On set, Joan Crawford is excitedly approached by the beautiful blonde starlet playing her next-door neighbor. She asks for autograph for her grandmother, who’s loved Crawford since she was a child. How very dare you. (As a general rule, the score for Feud is as over the top as literally everything else about this show, but the music that accompanies Joan’s look of rage here would be a little much for even the shlockiest horror film. This is not to say I dislike it.)
Joan demands Robert Aldrich fire this actress, but he’s understandably hesitant, given that they’re shooting tomorrow. But Joan Crawford has no fucks to give, only complimentary bottles of Pepsi. She enlists Bette in this fight, insisting it’s up to them to support each other. Besides, what’ll happen once their “ladykiller” director inevitably starts sleeping with this woman? Joan’s gamble pays off and she wins an unlikely ally. Davis tells Aldrich she’s going home sick in protest — he doesn’t respect their opinions, and that makes her want to vomit. Just like that, the young actress is out. Joan in turn does Bette a solid, joining her in complaining to Bob about the script’s breakfast scene. The two costars agree that the writing doesn’t accurately capture how women fight (har, har). United against a common enemy, they seem to be genuinely getting along for once. But this uneasy peace won’t last long, if Jack Warner has his way.
Joan Blondell steps in with some useful historical context for their legendary friction, in a flashback to the ‘40s that includes some delightful black-and-white clips of Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange embodying Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in their movies of yore. Joan wanted roles with dignity — like Marie Curie, “that egghead dame” — but Louis B. Mayer refused to give them to her. So she decamped from MGM to sign with her new “daddy” (I cringed so hard I pulled a muscle in my neck), Jack Warner. To him, she was a tool to manipulate Bette Davis, who was becoming too powerful at his studio. Joan gladly took Bette’s “scraps,” including the lead role Davis turned down in Mildred Pierce, which won Crawford an Oscar. Soon it was Bette who was relegated to taking the “shopgirl” and “slattern” roles that Joan had bristled at playing.
Back in 1962, Jack engages Bob in an extremely heavy-handed discussion of how whiskey ages better than women: “Broads, they just get sour,” he opines, in a line so tacky that even Stanley Tucci can’t make it work. Warner is going to give the movie a wide release because the scenes between these two ball-busting bitches (his words, not mine) are so “fucking electric.” But to sell tickets, they’ll need more “buzz.” Warner encourages Bob to keep them fighting, and if he pulls it off, he can have the career of his wildest dreams.
Over drinks, the director reluctantly leaks a drama-stirring blind item to Hedda Hopper: Davis has been complaining about Crawford’s unnaturally “perky” fake boobs. (As I continue to lose interest in Ryan Murphy’s takes on ageism in Hollywood and female self-loathing , I find myself wondering instead when someone is going to give America the Judy Davis-starring Hedda Hopper biopic that we so desperately need.)
Crawford is incensed, but Bob tells her that his is “the only opinion that matters,” encouraging her to channel her rage into her performance. She calls up Luella Parsons with an on-the-record rebuttal to Hedda’s column: “Miss Davis looks old enough to be my mother.” Now it’s Bette’s turn to arrive on set in a fury, excoriating Joan for her “movie star bullshit” and warning her that she’ll steal Baby Jane right out from under her.
Warner, meanwhile, loves the latest footage. It’s not their acting that impresses him (of course not, why would he give them any credit at all?), but the sense that “you can feel the hate steaming off the screen.” He encourages Aldrich to convince each actress that he prefers the other, a suggestion that’s about to get a lot more complicated to execute.
Davis and Aldrich meet up over the weekend to rehearse her character’s unsettling rendition of the little-girl ballad “ I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy.” Bette is worried she can’t properly restrain herself opposite Joan. “I just want to smother her with my performance,” she explains, and asks Bob not to let her look “ridiculous.” As she practices the song, he stands behind her, laying his hands on her arms, and they perform the choreography together. It’s weirdly intimate (and more than a little creepy), but there’s also real chemistry there.
Bob and his wife — who is already well aware that her husband hasn’t been faithful to her — are awakened by a phone call from Joan. She’s distraught, saying her boyfriend Peter (is this the first time Feud has bothered to mention this man’s name? If so, well played) felt she cared more about the movie than about him. Crawrford threatens to quit the picture.
Bob comes over and Joan changes her tune. She’s heard rumors about him and Bette, and accuses him of “cavorting” with her costar—then she tries very, very hard to seduce him herself, as she apparently did when they worked together on Autumn Leaves. “Rehearse with me now, Bob,” she demands. “ Take me through a love scene.” He’ll pass, thanks. Joan’s charade falls apart when Peter arrives back early from a trip to Palm Springs (whoops!). She dumps him anyway. Peter, we hardly knew ye.
Hopper marches past Mamacita at the front door to confront Joan, mid-massage, about her exclusive with that “incontinent cow” Luella, swearing she’ll publish a long-stashed column about the actress’ affairs. But Joan calms Hedda down and appeals to her off the record, as a friend. She’s broke ($2 million in debt), a single mother with three children still in school. All she wants is a few more years of stardom. Hedda, who dismisses Bette as a Hollywood “outsider,” is more than game to help Joan win another Oscar. “My opinion is the only one that matters,” says Hopper, who today is wearing five necklaces, one of which combines four strands of pearls.
Bette finds BD flirting with the crew and takes her home in a huff. She wants to send her daughter away to Maine for the summer. BD unloads on her mother, who she believes is jealous of the male attention that she’s now too old to receive. As she sees it, Bette is utterly undignified, taking this “ridiculous role” only out of her desperation for the spotlight. “Nobody wants you anymore,” BD says. “Nobody’s watching you anymore.”
Another late-night call is placed to the Aldrich home: This time, it’s a tearful Bette on the line. Bob drives over to comfort her, assuring her that BD’s just a teenager. She quotes from what is probably the worst part of All About Eve, her character’s speech about climbing up the career ladder and forgetting what it really means to be a woman. He comes closer. They kiss.
Aldrich returns home late, and lies down next to his silent—but wide awake—wife, just as the alarm goes off.
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