Jezebel opens in Antebellum (1852) New Orleans. Southern belle Julie Marsden (Bette Davis) upsets everyone when she arrives at her own party wearing her "horse clothes" instead of changing.
When her fiancé, banker Preston “Pres” Dillard (Henry Fonda), is tied up in a board meeting, she marches on over to rush him along. Everybody encourages him to treat her with a firm hand, including Dr. Livingstone (Donald Crisp) and Gen. Theopholus Bogardus (Henry O’Neill).
So she does it again. Apparently, there are Southern rules about that sort of thing, but as she's pretty much a spoiled brat, Julie wears a red dress to the Olympus Ball. Not only that, she tries to get an admirer, Buck Cantrell (George Brent), to take her to the ball. He demurs, for her own good. Pres himself acquiesces, apparently willing to let the whole thing play out.
Things get out of hand at the ball, and they find themselves dancing alone to the stares of all the guests. Next thing you know, he dumps her. Aunt Belle Massey (Fay Bainter) tries to help, but Julie refuses, and mopes around for a year until he returns to help Dr. Livingston deal with a looming breakout of yellow fever.
Julie's ecstatic, until Pres introduces her to his wife, Amy Bradford Dillard (Margaret Lindway). It's like to break her heart, but she refuses to give up. Her manipulations cause trouble. Lots of fatal trouble.
And that's when the Yellow Jack epidemic breaks out a-main. Compromises and sacrifices have to be made when it becomes necessary to care for a loved one.
Although it was rumored that Bette Davis was offered the lead role because she lost out for Scarlett O’Hara in 1939’s Gone with the Wind, it’s not true. Jezebel was filmed long before the role of Scarlett had been cast.
Jezebel is often referred to as a black-and-white version of Gone with the Wind. Miss Davis earned $650 a week for her work. Two familiar character actors – Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and Spring Byington – have small roles in the film.
Selected for preservation by the U.S. Library of Congress, Jezebel was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Cinematography and Best Music Scoring. Jezebel won two – Bette Davis for Best Actress, and Fay Bainter for Best Supporting Actress. Deserving. Very deserving, indeed.
I've seen a lot of Bette Davis' films, but this was quite a tour de force.
“I'll make him live, I will. Whatever you might do, I can do more, 'cause I know how to fight better than you.” – Julie Marsden (Bette Davis)
“I like my convictions undiluted, same as I do my bourbon.” – Buck Cantrell (George Brent)
"I'm thinking of a woman named Jezebel, who did evil in the sight of God." – Aunt Belle Massey (Fay Bainter)