U.S.A.| 1938. BLACK AND WHITE. 103 MIN.

Yellow fever sweeps across New Orleans in the 1850s, carrying in its path a society on the eve of destruction and a headstrong heroine whose acts of wilfulness and perversity signal a vitality frustrated by a patronising, patriarchal social order.

Although she had made over thirty films prior to this, Jezebel was the turning-point of Bette Davis’s career. She was for the first time working with a great director, William Wyler, with whom she fell madly in love; and playing a character whose determination to dominate matched her own. Part scripted by John Huston, the film is sometimes seen as a forerunner of Gone with the Wind, and Davis, tormented by her love for Henry Fonda, ranges emotionally from rebellion, through repentance, to resilience. The scenes where she flames defiance in a red dress and later acts contrition in a white one represent collaboration between performer and director at its most inspired. Never has a Best Actress Oscar been more richly deserved.

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