Bette Davis is a legend for a reason. She commands the screen no matter what role she is in. She slinks down long staircases or arches her eyebrows and automatically you are on her side. Even when the film doesn’t quite work, she still makes it viewable just by her presence. Jezebel is unfortunately in the category of “if Bette Davis wasn’t in this I would stop this thing right now.”

Bette Davis plays Julia. She is headstrong and full of ennui for her betrothed. Although she loves him a lot, she cannot tame her wild ways in order to please him. Because this is the Antebellum South, this means that she wears the wrong color to a ball or enters a bank where only men can go. Pretty tame stuff, but it elicits sneers and jeers from her compatriots. This forces her beau to tell her to straighten up or he will leave. She refuses and he leaves to go bank somewhere else for a time. He comes back married to the devil (or a Northerner). Julia is furious, so she conspires to make him jealous with a duel happy man. This sets into motion the last part of the film, where she is called a Jezebel (or whore in non-biblical terms), a couple of people get killed and a yellow fever epidemic pops up in the nearby towns. One of the victims is her former beau. She sacrifices herself in order to take care of him and nurse him back to life.

The main reason the film doesn’t quite work is because of Henry Fonda. I think that he might be incapable of emotion. He recites his lines in such a flat way that I wanted to reach into the screen and smack him just to get some sort of reaction. I didn’t believe for a moment that Henry Fonda actually liked Bette Davis’ character at all let enough to be engaged. However Bette Davis emotes for both of them. She yells, she cries and she delivers speeches. It is a grand performance full of wonderful overacting gems. The screen gets brighter every time she is on the screen and quickly fades with any mention of Henry Fonda. Can someone dig up his grave and slap his worm eaten face for me? I’ve got to be somewhere…


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