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Film Finders: Exploring Special Topics: Bette and Joan: The Films Behind Feud

28 Films for Black History Month, compiled by the New York Times in 2018.

Bette and Joan: The Films Behind Feud

The Bette Davis-Joan Crawford rivalry is the subject of the 2017 FX anthology television series Feud. Subtitled Bette and Joan, the series settles on their backstage fights during the production of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? The intensely bitter Hollywood rivalry between the film's two stars was heavily important to the film's initial success. This in part led to the revitalization of the then-waning careers of Crawford and Davis. Upon the film's release, it was met with widespread critical and box office acclaim and was later nominated for five Academy Awards.

Following the film’s unexpected box-office success, director Robert Aldrich wanted to make a film with similar themes that reunited Crawford and Davis. This became the 1964 film Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. After working a week in Baton Rouge and only four days in Hollywood, Joan Crawford quit the film, claiming she was ill. She was later replaced by Olivia de Havilland. Reputedly, Crawford was still incensed by Davis's attitude on …Baby Jane and did not want to be upstaged again, as Davis's Academy Award nomination for Best Actress convinced her she had been.

Check out some of their films, works that initially inspired the rivalry, available from

the Film & Video Collection, located on the Lower Level of Morris Library. 

Browse selections from the lists below.

Dangerous, 1935

Bette Davis won her first Academy Award for Lead Actress playing a down-and-out actress who falls in love with a new man...and tries to get rid of her husband. Davis felt the award was a consolation prize for not having been nominated for Of Human Bondage the year beforeIn 2002, Steven Spielberg anonymously bought the Oscar Davis had won at auction at Sotheby's and returned it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 

Available on DVD.

Jezebel, 1938

The Turner Classic Movies Database states that the film was offered as compensation for Bette Davis after she failed to win the part of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind; despite a radio poll showing Bette Davis the audience favorite for the role. Davis wins her second Academy Award for the role establishing her as leading lady.

Available on DVD. 

Dark Victory, 1939

Davis receives her third Oscar nomination, in five years, for playing a Long Island socialite who discovers she has less than a year to live. The Academy Award went to Vivien Leigh for Gone With the Wind.

Available on DVD. 

Now, Voyager, 1942

In 2007, Now, Voyager was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The film ranks #23 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions, a list of the top love stories in American cinema. 

Available on DVD

All About Eve, 1950

Praised by critics at the time of its release, All About Eve received 14 Academy Awards nominations (a feat only matched by the 1997 film Titanic and the 2016 film La La Land) and won six, including Best PictureAll About Eve is the only film in Oscar history to receive four female acting nominations (Davis and Baxter as Best Actress, Holm and Ritter as Best Supporting Actress). 

Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Possessed, 1931

Joan Crawford plays an ambitious factory worker who dreams of satin gowns and diamond earrings. In an effort to realize her dreams she moves to New York and pursues a relationship with an influential lawyer. Possessed is the third of eight total collaborations between Crawford and Clark Gable. 

Available on DVD

Grand Hotel, 1932

Made during Hollywood's Pre-Code era, the brief era in the American film industry between the introduction of sound pictures in 1929 and the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code censorship guidelines, the glitz and glitter of Berlin's Grand Hotel comes alive with this story of love and betrayal. To date it is the only film to have won the Academy Award for Best Picture without being nominated in any other category. 

Available on DVD.

Mildred Pierce, 1945

In 1942, Joan Crawford had been released from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer due to a mutual agreement. Crawford campaigned for the lead role in Mildred Pierce, which most lead actresses didn't want, because of the implied age as mother of a teenage daughter. Warner Brothers and director Michael Curtiz had originally wanted Bette Davis to play the title role, but she declined. Curtiz did not want Crawford to play the part so much so that he campaigned for other actresses to play Mildred. He ultimately approved Crawford's casting after seeing her screen test. Crawford's performance won her the Academy Award for Best Actress

Available on DVD

Sudden Fear, 1952

Crawford received her third and final Oscar nomination for this film, the one and only time she competed against arch-rival Bette Davis for Best Actress, who was nominated (for the ninth time) for The Star. Neither actress won: Shirley Booth took home the prize for Come Back, Little Sheba.

Available on DVD

Trog, 1970

This 1970 British science fiction horror film marks Crawford's last motion picture appearance. Crawford stars in this story about the discovery of a living troglodyte, or cavemanThe film is listed in the book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of "The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made."

Available on DVD

More Bette and Joan Films

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