Time: 103 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Drama/Romance/Civil War
Won Academy Awards for Best Actress (Davis) and Best Supporting Actress (Bainter). Nominated for Cinematography, Score and Best Picture.
The only reason I wanted to see this film was for Bette Davis' performance. The story is hardly unique, but there's nothing like a classic romantic potboiler to get you through a gloomy afternoon. This film was made in the days when women ruled the box office and got well-written, glamourous, juicy roles that showcased their talent as much as their looks. Davis rarely looked better than in JEZEBEL and she certainly gives her all as a strong-willed Southern belle who makes all the wrong decisions when it comes to love. Though it was released a year earlier, it's still a second rate GONE WITH THE WIND. This was a film made to please Davis who wanted to play Scarlett, but was not given the chance. Seeing her work in JEZEBEL, I'm not sure she could have played the more complicated Scarlett O'Hara, but she sure does meet the maliciously manipulative quotient. Wyler tries to keep her sympathetic, but Davis' Julie Marsden is one of those characters you love to hate. There's not a moment in her life where she isn't thinking of her needs and on some level you have to admire a woman like that. On the other hand, she's nothing but trouble and I'm glad there's no one in my life who behaves like that.
The film opens in New Orleans in 1852. It's a day for happiness since everyone has gathered to celebrate the engagement of Julie Marsden (Davis), their hostess, to local banker Preston Dillard (Fonda). The only problem is that neither the soon-to-be bride or groom are anywhere to be found. Julie's Aunt Belle (Bainter) is just in a tizzy about Julie's tardiness, but this is nothing new for the head-strong young woman. When she finally does arrive she greets her guests in her riding habit, which is highly inappropriate, but understandable since it's Julie. Julie is thrilled with the prospect of marrying Pres and wants everyone else to be as well...even her old beau Buck Cantrell (Brent). He gives a toast to her future, but not her happiness. That he fears she will never find. She's proud to become a banker's wife, even if it means moving up North.
However, she will not play second fiddle to anything, not even the bank. When Pres refuses to leave a board meeting to go to the dressmaker's to see her new dress for the upcoming Olympus ball, she decides to punish him for breaking his promise to her. Instead of wearing the requisite white gown, de rigueur for unmarried ladies, she decides to attend wearing a vibrant red dress something you have to take their word for since the film is in B&W. Her aunt and uncle are horrified and beg her to reconsider, but she refuses. When Pres calls that evening, she refuses to see him until she's ready to spring her trap. He begs her to stop being so childish and end these petty arguments. Her answer to that suggestion is to show him what she plans on wearing the following evening. He knows she's just punishing him for not being there and doesn't believe she'll go through with it. She'll be ostracized from all polite society if she shows up in that thing. Just to push her point further, she tries to get Buck to take her to the ball instead, but he's not that stupid. Upon seeing her so ill attired, Pres initially refuses to attend the ball. That is until she goads him by mocking his courage. Their arrival brings the ball to a standstill and Pres, forcing her to stay and face the music, teaches her a lesson she won't soon forget. It's also the end of their engagement.