FEUD is back to its bad self in “And the Winner is… (The Oscars of 1963).” While it’s definitely not as ridiculously misogynistic as some of the other episodes in this show, the characters lack any real motivation for their behavior beyond the fact that their actions would make great campy drama. The thing is hollow through and through, which is unfortunate because the 1963 Oscars should be the high point of this series—both in terms of narrative arc and sheer vindictive vitriol.
It’s possible that I’m too close to the subject of this show to enjoy it for sheer entertainment value. I know too much about all these people and them all too much. The 1963 Oscars were the point where the relationship between Crawford and Davis actually became acrimonious in real life. They didn’t like each other by any stretch of the imagination, but they also weren’t at each other’s throats the way this show makes it seem. A little artistic license is fine in something like this. But when you get to the point where they truly began to hate each other, I need to believe that far more than I believe them kicking each other and sabotaging takes. Crawford called every single other nominee for Best Actress that year and offered to accept their reward if they won. It was petty and spiteful. My understanding is that the only person who took her up on the offer was Anne Bancroft who won, allowing Crawford to steal Davis’ spotlight in the cruelest way possible. Davis never forgave her. It was after the ’63 Oscars that Bette Davis started spouting off her classic remarks about how awful Joan Crawford was. That was the moment.
My problem with the scenario in this episode is that, even though they have the entire montage of Crawford and Hedda Hopper campaigning against Davis, they still haven’t written Crawford as brutal enough for me to believe it. She just seems like a pathetic whiner. Joan Crawford was wild, guys. She didn’t take any nonsense from anybody. I just don’t buy it. I also don’t buy that she’d call up all the other nominees and start negging them so much. Crawford of all people knew that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I was particularly disturbed by the entire phone call with Geraldine Page where every single sentence from Crawford was a backhanded compliment. I sincerely doubt anything like that is plausible. It doesn’t make Crawford seem sly or calculating, which I think it’s intended to. Rather, she just plays like a passive aggressive narcissist which renders even her “sympathetic” moments off-key. Narcissists have no conception of empathy and hence they get none from me. Crawford had some kind of personality disorder in real life, but even the most monstrous depictions of her are more sympathetic than this weirdness.
There wasn’t enough Davis in this for me to really get into it either. Sarandon is the one carrying this thing, so when the focus is Bette and Joan it needs to center on Bette. I’m not throwing shade at Lange; she simply isn’t being given anything fun, complex, or brutal to work with. Crawford is a petulant child in this show and it’s no working for me. The thing about wounded people is not that they are broken babies but that they hurt other people because that is all that they know. If you’re damaged there are two options: become stronger for it or become vicious for it. This version of Crawford doesn’t have the razor sharp edges that I want. There was no tension in this episode, and it should have been rife with it.
Stylistically, this episode was hobbled from the start by the narration from Olivia De Havilland. For one thing, Olivia De Havilland is still alive (she is literally 100 years old) so putting words in her mouth is odd to say the least. But more importantly: it’s incredibly lazy to have someone narrate the thoughts, feelings, and supposed motivations of characters rather than showing it. You can express to me that Joan Crawford is bitter and Bette Davis is terrified by actually having them behave that way, not by having another character essentially mansplain to me how they feel. It got slightly better after De Havilland stopped narrating and actually entered the story, but geez. This also came perilously close to the edge with me because the bad blood between Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine is one of my favorite Hollywood dramas. Olivia De Havilland in general is one of my favorite actresses behind-the-scenes. I’m glad they dropped all the stuff about her because they were headed for dangerous territory. I can’t put my finger on what’s disturbing me about the way they’re portrayed De Havilland but that woman literally broke the studio system and you’re gonna act like she was broken by it?
Last week’s episode was great. That was the kind of show I want to watch. A story about women in Old Hollywood should have that level of heart, gumption, and fighting spirit. Sure, this series is called Feud and it’s about two people who hated each other, but their enmity should be founded in personality or professional rivalry that leaves all their strength and agency intact. This episode was just hollow melodrama that I couldn’t even care about. To get the over-the-top tone that this show is striving for it would have to be the Bette Davis of the ’70s TV interview circuit vs. a maybe slightly toned down version of Mommie Dearest Joan Crawford. Trying to do this weird, in-between, softened version of the two of them is just awkward and not helped at all by the patriarchal way the series itself presents the two of them.
Frankly, I’m not even mad about this episode like I have been in the past. I was just bored by it.
Season 1, Episode 5 (S01E05)
Feud airs Sunday at 10PM on FX
Dana is a digitization archivist by day and a masked pop culture avenger by night. She spreads the gospel of science fiction and fantasy wherever she goes.
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Dana Leigh Brand | Contributor