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Davis & Crawford: A Fabulous Rivalry “Jezebel”
Sunday, October 8, 2017 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Joan Crawford and Bette Davis created indelible portraits of what the film historian Jeanine Basinger calls “exaggerated women”—powerful, fiercely yearning, feminine and often furious. As this year’s FX miniseries “Feud” reminded us, Crawford and Davis also had a long and spectacular rivalry, born from strong personalities, an attraction to the same larger-than-life roles, a certain amount of savvy publicity-stoking—and Hollywood’s treatment of actresses as they get older. Join film critic Nell Minow and New Yorker staff writer Margaret Talbot for a delicious sampling of some of Davis and Crawford’s finest performances.
Sunday, October 8 at 4pm: “Jezebel” (1938) The rumor is that the role of Julie, a fiery Southern belle who gets her comeuppance, was a consolation prize for Bette Davis for not getting the part of Scarlett O’Hara. The film, based on a flop Broadway play starring Davis’ other great rival, Miriam Hopkins, was rushed into production by Warner Brothers to come out ahead of “Gone With the Wind,” and the two films have a lot in common: a headstrong woman who loves a man of quiet integrity, a shy, guileless rival, and a sweeping score by Max Steiner. Julie insists on wearing a red dress to the ball to which all unmarried ladies wear white; the scene is so vivid and powerful that audiences insist it must have been filmed in color. Also starring Henry Fonda, and Oscar-winner Fay Bainter.
Sunday, October 22 at 4pm: “A Woman’s Face” (1941) Crawford turns in a moving performance as a con artist whose life is transformed after plastic surgery restores her badly scarred face. Hitchcockian, suspenseful and strange, “A Woman’s Face” showcases Crawford at the height of her allure. Directed by George Cukor, with Melvyn Douglas and Conrad Veidt.
Sunday, November 5 at 4pm: “In This Our Life” (1942) When Bette was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad she was better. One of her most outrageously bad characters was in this film, which toned down slightly the themes of incest and civil rights from the Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name by Ellen Glasgow. Bette and her six-time co-star Olivia de Havilland play Southern sisters with male names, Stanley and Roy. Stanley, about to marry Craig (her 13-time co-star George Brent), runs off with Roy’s husband, Peter (Dennis Morgan), and that is just the beginning of the chaos and destruction she creates for everyone who comes within range. John Huston directed until he left to work for the War Department after Pearl Harbor, and an uncredited Raoul Walsh finished the film, from a script by “Casablanca” co-writer Howard Koch. Its rare 1940’s sympathetic portrayal of African-American characters led to its being censored by the wartime US Office of Censorship.
Sunday, November 12 at 4pm: “Mildred Pierce” (1945) This is perhaps Crawford’s quintessential role, and she won a Best Actress Oscar for it, playing a tough, hard-working single mother who fights her way to professional success but is nearly undone by her extravagant love for the daughter who rejects her. Adapted from the James M. Cain novel, “Mildred Pierce” is an unforgettable amalgam of “women’s picture” and film noir. Directed by Michael Curtiz, with Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott, and Eve Arden.
Sponsored by the Capitol Hill Community Foundation