TV Reviews

“Feud: Bette and Joan” Is a Titillating Peak Behind Hollywood’s Curtain


“Feud: Bette and Joan” (FX)

Ryan Murphy has selected two of Hollywood’s most talented actresses to bring to life two of the last centuries most talented actresses. Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon appear as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in Murphy’s latest project “Feud: Bette and Joan.” This mini-series takes audiences behind the cameras which were trained on the two actresses when they played sisters in the 1962 horror release “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?”.

That movie serves as the backdrop for the story of the two actresses who were feuding, fighting and fussing from day one on the set. Incredibly it was jJoan Crawford who suggested Bette Davis as her co-star for the film. Smart businesswoman that she was, she knew two aging actresses would be better box office than a single one. Both actresses were on the downside of their careers and both needed a movie that would be a hit.

Still Joan’s insecurities as to her talent got in the way every time she and Davis played out a scene together. Plus the situation between the stars was damaged by studio head Jack Warner’s (Stanley Tucci) decision to play up the dissension between the two. He directed the director of the film, Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina), to fan the flames of anger whenever he got the chance. And so the feud was born and grew to legendary proportions.

It is to the teleplay writers’ credit that the script allows both Crawford and Davis to be seen in an appealing light from time to time. On one night the viewer might have more empathy for Joan and on another more empathy for Bette. These were complex women in a myriad of ways and this story presents them warts and all.

It is difficult to say which leading actress is more successful in playing her part. Davis’ actions were more over the top and Sarandon conveys this with gusto. Crawford was quieter but in some ways more deadly. Lange imbues her with an attitude of survival at all costs. Crawford tried to enlist Aldrich in her war against Bette, but when he failed she turned to another of Hollywood’s most powerful women, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis). For one reason or another Hopper hated Davis even more than Joan.

This mini-series if full of gossip and glamour. People have wondered for years as to what really happened during the filming of “Whatever Happened To Baby Joane?”. In every episode you get more and more of the dirt that was done and spilled by both actresses’ camps. Both women were terrified of aging and losing all they had fought so hard to have. And in that day and age a woman in her forties was fighting with both hands tied behind her back.

Ryan Murphy has made his name with “American Horror Story”, “Scream Queens”, “Glee” and “The People vs O. J. Simpson”. Now he is back with his take on one of the biggest feuds Hollywood has ever produced. It is vintage Murphy as “Feud” speaks in a raw language and doesn’t pull its punches. Viewers, especially women, are going to eat it up.

So make sure either you or your VCR are tuned in on March 5 at 10 when “Feud: Bette and Joan” kicks off on FX. As Bette Davis as Margo Channing in “All About Eve” said, “Fasten your seatbelts, its going to be a bumpy night”.

Jackie K Cooper

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