Jezebel (1938) (NTSC)

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Released 1-Apr-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1938
Running Time 104:08 (Case: 103)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,4 Directed By William Wyler
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Bette Davis
Henry Fonda
George Brent
Margaret Lindsay
Donald Crisp
Fay Bainter
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Max Steiner


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Spanish
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes, minor
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

"The Story Of A Woman Who Was LOVED...When She SHOULD Have Been WHIPPED!"

    The first film I ever reviewed for MichaelDVD was Of Human Bondage - the first major feature film to cast Bette Davis in a starring role. In that film, she showed signs of her great potential, albeit with some over-acting on occasion, and won her first Oscar nomination for her efforts. Four years and thirteen films later, with her star quality now fully developed, she starred in Jezebel as the scarlet woman of the title. The film is an epic tale of the social mores prevalent in the Deep South of the USA in 1852. Davis was deservedly awarded her second Oscar for Best Actress (she won her first for the 1935 film Dangerous) for her commanding performance.

    Julie Marsten (Davis) is a flighty, headstrong and spoiled young woman, living in a strait-laced New Orleans just prior to the American Civil War. She refuses to follow the social constraints of the time by wearing a bright red dress to the Olympus Ball (where white is the only acceptable colour), simply to spite her fiancé. This act of heresy is greeted with anger and disgust by her upper-class genteel peers. Her rebellious gesture is sufficient to drive her banker fiancé Preston Dillard (an almost unrecognisably young Henry Fonda) out of her arms, and off to the wilds of New York.

    Julie comes to regret her impetuous behaviour, realising she has been "vicious, mean and selfish" and when Pres returns one year later she fully intends to beg his forgiveness and hopes to (finally) marry him. Unfortunately for Julie, Pres is accompanied by his new wife Amy (Margaret Lindsay). Her stubborn pride and blind jealousy causes Julie to manipulate Buck Cantrell (George Brent), who has always loved her, in her petulant attempts to win back Pres from his new bride. When the "Yellow Jack" strikes closer to home, Julie is provided with an opportunity to redeem herself and try to undo the damage she has caused to those who love her.

    Jezebel will mainly appeal to those "of a certain age", but there is genuinely much here to admire and enjoy for all fans of cinema. I would urge "younger" viewers to give this disc a rental, simply to admire a truly star performance from Davis, and to get a glimpse of how good films used to be made - before CGI, 5.1 surround mixes and "bullet time" became the norm. A quaint story with some great acting, set design and direction (by William Wyler). The only drawback is that the representation of black people solely as obsequious slaves is rather disturbing in today's more liberated times, and (although probably an accurate representation of the times) may prove offensive to some viewers. Recommended for fans of Bette Davis or Gone With The Wind.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Please note that this feature is presented in NTSC format. If your system is unable to correctly display NTSC, then you should avoid this disc.

    The video quality of this transfer is acceptable for a movie which is around sixty-five years old. Judging from the appalling video quality of the theatrical trailer (see Extras), I would suspect that this transfer has had some reasonable restoration work carried out on it. It is presented full-screen at 1.33:1 (not 16x9 enhanced) which is close to the original 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio.

    The overall transfer is rather soft and extremely grainy. The level of grain is rather frustrating, and does certainly detract from the quality of the transfer. The picture almost looks like it has been filmed through muslin due to the ever-present speckles evident in the picture. There is an occasional lapse in focus, for example on Fonda's face at 64:24. The black levels are deep but shadow detail sometimes falls below acceptable levels. There is a noticeable flicker in the image brightness from time to time, perhaps most noticeable in the dark scene at 25:18. Greyscale is generally fine with a reasonable range of shades apparent. Skin tones appear to be satisfactory, given that this is a monochrome feature.

    It is difficult to tell if there are significant compression artefacts in the transfer, or whether the heavy grain is the true culprit. I suspect however, that as well as the grain, posterization is present on occasion (for example on the wall at 14:47, Julie's face at 43:00 and again at 65:57). With such a soft transfer, it is perhaps unsurprising that major edge enhancement was not noticeable, but it can be seen on the hats at 4:04 and around the actors at 19:04 or 44:00. Aliasing was minor, but there is a mild shimmer frequently present, for example on the banisters at 25:30 or the bar at 86:57. Telecine wobble is apparent throughout the film and is genuinely annoying at times (there is noticeable film jitter around 39:00 and also 95:48).

    Film artefacts crop up continually as flecks, specks and vertical scratches on the negative. These are mildly annoying, but I can forgive them being present in film stock of this vintage. The most significant damage crops up for a few frames at 56:31, as a marked tear in the film. Reel change markings can be seen every twenty minutes or so, for example at 18:36 or 75:52.

    The standard English subtitles are well timed and legible, but they do drop quite a few words which is a little disappointing. The English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing provide audio cues, and also seem to stick more closely to the dialogue on occasion.

    This disc is single sided and single layered (DVD 5) so there is no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The overall audio transfer is adequate given the age of the original source material.

    The Dolby Digital 1.0 (mono) soundtrack is encoded at 192 kbps. It is generally clean throughout, with no major hiss to be heard. Pops and dropouts were not a noticeable problem on my setup. Dialogue was almost always clear, although there is some distortion evident on the soundtrack, and the volume of the speech around 65:00 is a little low, which may have you straining to hear a bit. The audio sync was fine throughout.

    The original music is credited to the unbelievably productive Max Steiner (Casablanca, Gone With The Wind). It is not my cup of tea, but suits the period of the film very well, providing a suitably dramatic backdrop to the scenes of the ravaging Yellow Fever and a swirling, epic-feeling mood where appropriate.

    The only active speaker is the centre. The sound is overall quite reasonable, with clear dialogue and only some instances of clipping and a slightly "tinny" feel belying the age of the piece. The worst example of distortion occurs around 46:48, when the cast is excitedly shouting "the carriage is coming".

    The subwoofer and surround speakers are of course unused.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are minimal extras present.

Menu

    The main menu is a silent, static poster of Davis and Fonda, gazing at the stars. The options available are playing the feature, selecting one of a very healthy thirty-two chapter stops, language and subtitle selection, or viewing the theatrical trailer.

Theatrical Trailer

    Running for 2:02, this is presented at 1.33:1 with a fairly dreadful Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack encoded at 192 kbps. It is horribly grainy and full of film artefacts, but provides a suitably melodramatic taster of the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version of this film appears to be identical to our own, indeed the disc is dual coded for Regions 1 and 4. Buy whichever is cheaper.

Summary

    Jezebel is a very old film, given an adequate presentation on (NTSC) DVD. For fans of Henry Fonda, Bette Davis or films set around the pre-civil war Deep South this will provide a couple of hours of solid entertainment. A solid story, well told and very well performed.

    The video quality is adequate for a sixty-five year old film.

    The audio transfer is thin but serviceable.

    The extras are negligible.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Daniel O'Donoghue (You think my bio is funny? Funny how?)
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDHarmony DVD Video/Audio PAL Progressive, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TX-47P500H 47" Widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

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