What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… Jezebel (1938)

Now we’re here for that classic 1938 drama Jezebel starring Bette Davis, Henry Fonda and George Brent.

In 1850 New Orleans, Southern belle Julie Marsden (Bette Davis) bucks a lot of social conventions as she tries to do things her own way. She is engaged to banker Preston “Pres” Dillard (Henry Fonda), who disagrees with her, but seems more prone to giving in to her. However, things come to a head on the night of the Olympus Ball, when Julie plans to wear a red dress instead of the traditional white dress she was expected to wear. Pres isn’t thrilled, but he goes along with it when he sees that she refuses to back down. Once there, she starts to regret her decision as everyone else shuns her, but Pres forces her to take her medicine and stay there dancing with him. Afterwards, they break their engagement and Pres leaves New Orleans on business. After a year has passed, Julie has barely left her house, even as yellow fever is starting to hit New Orleans. Dr. Livingstone (Donald Crisp) encourages her and her Aunt Belle (Fay Bainter) to go to her plantation at Halcyon, but she really doesn’t want to. She changes her mind when she hears that Pres is coming back, and starts making plans for a big party. However, when Pres arrives, he brings along his new wife, Amy (Margaret Lindsay), which upsets Julie. As the party goes on, she goads her friend Buck Cantrell (George Brent) into trying to pick a fight with Pres, but he has to leave on business, and Preston’s brother Ted (Richard Cromwell) challenges Buck to a duel. When Buck is killed in the duel and Pres comes down with yellow fever, Julie is forced to reconsider her selfish actions.

Jezebel generally receives a lot of comparisons to Gone With The Wind, which was actually in production at the same time. Jezebel was actually based on a Broadway play (that had flopped) that was actually before the novel of Gone With The Wind was published. Warner Brothers was able to get the rights pretty cheaply, but it wasn’t until after the novel of Gone With The Wind became a big hit that Warner decided to revisit Jezebel, giving it to Bette Davis and teaming her with director William Wyler, whose frequent retakes allowed Bette Davis to improve her performance over time. Due to the similarity between the stories, Gone With The Wind producer David O. Selznick worried about how Jezebel would affect his own movie’s performance (of course, history has shown that David O. Selznick had nothing to worry about, as Gone With The Wind has become one of the biggest and most popular movies of all time).

To be honest, I was very hesitant going into this movie. I’ve never really been much of a fan of Bette Davis. Sure, I’ve seen a handful of her films (including her appearance in the previously reviewed Thank Your Lucky Stars), but as a whole, I just tend to avoid most of her films. With this movie, I was more willing to try it out, since I know Warner Archive Collection’s reputation for their Blu-ray releases, plus I’ve been waiting four long years to see more of the Warner-owned 30s movies given a Blu-ray release, and I wanted to support this one in hopes of continuing to see more of their films from that decade. All I can say, after having seen this movie now, is that it was WORTH EVERY PENNY. Sure, as a movie about the Old South, it’s not exactly the most politically correct when it comes to how the slaves are treated in the movie. But, it is well worth it just to see Bette Davis’ Oscar-winning performance. I admit, I was entranced right from the start, and, not only that, I now have a strong desire to see more of Bette’s filmography (starting with the recently restored WAC release of The Letter, if I can get to it sometime soon)! While it has certainly been compared time and time again to Gone With The Wind, I think this movie is good enough to stand on its own two feet! And for those that like to dream of the “what if”-type scenarios, it is as close as we will get to seeing what Bette Davis might have been like as Scarlett O’Hara in that classic! Again, see this movie if you get the chance!

As I said, this movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection. Since this was my first viewing, I don’t know what the transfer was like on DVD firsthand, but I’ve heard it was definitely in need of a lot of work. For this Blu-ray, Warner Archive put in a lot of work, going with nitrate lavender fine-grain elements (since the original camera negative was gone), and it certainly paid off! The movie looks fantastic, almost as if it was filmed yesterday! I certainly can’t recommend this release enough, not just for the movie, but also for the wonderful restoration here, too!

Film Length: 1 hour, 44 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #6 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2019

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Petrified Forest (1936) – Bette Davis – The Letter (1940)

Henry Fonda – Spawn Of The North (1938)

In Person (1935) – George Brent – International Lady (1941)

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