DATELINE: Other Vain Women
Bette and Joan may not have realized, at first, that their bitter enemy was not the other woman, but was simple vanity.
Though they have every intention of working together amicably, as Jack Warner states, it is more like an agreement between Stalin and Hitler in part two of the series Feud. Warner comes across as a two-bit Mussolini.
As Bette and Joan, Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange become more convincing in their roles, again playing the actresses years earlier in movie clip flashbacks. They are remarkable impersonators, but the characters are grand enough in gesture and attitude to allow for ample performances.
Picked apart by studios who want to see venom on the screen, the two stars are also victims of their media friends, Louella and Hedda, the gossip columnists who most profit from an open warfare on the set of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
In this realm, Robert Aldrich seems to suffer moral nausea at the idea that he must pit the actresses against each other to keep his own job.
An uneasy peace between the stars descends rapidly, setting the stage for a bumpy behind-the-scenes Hollywood story to fill up five times the amount of time of the original movie.
Every detail seems guaranteed to elicit glee and guffaws at the foibles and vanities of the two women. At the backstory of the series is the pathos and desperation that goes into their careers. Sarandon and Lange acquit themselves admirably.
If there are amusing high points, one includes Bette Davis meeting her co-star Victor Buono (Dominic Burgess) over coffee and donuts. She thinks he is the caterer, but the zaftig Buono tells her he is her romantic leading man—a fat homosexual.
We cannot know what Bette’s face looked like upon hearing this, but Sarandon provides a fairly good approximation.
Ripe details and dropped names permeate the script—which may be lost on young viewers, but those with a knowledge of Hollywood history will be in stitches.