JEZEBEL stars Bette Davis in an Oscar-winning performance as an egocentric southern belle. The film's release set a high standard for Southern epics, but JEZEBEL was forever eclipsed by GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) released the following year.
The film cost slightly over $1 million but made lots of money for everyone involved. The film's action is all implausible, however, and the idea that JEZEBEL should have such an abrupt change of heart in the last reel flies in the face of logic. Nevertheless, Davis and Fonda are both superb. In fact, under director William Wyler's firm but benevolent hand, Davis is so persuasive that we are taken in by the artifice and we hope that she and Fonda will eventually get together. Fay Bainter was equally magnificent in her role.
JEZEBEL had been a slight success on Broadway with Miriam Hopkins in the lead, and she was rankled because she was bypassed for the screen role. The same went for Tallulah Bankhead, who felt that no one but a dyed-in-the-wool Southerner should play the part. Nevertheless, Davis was tapped and gave one of the best performances of her life.
Davis's excellence could have been the result of pride in her work, or it might have been that she had been overlooked by David O. Selznick in the search for Scarlett O'Hara, a role she desperately had wanted. Warner was willing to lend her to Selznick but insisted that he also take Errol Flynn as Rhett. Davis thought Flynn was wrong for the role, and she wouldn't agree to it. Warner then rushed JEZEBEL into the works to take advantage of the national interest in the still-in-production GONE WITH THE WIND (1939).
Fonda made a deal with the studio that his work had to be done by early December, so that he could fly back to New York where his wife was awaiting the birth of their first child (Jane, born on December 21st). Although they tried to rush things, Wyler's slow pace put the film behind schedule, and Davis had to do their closeups and inserts without him around. Davis didn't mind Wyler's painstaking ways and made THE LETTER (1940) and THE LITTLE FOXES (1941) with him a few years later.
Nominated for Best Picture, Best Score, and Best Cinematography, JEZEBEL won Davis her second Academy Award as Best Actress and Bainter her first as Best Supporting Actress. Although Davis took the Oscar for this film, there are those who felt she should have won it for OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1934) and that this was a consolation prize. (Davis claimed she named the award "Oscar" because it reminded her of the posterior of her then-husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson, a big band leader of the 1930s.)
The film features two songs: "Jezebel" and "Raise a Ruckus."
(from Cinebooks Motion Picture Guide review)
CMM : A beautiful production forever it seems overshadowed by the "other" Southern belle movie. Rather slow to start and Davis' character is rather unsympathetic even more so than in some of her other similar roles, her decision to accompany Henry Fonda to a disease island does seem rather abrupt. (3 out of 5)
I simply love this movie. Davis does a wonderful job playing Jezebel. Truly I love it more for Henry Fonda. What a talented man. My mom has always been a huge fan of Fonda,not so much of his children. We did go see Monster-in-law,together when it came out to theaters. Guess with age,we all think differently. Cause she enjoyed Jane Fonda's performance.
A landmark Davis picture. At last Warners started giving her films worthy of her and stopped trying to turn her into a female version of James Cagney.
1938 marks the start of the confident years for Bette that was last until the mid 1940's.
Well deserved Oscars for both the star and Fay Bainter.
The Glasgow Film Festival in February 2008 is screening JEZEBEL as part of a Bette Davis tribute for her centenary. Cant wait!