton
as Uncle Cato
Lew Payton
as Uncle Cato
Daisy Bufford
as Black Flower Girl
Jesse Graves
as Black Servant
Frederick Burton
as Bank Director
Edward McWade
as Bank Director
Al Bridge
as New Orleans Sheriff
Frank Darien
as Bank Bookkeeper
Suzanne Dulier
as Midinette
John Harron
as Jenkins
Philip Hurlic
as Erronens
Davison Clark
as Deputy Sheriff
Trevor Bardette
as Sheriff at Plantation
George Guhl
as Fugitive Planter
Louis Mercier
as Bar Companion
Alan Bridge
as New Orleans Sheriff
Margaret Early
as Stephanie Kendrick
Jack George
as Orchestra leader
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Critic Reviews for Jezebel

All Critics (16)

  • The film's success is wrapped around Davis' steely performance and the elegant production values

    Dec 26, 2014 | Rating: 86/100 | Full Review…
  • A tottering costume drama that gave Bette Davis one of her rare non-bitchy roles. It should come as little surprise that it doesn't quite work.

    Aug 16, 2011 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…
  • Jezebel is fascinating from a cinematic history perspective, but it's also a strong melodrama beyond the societal backdrops

    Jun 9, 2009 | Rating: 73/100 | Full Review…
  • Directed with taste and discretion by Wyler, the film has several poignant scenes, such as the one in which Henry Fonda ferociously forces Bette Davis to dance in her red dress, while staring down at anyone who appears critical of her code violation.

    Nov 9, 2006 | Rating: A- | Full Review…
  • It would have tasted more like lemonade than a mint julep without Bette Davis' fiery performance.

    Jul 30, 2006 | Rating: B | Full Review…
  • The film is much more interesting for its traces of Davis' own future roles and images than for its decoy status as a GWTW consolation prize.

    Aug 22, 2005 | Rating: B- | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Jezebel

  • Mar 31, 2016
    Bette Davis made the most of this part that was given to her as a consolation after Vivien Leigh beat her out for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind. She's excellent in the role as the lithe and spirited southern belle who shocks her fiancé and the rest of society by (gasp) wearing a red dress when white is the rule for unmarried women. Her fiancé is played by Henry Fonda, who's sporting a lot more hair at age 33 than I ever remember him having, and who mercilessly keeps her at the ball even though it's now clear to her that she's made a mistake, and everyone is treating her as a pariah (including clearing off the dance floor as they twirl around). There are so many great scenes with Davis. She gives Fonda a great slap when he leaves her that night for good. She humiliates herself when he comes back a year later and she's on her knees in the dress she should have worn that night, only to be introduced to his wife. However if Bette Davis had not been cast, this would be a pretty bad movie. Henry Fonda is wooden and awful. Black folks are content and happy to be slaves. Davis's character starts off by proclaiming this is 1852, she can dress as she wants, making us hopeful that she's independent and a pioneer, but she's soon cowed and contrite. She does deviously try to get Fonda back, and in an interesting, subtle parallel, he too becomes a pariah when he contacts yellow fever during an epidemic, but the ending is forced, melodramatic, and abrupt. Davis was 30 years old when the film was made but had already been in 36 movies, won one Oscar and been nominated for one other, and yet she said this was the role that truly established her. You can see why, and if you can watch it just for her, you'll probably enjoy it.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Nov 15, 2013
    Bette Davis' depiction of Jezebel trumps Gone With the Wind in her portrayal of a Southern belle. It perhaps is even a career topper for Davis.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Oct 16, 2013
    A Southern belle attempts to manipulate her societal standing and buck social norms. Half the film of its ilk, <i>Gone with the Wind</i> the best example, <i>Jezebel</i> is a classic Southern society drama that assumes as normative racism and misogyny. Julie Marsden (Bette Davis) attempts to pervert the typical Southern culture, but she is "put in her place" by happenstance and her male "betters." Her rebuke symbolizes the film's tacit acceptance that there is such a thing as a "woman's place," and though Davis's performance is enticing and often funny, there's nothing a great actress can do to recover a failed story. Most offensive is the film's portrayal of African-Americans. Elided are the whippings, yearnings for freedom, and the forced labor, and these depictions are replaced with numerous shots of "happy Negros," content with their lower caste and more than willing to serve their "better" white folk. They speak in affected accents, and conscious of the film's problematic portrayal, the modern closed caption writer translated the film's "Yessum" to "Yes, ma'am," a phrase no African-American character actually utters. Overall, despite strong performances by Henry Fonda and Davis, the film's offense and its plodding story cannot be forgiven.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • Aug 28, 2011
    With many similarities to GWTW, this melodrama depicts New Orleanian genteel society directly before the War Between The States. Davis is a spoiled, manipulative ingenue with her intentions set on rising banker Fonda, only he refuses her golden puppet strings much to her consternation. An entertaining piece until its rushed and contrived ending.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer

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