There’s a very distinct reason I refer to myself as a “film writer” and not a “film critic.” I don’t feel like I’m a critic, for one thing. Generally speaking, my whole vibe is “CHECK OUT THIS COOL THING!” Or, at least, I think that’s what it is. Another reason is that I have, by no means, see the be all end of all of everything there is to do with movies. For every mega epic classic that I’ve not seen, there are 15 films by the kinds of the drive-in, American International Pictures, that I have seen.
Case in point is the same I felt as I watched 1938’s “Jezebel” that stars Bette Davis and was directed by the great William Wyler. I am woefully unfamiliar with most of Wyler’s filmography, but every film I’ve seen made by Wyler I have enjoyed tremendously. Wyler has made some incredible films: 1959’s “Ben-Hur,” 1942’s “Mrs. Miniver” and undeniably one of the finest movies ever made, 1946’s “The Best Years of Our Lives.”
So it was with great excitement that I say down last night to watch “Jezebel” for the very first time, out on a brand new blu-ray from Warner Archive. Released in 1938—a year before “Gone With The Wind” but more on that later—“Jezebel” takes place in New Orleans in 1852 with Davis playing Southern Antebellum Belle Julie Marsden. Julie is a head-strong woman, who tends to buck the immensely cherished traditions of the South.
Julie is engaged to Preston “Pres” Dillard, played by the great Henry Fonda, a banker with a bright future. Julie frequently tries to raise the eye of jealousy in Preston’s eyes. One afternoon, when Pres refuses to leave work company Julie in buying a dress for the upcoming Olympus Ball, THE societal event of the year, Julie gets a little revenge by wearing a blazingly red dress to the typically all-white attire event. It turns out to be a social blunder that backfires, costing Julie her engagement to Pres.
Flash forward to a year later, and a despondent Julie receives word that Pres is coming back after having been away for a while. However, Pres doesn’t return alone, he returns with his new wife, and sparks fly as Julie tries to figure out if she can re-win the man she loves. “Jezebel” is a great film, with a fantastic cast, amazing costumes, and beautiful cinematography. All of which were nominated for Oscars—in addition to a nod for Best Picture–winning Oscars for both Bette Davis (her second after 1935’s “Dangerous”), and for her co-star Fay Bainter who plays Julie’s aunt.
“Jezebel” is a grand, sweeping, romantic melodrama with Davis in a role she well deserved her Oscar for. She’s fantastic in the film, and it’s been suggested he was given the title role in this film after losing out being cast as “Scarlet O’Hara” in the following year’s “Gone With The Wind.” Though frankly, for me, between the two films, I’d much rather watch “Jezebel” than “Gone With The Wind.”
Warner Archive’s blu-ray of “Jezebel” looks fantastic! The film is crisp, sharp, and breathtaking. The blu-ray was mastered from a brand new 4K restoration of original 35mm nitrate elements, and it shows. Bonus material is carried over from the previous DVD release, including a fantastic commentary track from historian Jeannie Basinger, A Featurette “Jezebel: Legend of the South,” the short subject “Melody Masters: Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra,” A rare promo-teaser, and the theatrical trailer. Plus, one of my most favorite bonus features on a blu-ray ever, my favorite Daffy Duck cartoon “Daffy Duck in Hollywood” directed by the great Tex Avery and also presented in full 1080p HD.
“Jezebel” is another stunning blu-ray presentation from Warner Archive, available on their web-store. Highly recommended, and I hope you check it out soon! See you next week.