Bette Davis claimed than an affair between a star and her director produces electricity that the audience feels. She was thinking about Jezebel, the film she made with William Wyler, and it’s true.
Julie Marsden, the southern belle she plays, has all the foot-stomping petulance of Scarlett O’Hara, but there’s more SEX to her. When she shows up at the ball in her red dress, the men are terrified. One after another, they flee to their proper young ladies in white. The very thought of dancing with Miss Julie has them perspiring.
Henry Fonda is smitten, despite himself. He can’t allow himself to be humiliated by Julie — he has his pride — but damned if he wants to see her with anyone else, least of all the aptly-named Buck, his rival for Julie’s affections. He’s jealous of Buck, even when he’s there at Julie’s house, introducing her to his new wife.
Jezebel is definitely a woman’s picture; we could care less about Buck or Fonda’s character. Bette Davis could be any one of us, when we’ve made a mistake and there’s no undoing it. Bad as she is, we’re rooting for Julie. Deep down, we know she deserves to redeem herself at the end.
Good of Wyler to let us see Bette Davis in this grown-up, frankly seductive role. They must have had quite a thing going.