CLEVELAND, Ohio – The deliciously wicked FX miniseries “Feud: Bette and Joan” reaches its halfway point when the fourth of eight episodes airs at 10 p.m. Sunday, March 26. Oscar winners Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon are lighting up the screen, fighting and back-biting as aging Oscars winners Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, respectively.
The miniseries depicts the bitter rivalry, which came to a Hollywood Gothic crossroads when Crawford and Davis agreed to co-star in director Robert Aldrich’s 1962 horror film “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” Many hooked on this showdown in Tinseltown are splitting into camps: Team Joan and Team Bette, if you will.
It might inspire some to seek out and compare the many classic films starring Crawford and Davis. This may not help you choose sides, but it will guarantee that you see a bunch of terrific Golden Age Hollywood movies.
Here are 10 categories for comparison, using several signature roles for each combatant in “Feud”:
Oscar-winning performances: Davis won the second of her two best-actress statuettes for the 1938 antebellum romantic drama “Jezebel.” Crawford, dumped by MGM, moved over to Warner Bros., where she won redemption and an Academy Award for her star turn in “Mildred Pierce,” the melodrama based on James Cain’s novel.
Grand ensemble movies: For Crawford, that would be “Grand Hotel,” the 1932 extravaganza that also starred Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery and Lionel Barrymore. For Davis, let’s make it “All About Eve” (1950), the theater drama with Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill and, in a small role, Marilyn Monroe.
Movies co-starring one of Crawford’s four husbands, Franchot Tone: Crawford and Tone were in the cast of MGM’s “Dancing Lady,” a 1933 musical. Davis and Tone had top billing in “Dangerous” (1935). Crawford was in better company (in a cast that also featured Clark Gable, Fred Astaire and the Three Stooges, for crying out loud). But Davis won her first Oscar for “Dangerous.”
Movies based on W. Somerset Maugham stories: Davis played manipulative waitress Mildred Rogers in “Of Human Bondage” (1934). Crawford played prostitute Sadie Thompson in “Rain” (1932).
Hit Broadway plays turned into hit movies: Crawford was in the celebrated cast MGM assembled for the 1939 film version of Clare Boothe Luce’s “The Women,” then starred in “Harriet Craig,” the 1950 movie adaptation of George Kelly’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Davis stared in “The Letter,” the 1940 film version of the Maugham play, then played Regina Hubbard Giddens in the 1941 movie adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes.” Both “The Letter” and “The Little Foxes” were directed by William Wyler (“Jezebel”) and both resulted in best-actress Oscar nominations for Davis.
Historical dramas: Crawford was Peggy O’Neal, the young woman in the middle of a political scandal, in “The Gorgeous Hussy” (1936). Davis was Queen Elizabeth I (with Errol Flynn as the Earl of Essex) in “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” (1939).
Films directed by Michael Curtiz: A leading director at Warner Bros. (“Casablanca,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood”), Curtiz directed Crawford in the 1949 film noir “Flamingo Road” (as well as “Mildred Pierce”) and directed Davis in “Kid Galahad,” a 1937 drama with Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart (as well as “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex”).
1930s films co-starring William Powell: Davis and Powell had top billing in the musical comedy “Fashions of 1934” (1934). Crawford and Powell co-starred in “The Last of Mrs. Cheney” (1937), a drama-comedy mix about a jewel heist in England.
1950s dramas featuring Ernest Borgnine: Crawford was the star of the cult Western “Johnny Guitar” (1954), with Borgnine in a supporting role. Davis and Borgnine starred with Debbie Reynolds in “A Catered Affair” (1956), Gore Vidal’s adaptation of the play by Paddy Chayefsky.
Together again for the first time: Yes, there was a film with both Davis and Crawford before “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” They were among the many stars appearing as themselves in the 1944 romantic comedy “Hollywood Canteen.”