JEZEBEL (1938)

Bette Davis had gone on strike from Warner Bros. for better roles in 1936. Although the studio successfully sued to get her back to work, when she returned a year later they did indeed start finding better pictures for her, with this—her first big-budget historical feature—as the real capper. Just to sweeten the pot, they borrowed William Wyler to direct. The two turned this tale of a woman who shocks Southern society by wearing a red dress to a black-and-white ball into a romantic epic. Davis had always done impressive physical work on screen, but with Wyler directing her that physicality was more focused than ever. She turned the simple picking up of her skirt with her riding crop or kneeling to ask forgiveness into character-defining moments among the finest acting ever put on screen. Davis justifiably won her second Best Actress Oscar for the performance (with Fay Bainter, as her loving but judgmental aunt winning Best Supporting Actress) and started her rise to a top box-office position. The film was her second with Henry Fonda and also features George Brent as a rejected suitor. (d. William Wyler, 104m, 35mm)