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Film: Jezebel
Jezebel is a 1938 film directed by William Wyler, starring Bette Davis and Henry Fonda. Davis is Julie Marsden, a headstrong, rebellious Southern belle in 1852 New Orleans. Fonda is Preston "Pres" Dillard, her more sober, responsible fiance. Julie is given to temper tantrums when she thinks Pres isn't paying enough attention to her, and one particular tantrum, her decision to wear a red dress to the Olympus Ball, backfires when Pres breaks up with her. Pres promptly leaves New Orleans, going to New York to do business. When he comes back a year later, a humbled Julie is prepared to beg his forgiveness—until she finds out that he brought a wife back with him.

Jezebel won Davis the second of her two Oscars for Best Actress. It has a place on the National Film Registry.


Tropes:

  • Betty and Veronica: After Pres's wife Amy shows up, she is the sweet, supportive Betty to Julie's fiery, scheming Veronica.
  • Big Fancy House: Both the opulent Marsden mansion in New Orleans and their plantation house out in the country.
  • Cassandra Truth: Pres has several of these. He tries to tell the old farts who run his bank that they must build railroads or lose shipping traffic to Northern ports. He tells Julie's friends that a war against the North will be disastrous. He suggests cleaning up the town and draining the swamps to fight the yellow fever epidemic. No one listens.
  • Dances and Balls: The Olympus Ball triggers Pres and Julie's breakup.
  • Duel to the Death: Played completely straight. Buck Cantrell, one of Julie's suitors, seems to do this whenever he gets bored.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In Julie's first scene she is late for her own party, finally showing up on top of a wild horse.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Lots and lots of fancy dresses. One, the red dress that Julie wears to the Olympus Ball in defiance of convention, is a plot point.
  • Happiness in Slavery: The slaves at the Marsden mansion and plantation certainly seem carefree. Of course, no Hollywood film made in 1938 would have dared suggest that slaves were unhappy with their lot.
  • No Ending: Sort of. Julie's character arc certainly reaches a conclusion when she goes off to the yellow fever island with Pres in order to save his life. However, if you were wondering whether Pres dies or recovers from his yellow fever, you'll have to keep wondering.
  • Old Retainer: Uncle Cato, who has served the Marsden family for years, would be this, if he weren't actually a freaking slave.
  • The Plague: A yellow fever ("yellowjack") epidemic ravages New Orleans in 1853.
  • Rich Bitch: Selfish, petty, temperamental Julie is this, before her redemptive moment at the end.
  • Serious Business: Wearing a red dress to the Olympus Ball, instead of the white required by unmarried young women, is serious business.
  • Title Drop: Julie's mother lays this on her after Julie eggs on a duel that gets Buck Cantrell killed.
    "I'm thinking of a woman called Jezebel who did evil in the sight of God."
Mabel's BlunderUsefulNotes/National Film RegistryZorro
HolidayFilms of the 1930sThe Lady Vanishes
The Grand IllusionAcademy AwardGone with the Wind
The Quiet ManAFIS 100 Years 100 PassionsThe Sheik

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