Our favorite magnolia. A mesmerizing romantic melodrama with Bette Davis playing a southern belle so peverse she ruins her own chances, as well as shaking up the Olde South. Without Davis, who snared her second Oscar for the role--JEZEBEL was her consolation prize for losing
the plum role in GONE WITH THE WIND, and there was a rush to get it into theaters first--this would seem mildewed indeed. But because her nervy, edgy performance conveys so much rage it leads convincingly into the film's second half where raging fires and fever sweep through New Orleans.
We may never really know if Davis and director Wyler had a great, doomed love affair, but the film looks like they did. Especially when Davis's Julie wrecks a great ball, and her own life, by wearing a flaming red gown when unmarried women are expected to wear pristine white. It's an outrageously
great moment. Wyler's camera (abetted by the gifted cinematographer Ernest Haller) bores down on Davis, with her large, guilty eyes darting about to Max Steiner's swooping waltz--she's in too far to turn back. And the scene captures a quality in Fonda rarely exploited--his stubborness--which may
account for the longevity of his career. GONE WITH THE WIND may not have a single moment quite as incredible as this one, but then, that film didn't have Wyler who also gives Davis her other all-stops-out moment--her apology to Fonda, going to her knees in a white gown of breathtaking proportions.
Davis gives the scene an overwhelmingly hushed sense of sexual urgency and surrender. JEZEBEL is indeed Wyler's love letter to Davis. (THE LETTER represents the souring of their collaboration; THE LITTLE FOXES, its death).
The screenplay by Clements Ripley, Abem Finkel and John Huston was based on the Owen Davis, Sr. play that lasted about five minutes on Broadway with Miriam Hopkins replacing the ailing Tallulah Bankhead ("It was dreadful," said Tallulah. "Had I played the part it might have run two weeks."). The
casting of Davis fanned the flames of her feuds with both of these southern belles, who hailed from Georgia and Alabama respectively.
Fonda had made a deal with the studio that his work on the film be completed by early December, so he could fly back to New York where his wife was awaiting their first child (Jane, born on December 21st). Although they tried to rush things, Wyler's perfectionism put the film behind schedule. As a
result, Davis had to do her closeups and inserts without Fonda on the set. JEZEBEL features two songs: the title tune and "Raise a Ruckus." The film cost slightly over $1 million but made a bundle for everyone involved and got the country in an antebellum mood that went into overdrive with the
release of Selznick's greatest work.
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- Review: Our favorite magnolia. A mesmerizing romantic melodrama with Bette Davis playing a southern belle so peverse she ruins her own chances, as well as shaking up the Olde South. Without Davis, who snared her second Oscar for the role--JEZEBEL was her consolati… (more)