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3BlackChicks™ "Guest Starring" movie commentary
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Jezebel (1938)

Review Copyright Roger Zotti, 2002


In William Wyler's Jezebel, Bette Davis plays a Southern belle named Julie Marsden who loses her fiancˇ, Press Dillard (Henry Fonda), a young banker, because of her overbearing, selfish ways. She's also the reason for the duel between family friend and admirer Buck Cantrell and Pres's brother, which results in the former's death.


Jezebel's dramatic centerpiece takes place at the Mardi Gras Ball in 1852. Intending to embarrass Pres because he doesn't bend to her selfish wishes, she appears dressed in a red gown instead of the traditional white gown all unmarried young ladies wear.

But the sensation she intended to create doesn't happen. Instead, she humiliates herself and Pres. When she pleads to be taken home, Pres refuses. He's determined to teach her a lesson. In an unforgettable image, they twirl across the dance floor. When the music ends, Julie is disgraced and rushes from the hall. Later that night, she "says" goodbye to Pres with a slap.

Years pass. During that time Julie has secluded herself. She's positive that when Pres returns he will marry her. When word arrives that he's returning to New Orleans, Julie plans a huge homecoming party at her family estate. She even humbles herself and dresses in the white gown she should have worn years before at the ball. But Pres's situation has changed. He's married. Infuriated, Julie seeks revenge.


When Pres falls victim to yellow fever, Julie realizes how selfish her life has been. She accompanies him to Lazarette, a quarantined island from which few return alive. There, she intends to nurse him back to health.

Davis's best scene comes when she entreats Pres's wife, Amy, to let her accompany Pres to the island. First, though, Amy wants to know if it's she or Julie that Pres loves.

Davis's acting genius is proved by her convincing response, which indicates how much her character has changed: "Pres loves his wife," she says. "Who else would he love? Not me surely. I've done too much against him. You see, I never knew how to be gentle and brave as you are...he loves only you."


Fay Bainter as Julie's aunt won the year's Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and Davis garnered her second Academy Award for Best Actress.

    Cast: Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, George Brent, Fay Bainter, Margaret Lindsay.

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