Film & Television

TV Review: ‘Feud’ — What Ever Happened to Bette and Joan?

Mirroring the show’s situation, Murphy has cast several older actresses in Feud. Susan Sarandon is Davis; Jessica Lange is Crawford. And supporting players Judy Davis, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kathy Bates are, respectively, Hedda Hopper, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Blondell. Sarandon, Lange, Zeta-Jones and Bates have all won Oscars (Davis has been nominated twice). Notably, they won those awards when they were younger (in some cases, considerably so). No doubt, all of these talented women can relate to the struggles Davis and Crawford were facing as they shot What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? That film itself deals with the monstrous repercussions of early fame and faded glory.

According to Feud, Davis and Crawford are rivals years before they worked together. But, they are both professionals and both determined to make the most of the opportunity (since, there are fewer and fewer opportunities being offered). At first, they bicker when they’re alone together, but present a united front for the studio’s publicity machine. Warner, eager to open on 400 screens across the country, decides that a Technicolor off-screen cat fight is the best way to raise awareness and draw crowds. He convinces Aldrich to plant some insidious seeds with the tabloids for the sake of the picture. Once that happens, the women stop pulling punches. Although they are adept at wounding each other (and, again, it’s all great fun to watch, especially in the sharp and polished hands of Sarandon and Lange), there’s also a sense of self-fulfilling tragedy. They are very good at being bad but, quite frankly, they were set up. And, it’s not fair. As women, they have no power unless they manipulate, so manipulate they must.

“Jack Palance and Lee Marvin would never have pulled this shit,” Aldrich complains at the end of day on-set. “They don’t have to,” his wife responds flatly. “They’re men.”

The cast of Feud is terrific. For about the first five minutes, you may have some trouble making the leap from Sarandon and Lange to Davis and Crawford. The two subjects are such iconic characters that anything short of pure parody seems incomplete. But the contemporary actresses will quickly win you over. They are, rightly, playing real women, not cartoons. Sarandon is wide-eyed, sarcastic and opinionated, while Lange leverages her sexuality and haughtiness. Both are doing tremendous work and it’s a genuine pleasure to watch them.

Also impressive (and one of the youngest cast members) is Kiernan Shipka as Davis’ daughter B.D. Hyman. Shipka, who grew up before our eyes as Mad Men’s Sally Draper, makes a powerful speech when her mother catches her flirting with the crew and sends her back east her to Maine. “You’re jealous because men don’t look at you anymore and they look at me,” rebukes B.D. “You can’t take it that your turn is over. So you’re punishing me.” In Sarandon’s reaction, it’s painfully clear that B.D. has hit a nerve.

Seasoned actors Alfred Molina and Stanley Tucci portray Aldrich and Warner, and Molina in particular delivers an intense and satisfying performance. His Aldrich is also feeling past his prime, having produced a trio of duds prior to taking on Baby Jane. He resists goading his leading ladies into battle at first, but eventually plants a story with Hopper, claiming that Davis has denounced Crawford’s “34 double Ds” as fake and “hard as rocks.” Them’s fighting words, and if you want to hear how Crawford responds, you’ll have to watch the show.

Of course, you can’t watch Feud without wondering if the two stars’ animosity was really as serious as it seems. I’ll let them speak for themselves.

In real-life, Davis once pondered, “Why am I so good at playing bitches? I think it’s because I’m not a bitch. Maybe that’s why Miss Crawford always plays ladies.”

But, after shooting was over, Crawford still wanted the last word. “Sure,” she said of her co-star, “She stole some of my big scenes, but the funny thing is, when I see the movie again, she stole them because she looked like a parody of herself, and I still looked like something of a star.”

What else is there to say? Meow!

The first two episodes of Feud are available at FXNow ( or On Demand through your cable service. New episodes air on Sunday nights at 10:00 pm.

For the full experience, rent What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? from your local video store or Amazon.

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