Back to DVD page
Hollywood Rivals: Bette Davis vs. Joan Crawford
Released July 12, 2005, by Passport.
50 minutes, plus a bonus "Hollywood Remembers" collection of film trailers
(@ 20 minutes) for each actress
Lucas (July 2005)
Rating: -1/2 of 5
I was very excited upon learning of the impending release of a
documentary exploring the relationship between Joan Crawford and Bette
Davis---my two favorite Hollywood actresses. I was hoping for something
similar to the gossipy, but fun, book The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine. Unfortunately, Hollywood Rivals: Bette Davis vs. Joan Crawford is cheaply made and will likely disappoint most ardent Crawford and Davis fans.
The DVD begins with a long montage of Hollywood "rivals." This is the first sign of the disappointment to come as the rivals depicted include Lassie vs. Rin Tin Tin and Godzilla vs. King Kong. It is doubtful that Crawford and Davis would have appreciated being in such beastly company and the opening sequence underscores the poor judgement of the producers.
The documentary is primarily a superficial survey of both actresses' film careers accompanied by clips from their films. Sporadically, the narrator mentions a catty comment that Crawford or Davis made about the other or a kernel of information about the origins of their feud. More often, however, the producers employ the annoying technique of splitting the screen with one side containing a picture of one of the actresses while the other side plays a film clip of her supposed rival reciting incendiary dialogue. Thus we have Davis in Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte calling Joan Crawford a whore.
The documentary lacks any in-depth analysis of the stars as individuals and rivals. For example, the narrator mentions in passing that Crawford actively campaigned against Davis' Oscar for Baby Jane, but there is no attempt to explain why Crawford may have done that. There are a handful of interview snippets, including one with Anita Page who looks like she could have been the Baby Jane doll prototype, but the interview segments focus on one actress or the other and not the relationship between Crawford and Davis. Overall, the documentary is equally balanced between Crawford and Davis, with the producers not favoring one actress over the other.
The visual quality is marred by a small Hollywood Rivals icon that remains in the right corner of the screen for the duration of the documentary. The text used in captions has an amateur appearance.
There are two additional documentaries included with the DVD, one about Crawford and the other about Davis. The Crawford documentary is similar in design to the main program and
again very superficial.
Stephanie (July 2005)
Rating: of 5
This is a cheap little number, a pretty shallow rehash of the overblown Joan-Bette feud. The main 50-minute feature has a parallel look at their careers and their brief encounters, featuring primarily clips from film trailers, interspersed with a few old (and very short) interviews with people like Anita Page (she recounts here a story she's told elsewhere about her mother refusing to let her associate with Joan after Mama found some questionable items in Joan's bathroom... Here, Page plays it coy and won't say what said items were; elsewhere, though, she's revealed it was--gasp!--SEX TOYS!). Arlene Dahl tells a story about Joan "accidentally" spilling red wine on her after catching her escort Greg Bautzer making eyes at Dahl; Gloria DeHaven says Joan was a good friend and taught her how to speak correctly; Mr. Blackwell slams Christina. There are a couple of rare-ish clips---from Joan's scene in Stolen Jools with William Haines and Joan modeling a gown in an early MGM publicity film. (The latter's already been aired on TCM's Joan doc, though.)
The doc has the stereotypical and tired viewpoint that Joan was the floozy showgirl who made it big (there are several catty voiceover comments about Joan's sex life) and Bette the "real" actress. The most notable evidence of bias, though, comes at the end: The doc pretty quickly skims over both ladies' post-Baby Jane careers, yet manages to claim that Bette's career was illustrious until the end while Joan was reduced to mere horror films. The horror-films part is true of Joan, yes, but Bette also didn't make many humdingers after Baby Jane, so it seemed unfair to single Joan out on that issue.
A bonus feature is a 20-minute-or-so collection of Joan film trailers, with a little voiceover commentary. (Bette also has her own collection, which I haven't watched yet.) I'd already seen 90% of this footage in other places, like the TCM and A&E Joan docs. What is truly outrageous in this section, though, is the highly idiotic and outlandish claim in the voiceover that after 1953's Torch Song, Joan took a 9-year hiatus from feature films until Baby Jane!!!! I understand that the company releasing this DVD most likely just didn't have rights to show clips from any of the films in between (Johnny Guitar, Female on the Beach, Queen Bee, Autumn Leaves, Esther Costello, Best of Everything), but... if that's the case, then just don't say anything at all rather than making the outright incorrect claim that Joan didn't do a single film in those 9 years! I had to rewind to make sure I'd heard correctly, I was so shocked!
Overall, I gave this doc two stars rather than one just because there are probably folks out there who are fairly new to Joan and/or Bette and for those viewers it's a relatively harmless generic introduction. And the clips are interesting if one hasn't seen them already. (Plus it's priced at a discount rate of $9.98.) But for mid-level or higher Joan-n-Bette fans, there's hardly anything at all that's fresh or new here. For these fans, unless you simply must have every single Joan thing in your personal collection, you can probably skip this DVD.