Filmsite Movie Review
Jezebel (1938)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

The scene of their entrance into the great Olympus debutante ball is noteworthy and memorable. A full orchestra plays waltz music for the properly-attired, white-gowned young women dancing in the arms of their tuxedoed escorts. The ball was to be the occasion when Julie's betrothal was to be officially announced. During their slow walk down the gauntlet of males into the ballroom, Preston stares at those who watch them, daring any of them to make a comment. The young, white-clad debutantes gaze at and withdraw from the couple, shocked by their improper, unconventional appearance. The camera follows Julie's large, guilty eyes darting back and forth as she is shunned and made a spectacle rather than becoming a sensation.

Scandalizing the affair, she suffers well-deserved humiliation and understandable embarrassment and begs to leave, but Preston adamantly refuses. He insists instead that they continue to dance - forcing her to live with the consequences of her stubborn, self-centered will:

Julie: Pres, I wanna leave.
Preston: We haven't danced yet. Shall we?
Julie: No. (He takes her arm and circles her around the dance floor anyway.) Pres, let me go. Take me out of here.

Spatially, the couple is left all alone on the dance floor, surrounded by an area of white dresses on the perimeter of the ballroom - after the entire dance floor is emptied, they are the last remaining couple left during the grand waltz. The music ceases and there is an uncomfortable, embarrassed silence. She again struggles with Preston in the wide expanse of the dance floor and begs to be taken home. Finally, they return to the Bogardus mansion and Preston, pushed to the limits of his tolerance and endurance, bids Julie farewell. Thinking him insolent, she blames him for inflicting humiliation and slaps his face:

Preston: Bye, Julie.
Julie: Is that all you've got to say to me?
Preston: There's nothin' more to say.
Julie: Evidently, you've made up your mind.
Preston: No, Julie. You've made up my mind.
Julie: Good-bye, Pres. (She shakes his hand, and then unexpectedly slaps him across the face.)
Preston: (calmly) Bye, Julie.

Julie follows Preston's departure with her face and eyes. Aunt Belle cautions Julie to call Preston back after their broken engagement, certain that Julie has driven him away for good this time: "Julie, don't let him go. Call him back. Julie, you're a fool!" Called a fool for refusing, Julie confidently insists she hasn't been jilted:

Julie: Not such a fool. He'll come back.
Aunt Belle: He won't. Not this time he won't, believe me. (Hectically, Julie ascends the stairs as her Aunt stands solidly at the base of the staircase) Julie, honey, let me send for him.
Julie: No, he'll come back. Wait and see. And tonight, I think. If he does, say I've retired. And then I'm sleepin' late in the morning. Not to come around 'till afternoon tomorrow...

The film abruptly jumps to "One Year Later." In the interim, Preston has broken off his engagement to Julie and moved away from New Orleans to live in the North. News arrives that Preston is returning to New Orleans and "bringing something rare and precious from the North." Dr. Livingston (Donald Crisp) advises Aunt Belle and Julie to leave the city and go to the country-side Halcyon plantation-estate to escape the risk of contracting yellow fever during a feared outbreak. Aunt Belle commiserates with Dr. Livingston about Julie's melancholy, obsessiveness, and anti-social behavior - after Preston's departure to the North a year earlier, Julie had retreated into seclusion:

Aunt Belle: Won't go outside except to ride that crazy thoroughbred of hers. Then, I'm in fear and trembling she'll break her neck. Won't go anyplace where there's company. Won't have company in. Young Mr. Cantrell and the others, she hasn't received them in months. They've stopped calling, only leave cards.
Dr. Livingston: What does she do all day long?
Aunt Belle: Tends the house as no house has ever been tended. She's so particular. If an article is half an inch out of place, or there's a speck of dust on anything, she notices it. It makes me uneasy.
Dr. Livingston: You might be interested in a bit of news I got today. Preston Dillard's comin' back. Arrives Friday on the packet.
Aunt Belle: What brings him?
Dr. Livingston: ...fever business. We two stand together on what ought to be done about it. And now it's busted loose, he's comin' back.
Aunt Belle: It's high-time. I suspect I know Julie like nobody ever will. Every crook and cranny of her.
Dr. Livingston: You ought to, Miss Belle. She's more like you than you ever were.
Aunt Belle: Maybe I love her most when she's her meanest, because I know that's when she's lovin' most.

Aunt Belle informs Julie that Preston Dillard is coming home on account of the fever outbreak - the bank is short-handed. Living on the hope of his return and that they will be reconciled, she ecstatically and euphorically anticipates their reunion. She is confident that he will return and marry her when she humbly asks for his forgiveness at a homecoming party to be planned for him at the family's country estate:

Julie: Pres is coming home. Of course...
Aunt Belle: Did you know?
Julie: Certainly I knew. I knew all along. He had to come back to me. He couldn't help himself. He wouldn't know how to fight as hard as I have to keep from going to him. We'll be married. I'm gonna beg his forgiveness. I was vicious and mean and selfish. And I'm gonna tell him I hated myself for bein' like I was even then. I'll humble myself before him. And everything that ever stood between us will be gone when he takes me in his arms. Perhaps we'd better go to the plantation. Of course, that's the place for our meeting. We'd better start packing...We'll give a party. We'll invite everybody. A party to celebrate!

At "Halcyon Plantation": With frantic anticipation, Julie makes last minute preparations with Aunt Belle for Preston's arrival: "Everything's gotta be right, dumplin'. Just right." She dresses in a luminously soft white gown: "I've been savin' it for today." A chorus of slave voices cries out from the road as the first party guests arrive: "Carriages comin'!!" Preston's carriage is delayed due to a sheriff's quarantine placed on the parish line because of an outbreak of fever in New Orleans. Persons who contract the feared yellow fever are sent off to die on Lazarette Island, an old leper colony:

Mr. Allen (Gordon Oliver): Armed guards are patrolling the road as far up as Riverview. They're stoppin' everybody comin' from the city.
General Bogardus: It's mighty bad in the city, Ms. Belle. Mighty bad. We're all very fortunate to be up here.
Aunt Belle: Are any gentle-folk taken down?
Buck: Major Crandall's dead from it for one. And Warrington's got it. No tellin' how many others. You see, with a sickness in the house, they're keepin' it a secret. Cause there's talk of shippin' those who have got it off to Lazarette Island where the lepers are.
Aunt Belle: Lazarette Island where the lepers are?!
General Bogardus: Hmm, hmm. Like in '30.
Aunt Belle: Why, it ain't civilized to condemn Christian people to Lazarette Island. Well, they won't have a chance at all.
Buck: No chance at all, Ms. Belle. But maybe the rest of us will.
Aunt Belle: Theopholus? We are safe up here?
General Bogardus: This parish always has been above the fever line. They aim to keep it that way.

When Preston arrives at the front porch, he introduces his wife Amy (Margaret Lindsay) to a stunned but gracious and courteous Aunt Belle. Preston ultimately decided to marry another, without Julie's knowledge. As Aunt Belle enters the mansion, she anxiously looks up the stairs toward Julie's bedroom, fearing the worst. On her first visit to the South, Amy finds everything "strange and beautiful - and a little frightening...because of its strangeness and beauty, I suppose."

While sipping a mint julep prepared by Uncle Cato (Lew Payton), Preston asks about Julie:

Preston: How is Miss Julie?
Cato: Miss Julie? Why she's just Miss Julie.
Preston: Just the same?
Cato: Well I reckon princesses, they just naturally grows up to be queens, that's all.

In the film's second great scene, Julie appears behind Preston, this time wearing a breathtaking white dress. Brimming with sexual innuendo, a determined but subdued Julie humbly apologizes to Preston, surrendering and kneeling at his feet, begging his forgiveness, and asking him to love her as she loves him. Her dress puddles around her on the floor:

Julie: Pres. Are you rememberin' the time you wanted me to wear white? Are ya? Well, until now, I never have. Cat got your tongue, Pres?
Preston: Julie.
Julie: You said that plain enough. Pres, what fools we were.
Preston: Julie, you're lovely, lovelier than ever.
Julie: Pres, I can't believe it's you here. I dreamed about it so long. A lifetime. No, longer than that. I put on this white dress for you to help me tell ya how humbly I ask you to forgive me. (She drops to the floor) Pres, I'm kneelin' to ya.
Preston: Julie, don't. (He grasps her hands to help her stand)
Julie: ask ya to forgive me and love me as I love you.
Preston: Julie, please.

And then his wife Amy enters the room to be introduced. As a reply to her supplications, Preston introduces Julie to his Northern wife - a Miss Amy Bradford from New York. Julie is awe-struck and momentarily speechless:

Julie: Your wife?
Amy: And you're, may I say Julie?
Julie: Pres' wife? You're funnin'.
Preston: Hardly.
Julie: Married? My felicitations, Pres. (She extends her hand to Amy)...I'm very happy to welcome you to Halcyon. (Julie bows)
Amy: Thank you. You have such charming customs here.
Julie: You may find our customs, as you call them, different from those of your country.
Amy: I did want to meet you. Pres has told me so much about you.
Julie: Everything, I suppose.
Amy: Are you very surprised about our getting...
Julie (interrupting): We Louisianans are very impulsive. I wouldn't be surprised at whatever Pres did.

When they have excused themselves, Julie recovers her old spirit and spiteful personality and begins scheming to win him back. Her aim is transfigured from love to conquest and an assertion of power and superiority ("I've gotta think, to plan, to fight"):

Aunt Belle: (consoling) Julie, child, I'm so sorry.
Julie: For heaven's sakes, don't be gentle with me now. Do you think I wanna be wept over? I've gotta think, to plan, to fight.
Aunt Belle: But you can't fight marriage!
Julie: Marriage, is it! To that washed-out little Yankee. Pres is mine! He's always been mine. And if I can't have him...

During a formal dinner, a flirtatious Julie goads and encourages Buck to argue with ex-Southerner Preston about the supremacy of the North vs. the South to stir up his jealous passions:

Buck: Here's how I see it. Cotton is King. Folks are bound to ship cotton downriver. So how can New Orleans keep from being the greatest city in America - fever or no fever?
Preston: I'm afraid there's more than fever the matter.
Buck: Bein' up North seems to have changed your point of view.
Preston: I hate to say this, but in a war of commerce, the North must win.
Buck: That's a mighty curious thing for a Southerner to say.
Julie: It strikes me that way. But maybe Pres has learned why up North.
Preston: If you must have it, it'll be a victory of machines over unskilled slave labor.
Mrs. Kendrick (Spring Byington): Preston!
Buck: I don't know that I like that, Dillard.
Preston: You're not expected to like it. You'll like it a lot less when it happens.
Buck: Well, you talk mighty like a black abolitionist.
Preston: I think you know I'm no abolitionist. I believe the tide has turned against us. But I'll swim against that tide just as far as you will, Cantrell....Naturally, we claim the right to the customs we were born to, even some of us who question the value of those customs.
Buck: I like my convictions undiluted, same as I do my bourbon.

During after-dinner drinks, Cantrell and Preston quarrel with further insults:

Buck: If the Yankee nation don't let us be, we'll have to go up there and teach 'em manners.
Preston: I'm afraid facts are against you doing it as easy as that.
Buck: I think your facts are mostly to scare women and sell Northern bonds.

According to Preston's brother Ted, "(Julie) set herself up to fascinate Buck like a Gallatan Street girl." Preston suspects that Julie's attentive outpourings toward Buck are only momentary to stimulate his own interest. As he walks into the outdoors, he swats at a fever-bearing mosquito biting his hand. Julie appears to him in the garden, inquires about his marriage, and charmingly and persuasively appeals to his Southern heritage and its untamed character:

Julie: Pres, why did you do it? Why, Pres?
Preston: Because I love her.
Julie: But you had my love.
Preston: And lost it.
Julie: Wasn't that memory more real than anything she had to give to you? Oh, don't be cross with me, Pres, just tell me. You must.
Preston: Please don't, Julie.
Julie: Shall I cry for ya? Nobody ever made me cry but you. And that was only twice. Do you remember?
Preston: Yes.
Julie: How much do you remember?
Preston: Everything you ever said or did. But that's passed now, Julie. Done, finished.
Julie: I ought to have come to you. I wanted to so terribly. It's because I wanted to so much that I couldn't. You do understand that, don't you, Pres?
Preston: I didn't understand. I just knew what you did.
Julie: You had to come home, didn't you? You had to come back to the country and the things you know 'cause you belong here. Nothing can change that. Pres, listen. Can you hear 'em? The night noises - the mockingbird and the magnolia. See the moss hangin' from the moonlight. They're gonna taste the night. Can't you? You're a part of it, Pres, and it's part of you, like I am. You can't get away from us Pres. We're both in your blood. This is the country you were born to, the country you know and trust. Your country, Pres. Amy wouldn't understand. She'd think there'd be snakes.
Preston: Julie, please.
Julie: Oh, it isn't tame, and isn't like the North. It's quick and dangerous, but you trust it. Remember how the fever mist smells in the bottoms, rank and rotten, but you trust that too, because it's part of you. Just as I am part of you and will never let you go. (She makes a sexual advance and begins kissing him, but he repulses her.) Pres, you're afraid.

Preston returns to the house without a further word. Buck Cantrell joins Julie and begins ridiculing Amy's Northern manners and ignorance of the South: "My zing, Miss Julie, don't they educate the women up North? She's just plain ignorant." Julie also fabricates an insult, insinuating that Preston improperly made advances toward her in the garden:

Buck: Look here, Miss Julie. You were out here a mighty long time with Pres Dillard.
Julie: Oh please, Buck. Pres had just been polishin' the brandy and...
Buck: My back teeth! Did he lose his capacity to drink like a gentleman in the North too? What does he think a lady's house is - a riverboat bar? What did he do?
Julie: Oh Buck! I wouldn't have some silly thing I said be the cause of anything.
Buck: Miss Julie, you won't be the cause of anything. Depend on me.
Julie: Thank you, Buck.

Previous Page Next Page