I’ve always considered William Wyler’s 1938 Jezebel, one of those “miracle” films.
It just works.
Great cast. Superb direction. Wonderful score by Max Steiner (he also did the score for that other Old South production, the following year) Beautifully photographed, in black & white, by the great Ernest Haller.
It all works, and does it ever stand the test of time!
Five Academy Award nominations & WINS:
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Fay Bainter
Best Cinematography – Ernest Haller
Best Music Scoring – Max Steiner
Best Actress – Bette Davis
Like all cinephiles, we have our favorite films for each and every director, and actor.
For Bette Davis, the two at the top are Jezebel and All About Eve. One can add to that, Dark Victory, The Letter, The Little Foxes, The Bride Came C.O.D., Now Voyager, and The Whales of August.
A nice list of great films, for an extraordinary talent.
But I’ve had my concerns about Jezebel, from a survival perspective. And while I used to have a gorgeous 16mm print, struck in the late ‘40s or early ‘50s, I’ve never seen it look better than acceptable in any home video format.
Did I just hear someone mutter the word, “Why?”
Where do I begin?
The film had an original running time of only 104 minutes, when it was originally released in March of 1938. I’ve always found this odd, as there seems to be three hours of content, which seem to fly by.
Certainly, a re-issue, such as the one in late 1947 wouldn’t necessitate a re-cut to a shorter version?
Well, why not?
And if one is cutting the film, certainly one can make a new fine grain, and cut a duplicate negative?
Well, why not?
And so it was, that some time in 1947, the studio re-cut Jezebel, removing 11 minutes, taking the running time down to 93 minutes.
And cut both the original camera negative, as well as the track.
But wait, it gets better.
At some point, what remained of the original negative deteriorated enough, so that today, it no longer exists.
Everything up until today, for the original cut of the film, has been derived from a “quick and dirty” dupe negative, derived from a nitrate dupe, produced after enough runs on the neg to make it show wear and tear.
What thrills me about Warner Archive’s new release, is that it looks far better than my 16mm print, which was beautiful.
So much better, that one can easily forget what has befallen this film.
Produced from a very early lavender, also with its share of problems, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Rich blacks, gorgeous grays, with proper shadow detail, luminous whites, and magnificent velvety grain.
And to go with the image is a track that allows me to hear Mr. Steiner’s score, as I’ve never heard it before.
As I recall, it may have been another Warner film that gave us the line, “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of…”
Well, this new incarnation of the restored Jezebel, fits that line perfectly.
The point also must be made that this is a true restoration. An expensive one. So for those who like to request classic films, and may not yet have purchased The Thin Man and Footlight Parade, be aware that your purchases speak volumes, and create the ability to restore more nitrate productions.
Jezebel is a film for the ages!
Image – 5
Audio – 5
Pass / Fail – Pass
Upgrade from DVD – Are you seriously asking?
Very Highly Recommended