Friday, April 21, 2017

what ever/whatever

As Ryan Murphy's "Feud," arguably the quintessential Guilty Pleasure, winds down, there are questions and concerns that have yet to be broached anywhere - neither by the series itself (which, sadly, celebrates its finale on Sunday) or by anyone in the entertainment media covering it.

So here goes...

First, there's a concern with the way director Robert Aldrich is being portrayed. In my initial essay on "Feud," titled when the legend becomes fact, print the legend, I questioned the veracity of the series, wondering exactly how well researched it is versus how much of it is facile speculation.  A good deal of the time, it plays like juicy gossip.

Which is what makes it such a hoot and so entertaining.

But until this show, Aldrich had a place in movie history as a solid craftsman, an effective storyteller and a nurturing director of actors.  Three of his earliest films were "Vera Cruz" (1954) and the two noirs, "The Big Knife" and "Kiss Me Deadly" (both from 1955).  All terrific films.  Before filming "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?," he helmed the very good Kirk Douglas-Rock Hudson Western, "The Last Sunset" (1961).

Aldrich was no hack, as "Feud" consistently implies. True, immediately prior to "Jane," he had a elephantine flop, "Sodom and Gomorrah" (1962), but he was far from washed-up. His befuddled desperation, as played by Alfred Molina, seems a tad exaggerated. And more than a little insulting.

"Autumn Leaves" - Aldrich's first collaboration with his "Baby Jane" star, Joan Crawford, and a really fascinating dual-character study - won him the best director award at the 1956 Berlin Film Festival. Later in his career, Aldrich directed "The Flight of the Phoenix" (1965), "The Dirty Dozen" (1967), "The Killing of Sister George" (1968),  "Too Late the Hero" (1970), "The Grissom Gang" (1971), "Ulzana's Raid" (1972), "Emperor of the North" (1973), two with Burt Reynolds, "The Longest Yard" (1974) and "Hustle" (1975) and my favorite Aldrich - the camp classic, "The Legend of Lylah Clare" (1968).  And, of course, "Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte" (1964), his sturdy "Baby Jane" encore.

Secondly, the Jack Warner character (a horrible monster as delineated by Stanley Tucci) and others continually refer to "Jane" as a B-movie, even after it's completed and on the screen - where it looks like anything but a B-movie. What it looks like is an artful psychodrama, enhanced by witty (and wicked) comic touches. The final image of Bette Davis doing her little Baby Jane dance on a beach is powerfully evocative.  A B-movie?  Right.

Number Three. Aldrich and Warner aren't the only characters being bashed and debased here. Frankly, no one in "Feud" comes off looking good.  Not one character is redeeming, although Jessica Lange's Joan Crawford is borderline sympathetic.  But this negativity may have more to do with the show's makers than with the people that "Feud" depicts.

Nombre Quatre. The past episode of "Feud," devoted to the early filming of "Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte,"depicts several scenes shot by Crawford, reunited with Davis, before bailing from the film.  And here I always believed that Crawford dropped out of "Charlotte" without filming anything, before she was replaced by Olivia DeHavilland. That said, where is her footage and why hasn't it materialized as an extra on any "Charlotte" disc?

Just asking.

Then there's the bit of trivia that I brought up in the essay bette & joan & anne & faye, namely that Crawford's connection to Anne Bancroft extended beyond the 1963 Oscarcast, where Joan accepted Anne's Oscar for "The Miracle Worker." Two decades later, Bancroft would be Paramount's first choice to play Crawford in its tell-all biopic, "Mommie Dearest" (1981). Faye Dunaway, of course, got the role and ran with it.

Finally, there's the 1991 TV remake of "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?," directed by David Greene ("The People Next Door" and "Godspell") and starring no less than the Redgrave sisters as the Hudson sisters - Vanessa as Blanche and Lynn as Jane. Does anyone else remember it?  Seems not.  The film has seemingly disappeared but not before its title was shortened (for some inexplicable reason) to "What Ever Happened to...?" for its home-entertainment release.

It originally aired on ABC on February 17th, 1991.

Note in Passing:  But wait! You can view the 1991 remake, courtesy of You Tube, here.

*  *  *  *  *
~top: Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave in the ABC 1991 television remake of "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
* * * * *
~middle: publicity shot of  Robert Aldrich; a shot of the director on location for "Autumn Leaves" with Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson, and companion shots from "Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte," comparing Crawford with Olivia De Havilland (in a scene with Agnes Moorehead).
* * * * *
~bottom: Aldrich directing Crawford and Bette Davis on the set of "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"


Denise said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE this show! And have learned so much from your posts. Thank you!

Joe Amodei said...

I am so happy to read this column. For me the cruelty that Ryan Murphy levels at the people on the show who are longer around to defend themselves outweighed the fun and camp and I stopped watching. FUED reminds me of what the Oscars and a lot of Hollywood has become these days . A place that pays no respect to those that came before them and does as much as they can to erase their memory and create new false images to the generation of young folks that are watching. Imagine how the family of Aldrich feels. It's just not right.

joe baltake said...

Joe- I agree. It's disturbing when comments are made (or performances are given) that cannot be defended because the person being judged and wronged are no longer around. I have the same reaction to those celebrities who conveniently claim that they slept with Elvis or Sinatra or (fill in the blank) when that person is not around to refute the liaison. -J

mike c. said...

I watched a couple episodes of FEUD and thought it was fun, but not nearly as smartly written as Sarandon and Lange deserve. It could have been razor sharp and funny at 3 hours. I'll catch up with the rest when it ends.

I don't know much about the production, but I agree, I'd like to know how of "Charlotte" was shot with Crawford.

Marvin J Halpern said...

I believe that this week, the superb Olivia de Havilland indicated that she was not watching FEUD; that she would not comment upon the supposed "feud" between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford because, if for no other reasons, it is not proper and/or in good taste to comment upon and/or write salacious/unflattering commentary about those no longer able to respond to said comments/commentary; and that she does not remember the 1963 Oscars ceremony at all. Very classy, Olivia! Perhaps Ryan Murphy should have taken Olivia's "approach" to certain depictions and other matters pertinent to FEUD. And I, too am very curious whether Joan filmed any of HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE. I had been under the impression that she withdrew before filming began do to pneumonia.

joe baltake said...

Marvin- Interesting comments by DeHavilland, given that she was also involved in a lengthy feud herself – with her sister. That said, I agree wholeheartedly with you about not attacking/criticizing people who are no longer here to defend or explain themselves

Kevin Barry said...

The complete 1991 Baby Jane remake in on YouTube:

joe baltake said...

Thanks, Kevin! I'll add the link to the piece. -J

Walt said...

good stuff, Herr Baltake

Vienna said...

Can't wait to see Feud in the UK but I take on board all you have said. I'm a big fan of Aldrich simply because he directed two of my favourite films - Kiss Me Deadly and Flight of the Phoenix.

m.s. said...

You must know that this mini-series, excellent as it is, isn't exactly playing it 100% factual (e.g., a glance at Aldrich's IMDb page shows he was far from washed-up). If that much footage survived of Crawford in HHSC exists, I think that Fox would have made it a DVD extra by now (cf. Marilyn's SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE clips).

Kiki said...

Holy Cow! The "Baby Jane" remake with the Redgrave girls - what a stinkeroo. And where did they get those horrid neighbors? It never should have been remade in the first place and the eeriness was so much better in black and white! Thanks for this - just goes to show what happens to good actresses in bad movies. The Redgrave girls must have really needed the $$$$!

joe baltake said...

Kiki- I know. I couldn't get past the first 15 minutes. Life's way to short to waste time.

k.o. said...

One of the moments I loved in "Feud" was when Joan went backstage to Ann Bancroft and mentioned "too bad" they gave her role in 2 for the Seesaw to Maclaine followed by words to the effect -- "but it was an awful flop." And it really WAS so miscast -- poor Bob Mitchum trying to be Fonda.