Jezebel

dir. William Wyler

Jezebel

dir. William Wyler

Jezebel

dir. William Wyler

TIFF Cinematheque - Hollywood Classics

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Bette Davis won the second of her two Best Actress Oscars as a tempestuous Southern belle who schemes to reclaim her straight-laced ex-fiancé (Henry Fonda), in William Wyler's posh antebellum drama.

Davis won the second of her two Best Actress Oscars for Jezebel, in a role that was reportedly offered her as compensation for losing the part of Scarlett O'Hara to Vivien Leigh. (Davis would have demanded Rhett Butler give a damn.) Hot-blooded and headstrong don't begin to describe antebellum (jeze-)belle Julie Marsden, a New Orleans spitfire who spites her banker beau (Henry Fonda) by wearing a harlot scarlet gown to the most important ball of the year when tradition and decorum dictate virginal white. "This is 1852, dumplin', 1852, not the Dark Ages," Julie sneers. "Girls don't have to simper around in white just because they're not married." (Describing this sequence, shot over many days of painstaking long takes, Terrence Rafferty writes: "Bette Davis could make you see red in black and white.") Julie adds injury to insult by slapping her betrothed, upon which he decamps north for business, leaving the unrepentant on her plantation, steamin' and schemin' to get him back. A yellow fever epidemic sweeping through the South provides the ominous backdrop for Julie's stratagems, which culminate in a botched duel. Though Jezebel may be Davis' show, the supporting cast is very fine; indeed, Fay Bainter won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar as Julie's Aunt Belle.