#112 Jezebel (1938)

Introducing the first Bette Davis feature film on our list and the first big movie for the actress herself! William Wyler’s Jezebel is about a 19th century Southern woman who ruins it with the man she loves and stops at nothing to win him back.

So picture this film as the original black and white version of Gone with the Wind. Bette Davis plays powerhouse woman Julie in love with her boyfriend but ruins it all when she decides to wear a red dress to an elegant ball instead of white like all of the other women. People of today might see this as overdramatic to break up with someone over the disapproval of a dress but see it as a feminist move on her part. She doesn’t want to conform like everyone else at the ball and be resorted to wearing the safe color of white. Red is still considered to be very sexy. Then again, she should have known that he would be PO’d about that. Other than this film taking place in the antebellum South, what this film also has in common with Gone with the Wind is seeing the female lead go to desperate lengths after someone that she can never have.

While there was a lot of drama that took place in the film such as feuds, jealousy, and an epidemic to top it all off, there was plenty of drama off-set too. For example, Bette Davis and director William Wyler had a steamy affair. Bette Davis was still married at the time to Harmon Nelson even though her marriage to him was shattering. She was even pregnant with Wyler’s baby at the end of shooting before she got an abortion. When shooting was over, so was their affair. Davis would always call Wyler the greatest love that she had. It broke her heart when he moved on with Margaret Tallichet. I guess it looks like Davis knew how it felt to be with someone she couldn’t have as well. Have you ever been in that situation before? This film gave Bette Davis her second Academy Award for Best Actress and the film also won Best Supporting Actress for Fay Bainter. A good melodrama to see and important to see for those who are a fan of Gone with the Wind.

Unfortunately, I could not find the film online but here is a trailer and feel free to comment on what you see:

#111 The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

This next film was not only a Best Picture winner of 1937 but the second film of the Biography genre to win Best Picture with the first being The Great Ziegfeld. The Life of Emile Zola is the true story of a French author who decides to defend a Jewish army officer accused of being a spy.

French author Emile Zola lives a comfortable life as a successful author as he teaches readers that life is not 100% beautiful in gay old Paris. As his books become a success, it seems that Zola is living the life. Then a little drama kicks in when the wife of an Army officer asks Zola to help her husband, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who is facing anti-semitic charges against him. It is interesting how the title of this film is not called “Emile Zola and the Dreyfus Affair” considering when I first think of the title, I think it will start out with Zola as a young boy with a sharp focus on his start in writing. The film considers the most pivotal moment of Emile Zola’s life to be when he defended this man that the police knew was innocent but still wanted him put away. We have seen Paul Muno, who plays Emile Zola himself, in I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang and Scarface. We know he can give heart-wrenching performances and it is easily demonstrated in this film; especially during the trial scene in which he gives his testimony towards Dreyfus. Muno kept wanting to do retakes of that scene despite nailing it on the first take. What a perfectionist! What did you think of that scene?

The Life of Emile Zola was the first film to receive ten nominations. It’s unfortunate that Paul Muno did not win Best Actor that year as he gave a tremendous performance. On the bright side, Joseph Schildkraut won Best Supporting Actor for the role of Dreyfus and the movie won Best Picture and Best Screenplay. Oh well! You can’t win ’em all like they say. Schildkraut was convinced that the Academy was not going to pay attention to The Life of Emile Zola so he stayed away from the ceremony. He got woken up to discover by an Academy representative that he was to accept his award and he made it in time! Way to go! This is a great film to see as we witness a man do a life-saving favor to a man without asking for anything in return and just how terribly hard it is to fight for justice. This was a great story to tell.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a link to this film so here is the trailer and please comment what you think:

#110 The Awful Truth (1937)

Here is yet another film on the hilarity that ensues with an impending divorce. Still a controversial subject at the time but that did not stop this film from being a classic rom-com. Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth is when a couple decides to divorce because they both accuse each other of infidelity but they learn that separating from your spouse is easier said than done.

I will admit that this film is personally not one of my favorites. Probably because I feel like it ends the way it begins. Actually, when you think about it, the ending reminds me of It Happened One Night when symbolism tells you whether or not they are sleeping together all because of The Production Code. It was just your ordinary screwball comedy. But I would also say that this is a good film to see if you want a laugh and something fun to see. We see a couple that is very untrustworthy of each other that they decide to divorce but for a mutual separation, it seems like they spend more time ruining each other’s hope for moving on than actually moving on. Custody of the dog, ruining new romances. It’s a funny situation when you think about it. For those of you who have been through a separation or a divorce, did you ever feel like taking revenge on your spouse? If so, remember why you wanted separation from that person in the first place!

Believe it or not, a big portion of this film is improvised! Director Leo McCarey would tell the actors to just say the first thing that popped into their head after a certain action. Like when Irene Dunne’s character opens the door, Grant replies “The judge says this is my day to see the dog.” Totally improvised! Some scenes were also written in at last minute such as when Irene Dunne is doing her cabaret act as she pretends to be Cary Grant‘s sister. It’s very rare that we see films from the 1930s that have a lot of improvisation to them. Cary Grant apparently did not want to be a part of this film so badly that he was willing to opt out for $5,000. All of the stress that McCarey put on Grant helped him with his character’s nervous persona. Well, for someone who did not want to be in the film, his fan mail after reached 200 to 1400 fan letters a week. The Awful Truth was nominated for six Academy Awards and won for Best Director. I would recommend this film if you want to see something fun and carefree that takes light of something as serious as divorce. Oh, and if you want to see this comedy duo again, you can see them again in My Favorite Wife (1940) and Penny Serenade (1941).

Unfortunately, I could not find the film online but you can rent it on Amazon for $3.99. Here is the trailer and please comment what you think: