Academy Awards 1938 -
Best Supporting Actress: Fay Bainter
USA Today - 01/11/2005
"[It] still packs a punch..."
Description by OLDIES.com:
While movie fans were abuzz over who might play Scarlett O'Hara in the upcoming Gone with the Wind, Better Davis got another Southern belle role - and gave a fiery performance that won the 1938 Best Actress Academy Award. Davis plays Julie, A New Orleans beauty whose constant attempts to goad fiance Pres Dillard (Henry Fonda) to jealousy backfire. Angry and disgraced, Pres breaks their engagement and leaves town. Julie endures a year of remorse until Pres comes home - married. Then her vengeance explodes.
Jezebel is also noted for its sumptuous costumes, Fay Bainter's Oscar-winning performance and William Wyler's vivid direction, highlighted by a horrifying recreation of a yellow fever epidemic. But the film's greatest strength is Davis, whose titanic talent has never been better displayed than in Jezebel.
New Orleans, 1952. Julie Marsden (Bette Davis) and her fiancÚ, Preston Dillard (Henry Fonda), have a stormy relationship. He won't go with her--as promised--to collect her decorous white dress for the Olympus ball. In an act of angry defiance, she instead chooses a flamboyant red dress. Pres is dismayed and, at the ball, New Orleans's high society is outraged. Julie and Pres argue, and he leaves.
A year passes. New Orleans is stricken by yellow fever. Julie hears Pres has returned. Delighted, she throws a party. But, when Pres arrives, Amy (Margaret Lindsay) is with him, and they are married...
Description by Warner Home Video:
Bette Davis plays a self-involved southern belle whose neurotic attempts to mold her fiance (Henry Fonda) to her own designs eventually bring about her tragic downfall. Co-stars George Brent and Fay Bainter.
Set in the antebellum South, William Wyler's JEZEBEL centers on high society beauty Julie Marsden. Julie first arrives on horseback, then enters her home flamboyantly hooking the long flowing train of her dress with her riding crop and hoisting it to her shoulders. Julie is not just high-spirited--she is self-centered and high-handed, and she gets away with outrageous behavior because she is rich and beautiful. However, she gets her comeuppance--losing Pres and becoming reclusive and spiteful--before a chance for redemption occurs.
JEZEBEL is built around Bette Davis's bold, powerful, and, at times, subtle performance; when Julie discovers Pres and Amy are married, with the smallest of movements Davis conveys disbelief, then anguish as she realizes the truth--she looks down, her eyelids flicker, she glances from Pres to Amy and back, and utters single words while struggling to maintain her composure. And Fay Bainter, as Aunt Belle, matches Davis when she too discovers Pres is married and continues to greet her guests while worrying about her niece and how she can warn her. Both actresses won well-deserved Oscars.
JEZEBEL is also distinguished by Wyler's and cinematographer Ernest Haller's graceful, flowing long takes and deep-frame compositions.
Jack Warner optioned GONE WITH THE WIND as a possible Bette Davis vehicle before Margaret Mitchell's novel was published. But then Davis and Warner became involved in a protracted legal battle over her contract. Warner won in court but, not satisfied, in revenge also dropped his option on GONE WITH THE WIND. David O. Selznick quickly snapped up the rights. When the book became a bestseller and Selznick generated enormous publicity with his nationwide search to discover an actress to play Scarlett O'Hara, Warner decided to produce his own southern-belle movie. He acquired Owen Davis's play JEZEBEL and planned to release it before Selznick's movie appeared. Then, in order to persuade Davis to play the part of Julie Marsden, Warner paid the legal costs that she had incurred in their court battle.
When the filming of JEZEBEL began, its director and star often clashed. On the first day of filming, Wyler made Davis go through 48 takes of the scene in which she hoists up her skirts with her riding crop before entering her home. She thought she played the scene in exactly the same way each time, but after demanding to see the rushes, she found that in the later takes, when she had become progressively more annoyed with Wyler, she was in fact more vibrant. As the filming continued, they understood each other better, to the point where they had an affair before the filming was complete.