Friday, March 24, 2017

Bette, Joan, and Baby Jane

I have been watching and greatly enjoying the FX series "Feud: Bette and Joan" these last several weeks.

The series centers around the long standing rivalry (to use a polite word) between actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during the filming of the 1962 movie "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?"  The TV series stars Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as Davis and Crawford, respectively. We are now three weeks into this eight week series, and it has been a real hoot to watch Sarandon and Lange chew the scenery while portraying two legendary divas chewing scenery.

Anyway, by an amazing bit of serendipity, earlier this week Turner Classic Movies showed the movie that is the subject of the TV series.

I think  that I saw this movie back in the 1960's when it finally appeared on television, but I had little memory of it, so I was anxious to see it, and it was interesting to watch, and see  Crawford and Davis, especially Davis, have at it in this movie, which has become a Camp Classic.

One of the real values of the Internet is that you can delve into it and find any number of articles and commentaries on just about any subject, and this movie and its stars are no exceptions.  It's as no secret in Hollywood that Davis and Crawford loathed each other.  It was also no secret that by 1962, neither had had a hit movie in years and were considered washed up by both the movie studios and the movie audiences.

It was director Robert Aldrich's idea to offer the roles of sisters Blanch and "Baby" Jane Hudson to Crawford and Davis.  The studios balked, but both actresses expressed interest and Aldrich figured that it would work because both actresses would work harder than hell to assure that the other  actress wouldn't steal the show from her.

From a 2008 essay ion the movie from critic Roger Ebert:'s possible that each agreed to do the picture only because she was jealous of the other's starring role. In the event, it was Davis who emerged on top, winning an Oscar nomination as the former child star who was now a shrill gargoyle with makeup pancaked all over her face. Davis was nothing if not courageous, as she abandoned all shreds of vanity and overacted her heart out. Crawford plays the quieter, kinder, more reasonable sister -- and, it must be said, the less interesting.

Ebert went on to make another interesting observation:

The impact of "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" was considerable in 1962. Today's audiences, perhaps not familiar with the stars, don't fully realize how thoroughly Crawford, and especially Davis, trashed their screen images with the coaching of Aldrich. Imagine two contemporary great beauties -- Julia Roberts and Cate Blanchett, say -- as aged crones. The personal dislike between Crawford and Davis no doubt deepened the power of their onscreen relationship; the critic Richard Scheib observes: "The irony that only came out in later years is that the roles were uncommonly close to the truth upon the parts of both actresses -- Crawford and Davis were both utterly vain, particularly when it came to their own celebrity, both abused their own family members and both had daughters who wrote books about the cruelty of their parents."

In his review of the movie at the time, Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wasn't enthusiastic, and while he did praise both Davis and Crawford, he also used the term "scenery chewing" not once, but twice, in his review.

I enjoyed watching this movie very much in light of watching the "Feud" TV series.  

Lange and Sarandon
Crawford and Davis

 Crawford and Davis
The "Originals"
The movie, by the way, was in
glorious black & white

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