Monday, 16 November 2015

I've Just Seen: Jezebel (1938)

Jezebel (1938)

Director: William Wyler

Bette Davis films are woefully unrepresented in my list of seen films. Considering her standing in cinema history as one of the greatest actors to grace the screen, this is a huge blindspot for me. Jezebel is the first film I have seen from her early career, and is appropriately one of the roles that launched Davis into leading lady status.

While she is not classically beautiful, Davis has a wonderful face that captures one's attention when she is on screen, and though not tall she is a strong presence in any scene she is in. She wears the role of Julie Marsden well, giving her a vitality and independence that marks her as different from the other young women. Julie is a role that is similar to Scarlett O'Hara, a Southern belle set on getting her man. I like both these roles because they are flawed women, neither wholly bad or wholly good; I would not want to be friends with them necessarily, but I enjoy seeing complex, nuanced female characters on screen.

The other great star of the film is the costumes made by frequent Davis collaborator Orry-Kelly, an Australian who made it big in Hollywood. Though the film is not in colour, the red dress Davis' character wears is striking, its richness standing out against the white dresses of the other women. The white dress that Davis later wears is also gorgeous, contrasting wonderfully with the red gown, with all its lace and puffiness.

A great demonstration of Davis' acting, and an example of that genre of films referred to as 'women's pictures,' ie. a film where the main character is a woman (what a novel idea!).


  1. Yes, she is awesome in Jezebel, but otherwise I think generally overrated. Davis did not match this performance until All about Eve in1950 where she is essentially playing herself. If you needed someone to play a spoiled prima donna you would call on Davis. Those parts she nailed.

    1. I forgot to mention "The Star"! She's great in that. Also, Natalie Wood is her daughter!

      And that's not the least likely of Bette Davis's movie offspring. In Pocketful of Miracles, Ann-Margaret is her daughter.

      In The Catered Affair - another top favorite of mine - Bette Davis is married to Ernest Borgnine - and Debbie Reynolds is their daughter! That's almost science fiction, that is!

    2. I haven't seen enough the judge adequately, though the few I have seen are very good. I also find it interesting that she was one of the actors who had a career that went beyond her youthful period. Barbara Stanwyck,Myrna Loy and Lauren Bacall are two others I can think of who continued to work consistently throughout their lives.

  2. Bette Davis is my second favorite actress (Louise Brooks is first) and I've seen bunches of her films. While I think Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is her best film, Jezebel is second.

    That red dress is practically a character in the movie.

    If you are interested in seeing more Bette Davis movies, just start watching some! I find that Bette Davis improves everything she's in just by being in it. (And it helps a lot that she worked at Warner Brothers most of her career. WB had the best directors, great writers and lots of great supporting actors, The greatest filmmaking factory in history,)

    So I could tell you my favorites are All About Eve, Deception, The Virgin Queen and Front-Page Woman, but that might mean you'll ignore The Dark Horse, Fog over Frisco, Petrified Forest, In This Our Life, The Catered Affair, Dead Ringer, The Nanny, Another Man's Poison, Watch on the Rhine, Return from Witch Mountain, The Bride Came C.O.D., Kid Galahad, Death on the Nile, The Man Who Came to Dinner, The Whales of August and so many others.

    Not to mention all the Bette Davis movies I haven't seen. I'll watch anything if Bette Davis is in it. The only one I disliked enough to call it a waste of time is Dark Victory.

    1. Thanks for all the recommendations! I shall get around them all at some point, I am sure. I have seen All About Eve, which was great, and I wish there were more films made like that these days. Baby Jane is the other, and was a wonderful demonstration of both Davis and Crawford's abilities.

    2. If you have Turner Classic Movies, you can tune in to see Bureau of Missing Persons, a 1933 Bette Davis film that's showing Thursday morning. I've never seen it, but you can usually count on early Warner Brothers to provide a fast-paced film that's very entertaining even if it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.