Bette Davis brings multifaceted emotion to the role of Julie, a stubborn conniver who won’t be happy unless she gets what she wants. Julie is a Jezebel character in the way she wants to control her man. She wants to make him do her bidding and come running back to her after she crosses the line with him. She’s the woman who willfully and selfishly defies convention and doesn’t mind keeping tongues wagging at her shocking behavior. She rather enjoys the attention.
Henry Fonda plays Preston Dillard, a man in love with Julie and probably wishing she’d been disciplined a lot more in her growing up years. George Brent adds a lot to the story as the dueling Buck Cantrell. Preston represents the North and Buck represents the south in the way they cling to forward thinking (Preston) or the traditional rules of the South (Buck).
The story is about the yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans in the 1850s and how that impacted the plans of a spoiled young woman and the man she loves. The writing is so well done that you don’t really know what’s coming up even though every turn of the plot was set up in advance.
The movie, with its complicated plot, was directed by William Wyler. It came out after Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Gone With The Wind, and before Scarlett O’Hara hit the big screen. The audience was ready for a beautiful antebellum setting. Academy Awards went to Bette Davis for Best Actress in a Leading Role and to Fay Bainter for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
I loved how Julie’s character was shown through her clothes. She wore a riding habit to a party she gave and arrived late for. Julie wore red to a ball where all single girls wore white. The red dress had as much of a destructive effect at the ball as the yellow fever had in New Orleans. Everyone shunned the red dress almost as much as fever victims were shunned a little later in the movie. Costumes designed by Orry-Kelly made an impact in the story, even the plain dark cloak Julie wore to escape in the night.