Bette vs. Joan | reDiscover

Legendary performances, legendary drama: get a front-row seat to the stars of Hollywood's most iconic feud.

The Picturehouse Team

10 Jun 24


All About Eve 
Backstage is where the real drama is in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's wickedly enjoyable showbiz drama, bolstered by a lightning-fast script and an unforgettable Bette Davis.
From 14 Jun 
| Book Now

Mildred Pierce
Joan Crawford picked up an Oscar for her captivating turn as a steely, loyal matriarch in Michael Curtiz's ruthless psychological noir, proving motherhood can be murder...
From 21 Jun | Book Now

As a stubborn Southern belle looking to get her beau back, Davis is sublime (and Oscar-winning) in William Wyler's romantic drama.
From 28 Jun | Book Now

Johnny Guitar
Brought to vivid life in vibrant colour, Crawford's strong-willed saloon owner steals the show in Nicholas Ray's masterful western.
From 05 Jul | Book Now

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
In this gloriously lurid melodrama from Robert Aldrich, our feuding femmes finally share the screen – and continue to fight for the spotlight.
Film Club
 | From 12 Jul | Book Now


In 1987, Bette Davis spoke to journalist Michael Thornton about the love affair between Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone. Davis starred with Tone in 1935's Dangerous and was enamoured with him, and according to Davis, Crawford stole Tone from her, and "did it coldly, deliberately and with complete ruthlessness." That over fifty years had passed was of no concern to Davis. But Crawford's love affair is only a footnote in both of their illustrious careers – and but a small chapter in their infamous feud.

The rivalry between Crawford and Davis, two silver screen icons, was decades long, no-holds-barred, and the stuff of showbiz legend. While the pair only shared the screen once – in 1962's What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, reportedly at each other's throats the whole time they were on-set – the drama spanned the length of both of their careers, only reinforced by tabloids that couldn't get enough. That both were extraordinarily talented actors with diverse filmographies only added fuel to the fire, with Crawford picking up roles Davis missed out on (Mildred Pierce, to name one), and Davis parodying Crawford's screen persona (in 1957's The Star).

Plenty more could be written about the barbs exchanged between the pair over the years (Crawford to Davis on her Oscar win: "What a lovely frock"; Davis on Crawford: "She is a movie star, and I am an actress"), but regardless of whose side you land on, it's clear that cinema came out on top. Explore both Crawford and Davis' finest hours with a reDiscover retrospective that's every bit as captivating as the off-screen drama.

- Lara Peters, Content Editor


In the opening scene of All About Eve a radiant young actress takes to the stage, graciously receiving an award handed off to her by an admiring (albeit ponderous) fellow thespian. That actress, crucially, is not Bette Davis. Davis' Margo Channing sits downstage – draped in cigarette smoke and disdain, her drink very neat – and watches Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), the girl who once bothered her for an autograph, step quite comfortably into her spotlight.

Written and directed by the seasoned Joseph L. Mankiewicz, All About Eve is a truly delectable showbiz drama, a testament to the fact that many of Broadway's (and indeed, Hollywood's) most compelling dramas happen off-stage. The film's fizzing flashbacks and shifting points of view create the feeling of being at a glamorous, gossipy party, where Davis is the perfect hostess: at turns vulnerable and acid-tongued, well deserving of the career resurgence the role resulted in. She's also aided by a talented band of players, from Harrington's scheming ingenue, to Thelma Ritter as the assistant who sees right through Eve's wiles, to George Sanders' venomous drama critic (not to mention a cameo from a young starlet named Marilyn Monroe).

All About Eve garnered a mammoth 14 nominations at the Academy Awards in 1951, where it would then go on to win Best Picture. It also remains the only film in Oscar history to receive acting nominations for four of its female stars, with – in a final-act twist Mankiewicz himself could have penned – both Davis and Baxter nominated for Best Actress. Neither one won.

– Lara Peters, Content Editor


Mildred Pierce begins as any good Film Noir should: with a stylish, brutal murder. But this is a noir with a difference, soon flashing back to the family melodrama that led us there. In the hands of the versatile Michael Curtiz, Mildred Pierce has all the stylised visual flourishes of film noir: Dutch angles, abstract transitions, chiaroscuro lighting. It also has the emotional trappings of a domestic saga, from wayward daughters to cheating husbands to triumphant matriarchs. Crawford was desperate to play Mildred – like her, she was a single working mother driven to succeed – but Curtiz wasn't so keen. Crawford had to screen test, but it convinced her director, and the film revitalised her career.

Unfairly or not (depending on who you believe), Crawford is still seen through the lens of Mommie Dearest, the tell-all book-turned-camp melodrama from her estranged daughter Christina. Christina's allegedly unhappy childhood was happening at the time Mildred Pierce was made. Watching the film today weirdly feels like a commentary on those later allegations, with Crawford playing a loving woman struggling to raise a vicious, selfish daughter with unwavering devotion. Mommie dearest indeed.

Of the supporting cast, it's worth highlighting Butterfly McQueen, who once again plays maid to the rich white lady, typecasting that had persisted since her role as Prissy in Gone with the Wind. To compound the insult, McQueen is not even credited. We should be mindful that both Mildred and Joan's self-made success – though well deserved – was an opportunity largely unavailable to Black American women.

– Simon Ragoonanan, Digital Marketing Manager

JEZEBEL (1938)

It'd do Davis and her Academy Award-winning turn in 1938's Jezebel enough justice to simply transpose the lyrics to 'Bette Davis Eyes' — because nobody put it better than Kim Carnes when she sang "She's precocious, and she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush." It's with a fashionably late entrance on horseback, a coy look from under the brim of a hat, and the swish of a scandalous red ball gown that we get to know her headstrong Southern belle Julie Marsden all at once, as a woman long accustomed to having her way. Her unwavering conviction in her beliefs sets her on a collision course as she loses the favour of her fiancé (Henry Fonda) and reckons with welcoming his new wife (Margaret Lindsay) into her home, against the backdrop of the Antebellum period – but we soon come to learn that nobody puts Julie in the corner.

Director (and, at the time, lover to Davis) William Wyler is no stranger to placing a beguiling yet flawed young woman at the beating heart of his films - as we see in the likes of The Heiress and Funny Girl - but always does so with the utmost care for their humanity. Through Wyler's lens and indeed, Bette Davis' eyes, we come to understand the desires and neuroses of a living, breathing woman in love, and the oft-impulsive lengths she'll go to make right with her steadfast understanding of the world around her.

– Hope Hopkinson, Social Media Manager


Close to ten years after the realist drama of depression-era Mildred Pierce, Johnny Guitar feels like a change of pace for Joan Crawford. Though the severe character of Vienna fits the sharp image she had developed in both personality and looks, the film's bright colours and colourful characters gave it a camp edge that has continued to resonate with queer audiences.

But it's not just the imagery, with Vienna's neckerchiefs and stiff trousers. The narrative too weaves an outsider narrative familiar to anyone who has dressed outside the norms. As one croupier says early on about the fiery Vienna; "Never seen a woman who was more a man, she thinks like one, acts like one, and sometimes makes me feel like one". And it's this difference that brings her under fire with the local community, including a repressed Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge). It is Vienna living authentically that brings her into disrepute, in much the same way director Nicholas Ray's own methods often brought him under fire by the Hollywood system. Add to this his alleged bisexuality and it becomes clear that the central murder accusation is more about desire – and an inability to express it.

– Issy Macleod, Film Programmer


Directed by Robert Aldrich, 1962's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? revitalised the fading careers of its leading stars: Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The film, fittingly, follows an ageing former child star, who torments her paraplegic sister – herself a former film star – within the confines of their sprawling Gothic mansion.

The infamous feud between Davis and Crawford is now the stuff of Hollywood legend; once both signed to Warners studios in the 1940s, a rivalry soon developed between them. During the shoot of Baby Jane, they reportedly tormented one another on set, with Davis allegedly striking Crawford for real during some scenes, and Crawford lining her own costumes with weights for takes when Davis drags her along the floor.

The bitter feud between Davis and Crawford was integral to the film's success on release in the Autumn of 1962. In the years since, it has been heralded as cult camp classic, and a leading example of the hagsploitation and psycho-biddy sub-genres.

– Rose Butler, Film Programmer

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