For the run of Feud, I’ve been mentioning how Susan Sarandon’s been avoiding swooping, clipped speech of Bette Davis, but in “More, or Less” it seems as if the actress suddenly remembered she’s playing Bette Davis because inexplicably, the iconic – and much imitated – cadence is there. I’ve got a theory: that “Petah, Petah, Petah” way of talking was simply an affectation that Davis created for her public life; in private, she was much less colorful. In “More, or Less” we see Davis outside the relative privacy of a film studio or her mansion, and instead she’s whooping it up on TV talk shows to promote Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? so she carefully applies the speech idiosyncrasy, like an overcoat.
“More, or Less” shows our two divas prepping for the grueling publicity that’s required to make a movie a hit. Bette Davis, far more comfortable and confident, is enjoying the touring. Crawford, meanwhile, is angry about how the film turned out. Despite being the catalyst that got the picture made, yet again, she’s overshadowed by Davis, who’s just better in the film (watch the movie, and you know what I mean – Crawford’s solid, but Davis is transcendent) The reviews agree, as Davis is getting all of the hosannas, while Crawford is getting decent, respectable notices. All of this work, and she is still grasping for industry respect.
It’s a shame because if Crawford just allowed herself to enjoy the moment (as well as the money she’d make due to Baby Jane‘s success), she’d be a much happier, more stable person. There’s a glimpse of that kind of gracious, grateful Crawford when she exits a theater after a screening of Baby Jane, and a mob of bobbysoxers descend on her for autographs. She’s genuinely touched, and it’s a lovely moment (again, Jessica Lange is killing it).
But Crawford just had one lovely moment, before she retreated back into her defensive shell. Davis, meanwhile, the trooper that she is, is traipsing through Hollywood, guesting on TV shows and selling the hell of out this picture. In one surreal moment, she’s on Andy Williams’ variety show, doing an awful 60s pop/rock title tune of Baby Jane – it’s a terrible performance (Sarandon sells it), but it shows just what a good sport Davis was, despite her legendary reputation for being difficult. As a special treat, see the video below of the real Bette Davis warbling the shitty tune badly.
A large part of Feud is gender politics. The whole reason why Baby Jane was made was because actresses of Davis’ and Crawford’s age weren’t getting decent work. This episode – penned by Gina Welch and Tim Minear – keeps up the theme with the fictional character, Pauline Jameson (a wonderful Alison Wright). Jameson is Bob Aldrich’s right-hand woman, and is miraculously competent and smart. It’s interesting that the show decided to create a character like this, because for the most part, she doesn’t transcend the trope of the uber-efficient female assistant.
Apparently Pauline is an amalgam, and I think there may be the tiniest dash of Ida Lupino in the mix, as Pauline is an aspiring film director. She writes a script – The Black Slipper – which she hopes Crawford will star in. But unfortunately, Pauline is met with resistance by both Bob and Crawford who gracelessly turns down the role because Pauline’s a “nobody.” Truth be told, the script sounded really stupid and melodramatic, so I’m not sure how audiences are supposed to react to Pauline’s dreams of becoming a filmmaker: is it played for laughs? Are we supposed to pity her for being delusional? Or was the film supposed to come off as decent, and were we supposed to feel righteous anger on her behalf? I don’t know, because the idea – a dance teacher who’s falsely accused of murdering one her students – sounds pretty dumb. Alison Wright is great in the role, but I still don’t get Pauline, possibly because she’s the only “character” in this film that isn’t based on a real person.
“More, or Less” is one of the few times when we don’t get scenes with Sarandon and Lange together. But we do get some great scenes with Alfred Molina and Stanley Tucci. Molina’s Bob Aldrich is a frustrated artist, much like Crawford. He’s hoping that Baby Jane will rescue him from his string of shitty flops, and that he’ll graduate to much more challenging and interesting fare. Instead, he’s doing a crappy western comedy 4 for Texas, that stars a surly Frank Sinatra (Toby Huss) Just like with Davis and Crawford, Aldrich again is wearily dealing with a tempestuous star, and he feels as if the picture is beneath him. Aldrich squares off against Jack Warner (Tucci) for better work, and Warner doesn’t take too kindly, calling him a hack.
As if it’s not enough to just abuse Aldrich, Warner shows up at Crawford’s tacky estate to berate her for not joining Davis on the publicity tours. Lange and Tucci have a great scene in which the two bicker and sling accusations at each other – in a sad and pathetic attempt to woo him, Crawford tries to use her feminine charms, blunted by her drunkenness. Warner quickly rebukes her clumsy attempts, leaving Crawford humiliated and defeated.
As if the script wasn’t done shitting on Crawford though, we learn that she doesn’t get the Oscar nomination. The episode does a great job of showing just how bizarre Hollywood is when it comes to older actresses: despite the great reviews and the boffo box office, both Davis and Crawford are still starving for work. Davis is slumming it on Perry Mason, while Crawford isn’t even doing that. In a scene reminiscent of Faye Dunaway’s “Don’t fuck with me boys!” in Mommie Dearest, Crawford unleashes a string of f-bombs on a panel of agents at William Morris after being told there’s nothing for her. Davis, on the other hand, is shunted off to a junior agent, barely 23. So, tongue firmly in cheek, she takes out an ad in Variety that read “”Mother of three—10, 11 & 15—divorcee. American. Thirty years experience as an actress in Motion Pictures. Mobile still and more affable than rumor would have it. Wants steady employment in Hollywood. (Has had Broadway.)”
What “More, or Less” also predicts is the Grand Guignol genre that sprung up from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Suddenly, horror movies starring formerly glamorous female movie stars became a profitable genre, of which both Davis and Crawford took advantage (Davis would reunited with Aldrich on Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte which acts as a quasi-follow up to Baby Jane). Aldrich is getting offers to do more psycho biddy movies, which he turns down in revulsion, because he’s worried he’ll be pigeon holed.
The episode ends with the Oscar nominations. We learn that Crawford isn’t nominated. In a brilliant choice, we find this out by having Mamacita gently break the news to Crawford, and then we just get a shot of her mansion before we hear her horrified scream – as if we were in one of her trashy scary movies. Davis famously loses the Oscar to Anne Bancroft, and some (including Davis) blame Crawford’s anti-Davis campaigning for the loss. The next stage of this strange and twisted story will be fascinating to watch.