It’s a man’s world on Feud and if there’s one thing we’re learning about Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, it’s that they certainly know how to survive in it. Perhaps even more so than men. This week’s Feud covered the aftermath of the Academy Awards saga. Fuming over their snubs, Crawford and Davis go back to the drawing board. For Joan, that means vodka, horror pictures, and sulking.
The episode opens with an incredible frame-by-frame reenactment of the trailer for Strait-Jacket, a 1964 B-grade horror picture that Joan has begrudgingly agreed to star in.
Like the film itself, the marketing for Strait-Jacket is pure camp; we even see Crawford bum-rush a stage with a fake ax in hand after an equally campy introduction by director William Castle. And yet, despite all this, the film quite a success. Why?
Hagsploitation. Coined by Jack Warner himself in this episode, Hagsploitation is the very thing that made Baby Jane the success it was. It’s the thing that we, the public, do to our most beloved stars decade after decade, generation after generation. Hagsploitation encapsulates our need to tear down the people we once loved and revered. It’s our need to see them suffer, to see them brought down to our level.
And we’re certainly seeing all that come to pass in Feud, especially in the character of Joan Crawford.
No sooner than the spotlight goes out does Crawford become a shell of her public persona. She drinks, she sulks, she throws things at Mamacita.
“I don’t think I can do it anymore, Mamacita,” she cries.
Crawford is tired. She’s tired of promoting Strait-Jacket, of being second-best, of working so hard to pay the bills. I suspect that her meltdown comes at the full realization that her time is up. Soon she’ll be alone, lonely, and a non-factor in Hollywood. It’s possible that she already is.
The other cause of Crawford’s turmoil in this episode is her brother Hal, who’s gone to the papers yet again with a “stag picture” he claims Crawford appeared in. The bearer of this unfortunate news is Hedda Hopper, Crawford’s gossip/scheming partner. After falling out with Hedda over this, Crawford pays old Hal a visit and offers him what he really wants: a check.
Fortunately for Crawford, payday is around the corner. She lands a new role in a familiar type of picture–one that casts her opposite Bette Davis and sees her working under Bob Aldrich. It’s essentially Baby Jane Part Deux, only this time it’s called Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte and Bette Davis has somehow managed to get complete creative control over the project.
As filming commences in Baton Rouge, Crawford and Mamacita find themselves all by themselves at the airport. Rather than being escorted to set, the two must find their way the nearest hotel…where Davis has already reigned everyone in and made sure that Crawford has no one to turn to on her side of the ring.
This set-up brings about all-new challenges for Crawford. First, she must learn to play second fiddle to Davis, who’s still carrying on behind the scenes with Aldrich. And second, she’s got to find a way to get a leg up in this scenario. She can’t let Bette win this one, can she?
Tara Martinez is a New York-based writer with a passion for pop culture and a penchant for analysis. She frequently covers film, television, and representations of women in the media.