Timothy, you're right about the comedy, One, Two, Three. It's a good one. I saw that a couple years ago. I could certainly watch it again.
Now, hang onto your armrest, I’m going to take you for a rough ride. I’m going to diss an Academy award winner:
I watched part of 1938’s Jezebel, with Bette Davis and Henry Fonda, on FilmStruck last night. It started out fine but then my eyes started to glaze over. It first got relegated to the background as I surfed the web a bit waiting for something interesting to happen and then it eventually just got shut off.
Long story short: Forget about this one. Watch Gone With The Wind instead. I became quickly bored with this one, primarily because Bette Davis is so awful in it. Thank the Movie Gods that she did not get the part of Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With The Wind as very nearly happened.
But when you read the reviews of this movie, they are all glowing. All but one. I’m just going to post the review because it says it all:
I realize I will be placing myself in a much-despised minority for saying so, but I think Jezebel is one of the most over-rated movies of all time, and Bette Davis' Accademy Award winning performance in the same class. Bette Davis expressed much public pique that she was not picked to play Scarlett in Gone With The Wind, which is perhaps one of the reasons Barbara Stanwick called her "an egotistical little bitch". Probably not the only reason. In any case she demonstrates in Jezebel what an awful Scarlett she would have been and would have therefore ruined that unassailable center piece of Hollywood's golden era. The most perfect movie of all time would have just become another Bette Davis vehicle, and probably not one of her better ones. Don't get me wrong. I love Bette and most of her movies from this period. She had a wonderful range as an actress -- from hard-bitten floozy to noble, self-sacrificing old maid school teacher to Queen of England. But Jezebel showed that Southern belle was a number that wasn't in her scope. Her Southern accent was a total flop with her brittle New England accent frequently breaking through. Except for the occasional eye flutter, she never mastered the demure facial expressions or ethereal body language that the honeysuckle dames use to cover up their razor-edged ruthlessness. The scene of her sitting on the porch steps after the ball with a goofy, dreamy, self-indulgent expression while her black slaves gathered to sing and dance jigs for her was high embarrassment. Accademy Award? She should have gotten a booby prize!
Henry Fonda was even worse. Both his flat speech and his brusque manners displayed his Midwestern origins, his only concession to a Southern accent saying "Suh!" at the end of every address to a male character. I'm not so sure there wasn't some instance in which he slipped up and said "Suh!" to one of the females. Irish George Brent's interpretation of a Southern blade was to punctuate every sentence with wide-eyed eyebrow lifts and walk with ridiculous bounce in his step. The only actors with major parts who believably captured the Southern persona were Fay Bainter, a real-life southerner, and the ever-reliable Donald Crisp. Even the slaves didn't seem like real southern afro-Americans. They came off more like bored Kansas City factory workers. And what about French accents -- southern fried French, that is. This movie was supposed to be set in Lousiana. The speech of some of the characters, both white and black ones, should have showed a Gallic taint.
The script that they and usually inspired director William Wyler were handed probably did not help. Everything about it was unbelievable. There was no sensible reason any woman, even a spoiled southern belle would behave as Bette's character did in the red dress incident. The duels and the continuous challenges to same were quite inauthentic. Dueling was common in the South then all right, but challenges and actual bloodshed not nearly so much so as portrayed in Jezebel. Before the principals would ever meet on the "field of honor", there was a long process of exchanging letters and messages carried by the seconds in an attempt to reach a "satisfactory explanation" that would avoid the confrontation. Exchanges of fire with shakily held smooth-bore pistols were infrequently deadly. Often after one nonlethal exchange, the seconds could talk the principals into saying that each's honor had been satisfied. Had the Southern gentlemen had been as touchy and have dueled as frequently and as lethally as portrayed in this movie, they would have all killed each other off in short time. Then there would have been no ready-made officer corps to lead the Confederate Army, and it wouldn't have taken you Yankees with every advantage in numbers and material so long to subdue us in "the late war".
The script was bad from beginning to end, but worst of all was the end. Now watch out! this is the "spoiler". I felt humiliated putting the necessary "spoiler alert" at the beginning of this review, because the end of this movie spoils itself. That's right. It is "The Lady or the Tiger" ending. In other words there is no ending. The viewer is just left hanging as to the fate of the leading characters! Hardly any publisher will publish a story or novel which ends this way. Most readers upon finishing a novel with such an ending will never read another by that author. I'm glad I had previously seen some of Wyler's fine work like The Best Years of Our Lives and The Westerner. Otherwise I would have never wanted to watch another movie directed by him after seeing Jezebel. It is little wonder the play Jezebel was based upon flopped in only a few weeks. The wonder is that Warner Brothers would have wanted to waste talent and money turning it into a major motion picture.
To sum up Jezebel's main problem: neither the script writers, nor the director, and few in the cast had any idea how to portray Southern culture, manners, and characters, which is what the show was supposed to be about. They would have been much better off to have relocated the time and setting to New York in the early 1800's. New York then still had slavery, still had frequent dueling, had frequent yellow fever epidemics, and had a snooty, aristocratic upper class who dominated everything. Little about the story would have had to have been changed. Then all of the Yankee actors and actresses involved in this over-cooked turkey wouldn't have had to embarrass themselves and the rest of us with their phony Southerner imitations.
Listen, I know movies and even individual performances can be a matter of taste. But Bette Davis is so self-consciously and melodramatically over-the-top in this one, it’s not even close. This is BETTE DAVIS acting the part of her acting a Southern Belle. You never forget that it’s Bette Davis putting on a show, and it’s an over-done one even for her. But I guess because she’s playing a ball-buster, she was the darling of the liberal Academy even back then, voting not for quality of performance but for the political or social message, or so I assume, because there’s no way that performance deserves a vote.
Davis’ character is so overwhelming unlikeable and annoying, it makes no sense in this picture, especially one set in the Old South.
Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, on the other hand, is fully lost inside the character. You never see Vivien Leigh acting. You only see this extraordinary character who is both unlikeable and charming at the same time. (There’s a reason Rhett Butler was attracted to her, and a reason he eventually walked out that front door.) She’s got pep but other attributes as well (good and bad). She’s not just a rat-a-tat-tat brattish Southern Belle pressing all the boundaries just for the sake of doing so as we see in the Davis character. Scarlett is an individual. Davis plays little more than a stereotype.
But, anyway, history has spoken. But I’ve got to hand it to that one lone voice of that reviewer. Despite all the obsequious praise for this film and for Bette Davis, he calls it right. There’s a lesson in that.