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Jezebel

A publishing phenomenon, Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind was too successful not to be turned into a major motion picture. The question on everyone's lips in Tinseltown was: Who is going to play Scarlet O'Hara? It was a role that guaranteed infamy and a Best Actress Oscar to whomever played it. And almost every major actress in Hollywood wanted and auditioned for the part — even Bette Davis. Of course, the role went to Vivian Leigh, but unlike her competition, Davis at least got a consolation prize in 1938's Southern opus Jezebel, which netted her a second Oscar. Directed by William Wyler from a script by (among others) John Huston, it's a class act that may not have the stature of 1939's Gone With the Wind, but is arguably just as entertaining. Davis stars as New Orleans belle Julie Marsden, who was engaged to the rough-and-tumble Buck Cantrell (George Brent) but is now about to be married to banker Preston Dillard (Henry Fonda). With an important gala ball approaching, Julie's temperament comes more and more into question. She's fiercely independent, but so much so that she creates problems for herself. She interrupts her beau's workday to ask him to help her select a dress, and when she does pick an outfit, it's brightly colored red. As everyone at the ball will be wearing white (the color of all virginal women), the scarlet dress will mark her as a harlot, and thus Buck refuses to take her in it, while Pres does so begrudgingly. The party goes disastrously, and once back home Pres dumps her. Cut to a year later, and Pres has been living up North, while Julie has been anxiously waiting for his return while New Orleans faces a plague. Bette Davis often played characters who were trapped and hurt by their stubborn pride, but where in other similar films modern mores have suggested an undercurrent of misogyny, in Jezebel Julie is so fully realized a character that it becomes obvious it's not the class system, or social codes, or her gender that destroys Julie's shot at happiness — it's her own selfishness. The character goes through much of the first half of the story unaware of the consequences; she's someone so spoiled that she keeps pushing at the boundaries of good taste hoping someone will tell her when to stop. Of course, the price Julie pays for her behavior leads to her redemption, but none of it would work if Davis couldn't make the spoiled brat side of Julie's character empathetic. Often, the citing of a film as a "woman's picture" is meant as an insult, but here it seems fitting — Davis simply owns Jezebel from start to finish. Also featuring Fay Bainter, who won the best supporting Oscar for her work. Warner Brothers double-dips Jezebel as part of "The Bette Davis Collection: Vol. 2" with an improved full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) and DD 1.0 audio. Extras include a commentary by Jeanine Basinger, the featurette "Jezebel: Legend of the South," the Vitaphone short "Melody Masters: Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra," the cartoon "The Mice Will Play," and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—DSH



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