Feud: Bette And Joan Hushes Up Sweet Charlotte
Joan's feeling aggressed on the set of the new movie, so she comes down with a case of the blue flu. Hope she doesn't overplay her hand!
Since pretty much the beginning of this season, I've wondered whether we might've been better off starting the series earlier in the Bette-and-Joan timeline -- maybe start things when Joan signed onto Warners, watch the enmity between the two rival actresses build up, and then throw them into the Baby Jane woodchipper. It's backseat driving at its worst, I know, but Feud has often felt like the rare show that gets to the fireworks factory too soon. Now that Baby Jane and the attendant Oscars are finished, the happenings on the set of Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte can't help feeling like an extended epilogue.
On its face, the events of Charlotte should be high drama. Crawford, feeling alienated and slighted, comes down with a case of the blue flu, refusing to work as her only point of leverage. Ultimately, Crawford is sued by 20th Century Fox for breach of contract, and by the end of the movie, Joan is out and Olivia de Havilland is in.
The problem with this episode is that the execution seems intended to reduce the conflict between Bette and Joan to its most simplistic psychological terms. And this comes after a season that has already reduced their clash a fair bit, casting Jack Warner as the mustache-twirling puppeteer, manipulating his marionettes. But there's a scene in this episode -- incredibly well-acted by Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon -- where the two women face off and ask each other what we're to gather are the most fundamental questions. "How did it feel being the most beautiful girl in the world?" Bette asks Joan. "How did it feel being the most talented girl in the world?" Joan asks Bette. It was great, both answer, but it was never enough. It's a hell of a moment, but it's a wildly reductive take on these two women.
Nevertheless, there are wonderful moments in this episode -- directed by Helen Hunt! -- including the film being dubbed "Cough, Cough, Sweet Charlotte," due to Crawford's mystery ailment, and the closing shot of Bette, Olivia, and Bob Aldrich posing next to a cooler of Coca-Cola. Great moments! But something about this episode felt like a show's reach exceeding its grasp. Still time for the finale to pull it all together! Let's rank the players from worst to first.
- Agnes Moorehead
The episode's greatest tragedy. Have you seen Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte? The movie is a gothic horror master class in taking things too far, and Moorehead -- best known as Endorra on Bewitched -- plays Charlotte's (Bette Davis) loyal housekeeper with over-the-top bug-eyed intensity. She was the film's only acting nominee, a recognition of her extreme dedication to chewing all the scenery in sight. You're telling me this woman only merits ONE line of dialogue?
- Jack Warner
Having been aced out of the Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte sweepstakes, Warner exists as merely a piggish spectre. Bette recalls her very first screen test, after which she overheard Warner scoff, "Who would want to fuck that?" More and more I'm hoping Ryan Murphy pulls an Inglourious Basterds, corrects the errors of history, and allows Bette and Joan to slap Warner to death.
- Joan Blondell
Well look who's back, offering narration after multiple episodes off. That this show couldn't find anything interesting for Kathy Bates to do remains its greatest failing.
- Hedda Hopper
Kind of a week showing for Hedda, merely voicing over reports on the production troubles caused by Joan's sickbed strike. Could it be that she peaked last week with her attempt to snake Joan with that stag-film business?
It couldn't have been easy for B.D. to grow up as Bette Davis's daughter. But after this week's offerings, I don't think it's much of a picnic being B.D.'s mother, either. Kiernan Shipka can still play that old note of the willfully defiant daughter, only this time the audience doesn't actively dislike her parents, so she comes off as more of a brat. Honestly? Go marry that twenty-nine-year-old Jeremy (who Betty blithely calls "Jerome"). Get out of your mother's hair. And grab that copy of The Feminine Mystique on your way out.
- Victor Buono
I was glad we got to see Victor one more time before the series wrapped. Even better, it's good to see Victor, drunk as a skunk though he is, sticking up for Joan as Bette goes on one of her tirades. Victor is kind of the show's stand-in for homosexual America. The gays loved Bette the best, true, but there's always been a fascination combined with sympathy for Joan Crawford, and Victor isn't immune to that, even as the Charlotte cast kiki about her behind her back.
- George Cukor
Is George Cukor the secret MVP of Feud? He's only shown up twice, and both times he gives Joan some really good advice (that she, of course, doesn't take). Once again, he basically just tells her not to cut off her nose to spite her face. She's hearing none of it. It sounds like it would be maddening to be Joan's friend, but you have to remember that Cukor just finished directing Rex Harrison on My Fair Lady, so Joan would have to get so much worse not to seem like a vacation by comparison.
- Joan Crawford
The Pyrrhic victory of Joan grinding the gears of Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte to a halt because she felt slighted by Aldrich and Bette ends up being a crushing defeat: sued, replaced by Olivia de Havilland, and effectively at the end of her career. All that and she loses Mamasita by the end, too. As always, it's not just Crawford's bad behavior that lands, it's the basic loneliness that lies beneath it. Beneath every self-serving script change; beneath every controlling demand about applying her fake eyelashes (she wouldn't even consider letting anyone else do her brows or her lips); beneath every dramatic trip to the oxygen tent; beneath it all, it's just Joan. Lonely Joan. Sad that nobody likes her.
- Bob Aldrich
It's tempting to give Aldrich credit because, by the end, he's getting to make the movie he wants and he's free of the Bette-and-Joan circus. He's also managed to exorcise his Four For Texas/Sinatra demons by finally standing up to a monster movie star for once. But it's not like Aldrich actually does anything. The lawsuit is what takes care of Joan. And it's kind of pathetic watching him roll around with Bette like a pair of high schoolers on spring break?
Let it be KNOWN: Mamsita makes good on a threat. She told Joan the next time she threw something at her head, she'd walk out on her, and that's exactly what she does. If George Cukor was Joan's ghost of Christmas present, Mamasita was her ghost of Christmas past, reminding Joan that she's done this to herself.
- Olivia de Havilland
After Bette rejects Vivien Leigh for having played Scarlett O'Hara "unconvincingly," Olivia allows herself to be reached at her fabulous villa in the Alps, and after a buh-rilliant cutaway to Lady In A Cage (a moment that made me fondly recall Ryan Murphy's wonderful Popular), she's cast in Crawford's old role. (And honestly, see the movie because she's brilliant in it.)
- Bette Davis
Petty Bette is large and in charge this week, mocking Joan among her co-stars, doing her best to undermine Joan's confidence on set, throwing her Associate Producer title in her rival's face. It's not like Bette doesn't have good reasons for being over Joan's bag of bullshit -- and after the Oscars, she's got good reasons for not being particularly kind about it either. But even though Bette is the unequivocal winner of this round, you get the feeling the taste of victory has some bitter top notes.