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Feud: Bette and Joan ~ A Capsule Review

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Feud: Bette and Joan ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp

If you squint your eyes, you might almost be able to believe you’re seeing Bette Davis and Joan Crawford instead of Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon. Yes, here we have two fading movie queens of today playing two fading movie queens of yesterday. The year is 1961. Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) are two movie stars who were once at the top of their game. Sadly, time has played its dirty tricks on them, and they are getting “older.” They no longer have the appeal they once had; they no longer pull in the dollars at the box office. In a youth-obsessed culture, there are no parts for “older” actresses, no matter how many Oscars they have or how much people still love them.

Sixteen or so years after Joan Crawford won her Oscar for Mildred Pierce, she flaunts her trophy to a producer, saying, “I want another one.” “Movies for older actresses are just not being made today,” the producer says. Being very ambitious and having no intention of being thwarted, Joan sets out to find her own story that can be made into the compelling film she knows she still has in her. After much searching, she comes up with a novel called Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? by a writer named Henry Farrell. With whatever influence she still has, she gets director Robert Aldrich to agree to direct it. “It can be the greatest horror movie ever made,” he says, thinking of the success that Alfred Hitchcock had with Psycho.

Bette Davis is also desperate for a “comeback” film that will show she still has what it takes. Even though she and Joan Crawford are rivals and have an intense dislike for each other, she is interested when Joan Crawford pitches the idea to her of playing the demented Baby Jane Hudson. Yes, this can be the picture that turns the tide for both fading movie stars. “You don’t like me and I don’t like you,” Bette says to Joan in her dressing room, “but we both need this film to work.” So, the two of them agree to bury the hatchets (and not in each other’s backs) and devote themselves to making a good picture.

If you, like me, are a fan of the film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and you like behind-the-scenes show biz stories, you’ll love Feud: Bette and Joan on FX. What is FX, you ask? I had never heard of it, either, and wasn’t sure if it was available where I live, but I looked in the list of hundreds of channels we get, and there it was, slightly south of TCM, in a direction on the proverbial TV dial in which I never venture. There are commercials, but not many, and if you DVR the eight-part series, you can easily fast-forward through them.

Feud: Bette and Joan is watchable, dumb fun, even if our credulity is stretched. Besides Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, there’s Alfred Molina as Robert Aldrich, the harried director of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? What a job he has handling these two bitches! Can the film be completed without the two “stars” killing each other? As Bette Davis said in later years, “The best time I had with Joan Crawford was when I pushed her down the stairs.”

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

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