Bette Davis vs. Joan Crawford

Who do you prefer?

  • Bette Davis

    Votes: 14 50.0%
  • Joan Crawford

    Votes: 3 10.7%
  • Both

    Votes: 9 32.1%
  • Neither

    Votes: 2 7.1%

  • Total voters
    28

Snarky's Ghost

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The Damned Don't Cry (1950), a tawdry film noir that many historians feel roll all her personas into one.
And one of her best!

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And, of course, POSSESSED (1947)...

"I had no idea it was ... insanity!" delivered like a Carol Burnett sketch...
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Caproni

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And one of her best!

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And, of course, POSSESSED (1947)...

"I had no idea it was ... insanity!" delivered like a Carol Burnett sketch...
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I've never seen all of The Damned Don't Cry, but I know a lot of her fans rank it near the top. Possessed, which some feel she deserved the Oscar for, I've seen a couple of times. But it's been a few years.

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Crimson

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And one of her best!

I could flip a coin over whether I prefer THE DAMNED DON'T CRY or FLAMINGO ROAD, but either way those are the years I think Joan was at her peak. The only thing I don't like about TDDC is that it's when Joan cut her hair; that matronly hairstyle made her age 10 years. But at least she hadn't yet adopted that gorgon-like makeup that was still to come.



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Caproni

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Joan Crawford seemed to carry a fine sense of humor about her melodramatic on-screen image. She parodied her "Mildred Pierce" monologue as seen in this clip from It's a Great Feeling, the 1949 musical comedy starring Doris Day.

 

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I was looking through Joan's filmography on Wikipedia, and I saw The Joan Crawford Show listed among the titles for the television section. I did some quick research, and I found out that Goodson-Todman proposed the series as an anthology in 1959. There were twenty episodes initially planned, but it all died on the drawing board because none of the three networks expressed any interest.

This just kind of through me for a whim because I don't believe I ever knew of this before. I guess it wasn't too much of a stretch to believe, however. Other actresses had followed similar paths. Loretta Young had left Hollywood and starred for years on The Loretta Young Show. Barbara Stanwyck had her own self-titled anthology that got decent reviews but poor ratings, and even Bette Davis did the pilot for The Decorator, a half-hour comedy produced by a young Aaron Spelling.


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Snarky's Ghost

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I was looking through Joan's filmography on Wikipedia, and I saw The Joan Crawford Show listed among the titles for the television section. I did some quick research, and I found out that Goodson-Todman proposed the series as an anthology in 1959. There were twenty episodes initially planned, but it all died on the drawing board because none of the three networks expressed any interest.

This just kind of through me for a whim because I don't believe I ever knew of this before. I guess it wasn't too much of a stretch to believe, however. Other actresses had followed similar paths. Loretta Young had left Hollywood and starred for years on The Loretta Young Show. Barbara Stanwyck had her own self-titled anthology that got decent reviews but poor ratings, and even Bette Davis did the pilot for The Decorator, a half-hour comedy produced by a young Aaron Spelling.


And Joan did DELLA/ROYAL BAY as a pilot, once again with Diane Baker in 1963.
 

Caproni

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The show was called Royal Bay when it aired on television, but when the networks didn't pick it up, they re-titled Della to briefly be released in theaters instead.

It was a pilot for NBC, designed in the emerging prime time soap opera genre. It was roughly seventy minutes, but the network passed on having it as a weekly show. The opening credits seem to suggest that Crawford wouldn't have been a member of the regular cast.

The producers decided to give it another name and release it to theaters. I'm sure it went publicized as a B-picture, partly because of its relatively short length, and drifted into obscurity. For the longest time, I hadn't any idea it was a part of Joan's filmography.


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Caproni

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I've been watching Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star, the very good TCM documentary that's been released as a special feature on the DVD of Mildred Pierce.

During Joan's post-Warner Brothers days, she reinvented herself yet again. She was graciously invited back to MGM to star in the 1953 musical drama Torch Song, which she had been led to believe was going to be a "major" picture. Of course, it scatted over to B-movie territory, was derided by critics, flopped at the box office, but yet remains a cult favorite among Crawford's fans for its total outrageousness.

Anyway, the point I'm getting is Joan's "new look" she came up with (I'm guessing) to distant herself from Warner Brothers. Her hair was bobbed and lightened giving her an appearance the aforementioned documentary calls "terrifying". A theory given is Joan was creating a "warrior" exterior with a "nobody can touch me" attitude. Her daughter Christina said her adopted mother's developed a toughness that never left.

Her face did change sometime in the early 1950s. She looked tougher, meaner, and not nearly as attractive as she had been before.

Your thoughts?


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Snarky's Ghost

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I've been watching Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star, the very good TCM documentary that's been released as a special feature on the DVD of Mildred Pierce.

During Joan's post-Warner Brothers days, she reinvented herself yet again. She was graciously invited back to MGM to star in the 1953 musical drama Torch Song, which she had been led to believe was going to be a "major" picture. Of course, it scatted over to B-movie territory, was derided by critics, flopped at the box office, but yet remains a cult favorite among Crawford's fans for its total outrageousness.

Anyway, the point I'm getting is Joan's "new look" she came up with (I'm guessing) to distant herself from Warner Brothers. Her hair was bobbed and lightened giving her an appearance the aforementioned documentary calls "terrifying". A theory given is Joan was creating a "warrior" exterior with a "nobody can touch me" attitude. Her daughter Christina said her adopted mother's developed a toughness that never left.

Her face did change sometime in the early 1950s. She looked tougher, meaner, and not nearly as attractive as she had been before.

Your thoughts?


It was apparently a face lift pulled too tightly. Somehow, though, the additional severity "fit."

One of the better -- or more compelling -- Bette Davis documentaries is STARDUST: THE BETTE DAVIS STORY.

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ginnyfan

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Well, Joan's 50s look is certainly unique and striking, there's no doubt about that. In a way, I do believe it was all a well planned effort to make her look strong, tough and even menacing. That's what she had to be in order to keep on reinventing herself and pushing her career forward. For me, she's still beautiful but in a scary way. It's hard to explain really. I love how over the top it all is. Joan was giving her LGBT followers what they wanted, long before they even knew they wanted it.

As for her tough, mean characters, while there were many to choose from in the 50s (Queen Bee, Torch Song etc), for me Harriet Craig (1950) takes the cake, both visually and as a human being. :yikey:

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Caproni

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It was apparently a face lift pulled too tightly. Somehow, though, the additional severity "fit."

One of the better -- or more compelling -- Bette Davis documentaries is STARDUST: THE BETTE DAVIS STORY.

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Looking at it, I can see where it could have been a hacked face lift. I personally think it makes her look too tough, too manish.

I have that very Bette Davis documentary on DVD. It's one of my favorites.
 

Caproni

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Well, Joan's 50s look is certainly unique and striking, there's no doubt about that. In a way, I do believe it was all a well planned effort to make her look strong, tough and even menacing. That's what she had to be in order to keep on reinventing herself and pushing her career forward. For me, she's still beautiful but in a scary way. It's hard to explain really. I love how over the top it all is. Joan was giving her LGBT followers what they wanted, long before they even knew they wanted it.

As for her tough, mean characters, while there were many to choose from in the 50s (Queen Bee, Torch Song etc), for me Harriet Craig (1950) takes the cake, both visually and as a human being. :yikey:

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She did make a transition to tougher parts. I'm sure her decision to update her appearance was influenced by the characters she was now playing, or perhaps even those she wanted to play.

It's funny because the three films you mentioned ─ Harriet Craig, Torch Song, and Queen Bee ─ are all highly regarded in the fandom of Joan Crawford. Many use aspects of those movies when giving impersonations of her. Apparently Harriet Craig captures a lot of Joan's severe cleanliness, while Christina found it unbearable to set through Queen Bee because it so closely resembled Joan in her view.

Of the movies you mentioned, however, the only one I've watched is Torch Song. I really want the other ones in collection (they're in the "Joan Crawford in the 1950s" box set), so maybe one day.


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Crimson

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I saw The Joan Crawford Show

I'm pretty sure it was @Snarky's Ghost who put the idea in my head many years -- and two forum versions -- ago, but I have an occasional daydream of Joan starring in a 1960s primetime soap: QUEEN BEE meets PEYTON PLACE filtered through DARK SHADOWS. Preferably with Joan looking just like this ...

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Even late in life, she was such a beautiful woman when she didn't obscure that beauty behind a mask of makeup. My main observation from the Christina thread -- which seemed inappropriate for the topic -- was how Joan was so much more beautiful in those (mostly) makeup free candids than in so many of her films.

It's hard to imagine what she was thinking with that grotesque makeup from the mid-50s. Donold Spoto, in his biography, theorized that she faced aging with exaggeration; possible too that she thought she was keeping up with the "bigger" ethos of 1950s cinema.
 

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Possessed (1931 / B&W / 76 minutes)
I told you all I hadn't forgot about watching these really old movies and giving you all my two cents worth about them. Possessed was the first one I decided to watch, mainly because I've been on a Joan Crawford binge for the past little while. This was her third of eight film collaborations with co-star Clark Gable. One biographer feels that the two shared their most serious love affair during the 1931 filming of Possessed.


There will be some spoilers!

Crawford plays a factory worker named Marian, who is being chased by a coworker named Al (Wallace Ford). Al is hopelessly in love with Marian, but she continuously refuses his proposal of marriage because of her desire to climb the social ladder. She meets a presumably wealthy drunkard called Wally (Richard Gallagher), who invites her to visit him if ever she's in New York. That evening, she brushes off Al and her mother (Clara Blandick, or Aunt Em from The Wizard of Oz) to go and meet Wally in New York. Once there, he basically encourages her to become some rich guy's kept woman to achieve her social goals. He quickly gets her out of his apartment, at which time she sees a dashing Mark (Clark Gable) exit the elevator and go into the same room. She weasels her way back into the room, where she finds out that Wally is not necessarily rich and he's just Mark's employee. Mark is a wealthy attorney, and he and Marian spark a relationship. The story is pretty predictable from there on out. Marian achieves her social goals, Al comes back to try and sweep her away, and after a few bumps, she and Mark end up happily ever after.

There are many plot points in Possessed that lets the viewer know that this picture was made in Pre-Code Hollywood. For one, Crawford's Marian is completely selfish in her aspirations to obtain wealth. She doesn't seem to show any notion of possibly sharing her future with her family (although we learn later she had been sending her mother money). Joan's bluntness as her character is probably the biggest give away. She blatantly tells Clark Gable that if he weren't rich she wouldn't "waste her time" on him. Her selfishness is totally wrapped up in that free spirited woman vibe, a precursor to the more modern women's liberation movement. She even tells her mother that if she were a man people would not think wrong of her desires to find a wealthier way to live. All these behaviors and story tactics were cleaned up once the Production Code kicked into high gear in 1934, and women began to be entirely placed in a more moralistic light.

I found myself actually enjoying this picture, as I figured I was going to anyway. Its running time is barely seventy-six minutes, so the story moves relatively quick. The scenes are pretty short, which can lead it to looking a little choppy to a viewer who is more use to films with longer running times. The shorter duration just eliminates their being any "filler" in the story. You're not going to get anything that doesn't precisely move the story forward, and in some instances, you might even feel like there are some gaps. But it all comes off well, or well enough, considering this movie is approaching its ninetieth birthday.

Possessed was the typical Joan Crawford movie of the early 1930s. She had outgrown her flapper jazz baby image of the late 1920s, and the talkies had pushed her towards the women's picture genre she would perfect and dominate the box office with for several years to come. The formula worked especially well for her, and it made her one of the biggest stars at MGM at the time, usually out-performing Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer in popularity polls. Her acting here isn't anything special, just basic of the era, but she does have a sparkle in her eye that makes her a little more captivating than her contemporaries. In some of the more "meaty" or monologue-heavy scenes, you can sort of see an emerging actress behind the fancy dresses, make-up, and jewelry. Of course, her studio wasn't pushing her towards an Oscar, but instead ushering into want made them money. That's always been the name of the game─the almighty dollar.

I was a little shocked at how stiff Clark Gable was in some of his scenes. Occasionally it looked like his clothes had been sprayed with so much starch that his movement was basically lifeless. His expressions aren't a whole lot better, but he was a rookie in 1931 ─ unlike Crawford, who was a firmly established star ─ and his performance definitely shows it. There are a few minutes about halfway through the picture where Crawford's pounding away at the piano at a social gathering. The cameras pan around a little, but we can tell that it looks like she's actually playing the piano. Then she does something that tossed me for a whim: she starts singing in French. The first instance pulls terribly far back from her face (leading me to think it was a ploy for the audience not to tell her voice was dubbed), but the next two instances are filmed in closeup. Regardless to the closeup or far-off shots, I'm fairly positive that the singing voice used isn't Joan's.

Like I said earlier, the story here moves quickly and it can seem a little choppy. Movies were batted out back in the early 1930s, at a time when talkies were still all the rage and the film studios wanted to make as many as possible. Possessed is a good little film, but nowhere near great. It's flawed, but I'm sure it will niche its way into my heart.

Watch it if you get the chance. You might like it.


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Parachute Jumper (1933 / B&W / 72 minutes)
I'm sure a lot of you are already laughing at this selection right after reading the title. I had to make sure I ordered Parachute Jumper because it was one of the films used to showcase Jane Hudson's horrendously bad film acting at the start of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). I had absolutely no other pretense to ordering it. Well, it was pretty cheap on Amazon, too.

There's a few spoilers afloat (not that any of you will be disappointed in that)
United States Marine Corps lieutenants and pilots Bill (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) and Toodles (Frank McHugh) are shot down in the sky over Nicaragua. When they are found drunk and unarmed in a cantina, the two men and the marines go their separate ways. They are offered jobs as commercial pilots in New York, but when they arrive, they learn the operation's gone belly up. By chance, Bill meets blonde-haired Southerner Patricia (Bette Davis), who he nicknames "Alabama". Bill invites Alabama to share the apartment and expenses with he and Toodles. Bill narrowly escapes death when he parachute jumps for extra cash, before he finds work as a chauffeur for Mrs. Newberry (Claire Dodd), who makes it clear she wants special "treatment" from her hired help. Mrs. Newberry is the mistress of a man called Weber (Leo Carrillo), a gangster who hires Bill on as his bodyguard. By coincidence, Alabama gets a job as Weber's office secretary. Bill and Toodles get tangled up in some dirty dealings with Weber and his henchman Steve (Harold Huber), who tend to set Bill up for a murder at the 51 Club. Bill and Toodles later learn that Weber and Steve have been smuggling drugs into the United States. While Weber tries to escape, with Bill flying his plane, the border patrol guns them down. Bill has enough time to make it appear as if Weber was flying the plane and he was a prisoner. In the end, after Toodles decides to reenlist in the marines, Bill proposes marriage to Alabama, who accepts.

Parachute Jumper is an assuming little comedy-drama. Like I said earlier, I hadn't any reason to purchase this movie outside of it being used as Baby Jane's earlier acting work. I found myself waiting anxiously to see the clips I saw in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, and when they finally popped up, it kind of felt like I was watching the latter film (no worries, though, I snapped out of that).

This movie came out back in 1933. There are a few things that signify that Warner Brothers wasn't abiding by the Production Code yet (that wouldn't be enforced strictly until 1934). When Bill asks Alabama to live with him, I'm sure a lot of audience members (however few there were) scratched their heads. Two bachelors living with a young woman ─ that was shocking for the time. There was no pretense of marriage at first, they were just "living together". There's one scene when Bill comes out to "check on" Alabama at night, and she rolls over and takes to leave, feeling he's like all the other men she's known and wants to go to bed with her. Whether his intentions were honorable is up to your view, but Alabama believes him when he says he was just seeing if she was sleeping alright. There's also the subplot surrounding Bill's job with Mrs. Newberry. She makes it clear she wants special "treatment" from her hired men, which is basically old movie lingo for she wants him as a lover. Mrs. Newberry turns the tables on Bill by asking him to remove his overcoat and practically "strut his stuff", which she admires for being "athletic". Alert the censors, this movie needs some tuning.

I honestly didn't think about Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. being in this film until I started watching it today. Sure, I saw his name on the DVD cover, but it wasn't clicking with me that he recently divorced Joan Crawford before production on Parachute Jumper started. This is truly his vehicle, his unshining hour. He's a handsome man, and he does well enough with what material is given. When interviewed later in his life, he always spoke of this film as "junk". The distaste Fairbanks held for the picture cannot hold a candle to how Davis felt about it. Whenever she was interviewed in her golden years, she was often asked about her earliest work and why she found it inferior. Without hesitance, Davis would say that Parachute Jumper, and other movies like Bureau of Missing Persons and Housewife, were all "just junk". She loathed this era of her career, a time when Warner Brothers was desperately trying to fit her into a "type". Davis was her own type, she didn't need a Hollywood manufactured one.

Parachute Jumper moves at a quick pace, running around seventy-two minutes (yes, I clocked it). There's not a whole lot of "filler" scenes, and there are occasions when it seems like someone wasn't exactly cutting the film right. I swear some of it had to be left out, or the writing was just that bad, because the plot holes here are big enough for planes to fly through. The aerial shots of the planes flying in the sky look decent, but that doesn't mean this movie isn't without its faults in the special effects department. There's a scene when Fairbanks' character is working as a chauffeur and he races back to pick up Mrs. Newberry and Weber at a nightclub. The shots of the car and the police that end up chasing him are blurry and clearly not the actual cars in the film. The screen seems to jump and jerk, and I literally found myself shutting my ears or looking away from the television because I was getting a headache from watching it. Now, I am being melodramatic, but it really is bad.

This really isn't a movie I'd recommend to anyone. If you're a Bette Davis fan and you actually want to watch some of her earlier pictures, then I know she had to do some better than this one. She isn't even really the star of this film. Even if you happen to like Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who is the real star here, I'm sure he's done better work elsewhere, too. It's a junky little flick, full of jumps, fade ins and outs.

You can watch it to critique. That's about the only reason to watch it really.


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Crimson

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Slant Magazine: Starring Joan Crawford on the Criterion Channel

The myth of Joan Crawford’s life and career is inseparable from what she did on screen. Though she worked with many fine directors across her career, all of Crawford’s films are essentially about her, and they need to be seen in terms of her unending thirst for publicity and attention, which still bears fruit and fans more than 40 years after her death. Crawford arouses sympathy and repulsion by turns, and the hilarious tunnel-vision focus that made her the ultimate camp totem is also what makes her lovable, in spite of the increasing warrior-hardness of her face, her often-monotonous intensity, and the sometimes off-puttingly aggressive way she offered her psychic battle scars to the camera.
 
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