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Ryan Murphy’s FEUD Opening Titles are a Love Letter to Classic Cinema

The friendship and subsequent fallout between actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford is one of the most storied scandals in the classic days of Hollywood. They were two stars on a similar path, but Davis usually got more of the critical and industry-wide acclaim and Crawford had a rockier career, going from extreme highs to abysmal lows. Now, Ryan Murphy‘s new series Feud is kicking off with a season about the two actresses and their fraught relationship, and the opening title sequence for the show feels like a love letter to Old Hollywood, and even has some sweet references to boot.

First and foremost, the distinctive pop-art, paper-cut-out style of the whole thing hearkens back to posters and title sequences done by the great graphic designer Saul Bass, whose title and movie poster work included things like Psycho, The Man with the Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder, and Vertigo. (Mad Men‘s opening titles had the same basic Bass-like look, FYI.)

Bass never actually did the titles for a Joan Crawford movie, but he did do one Bette Davis movie, the 1956 film Storm Center.

Certainly very evocative.

The music in the titles echoes the timbre of the work of Bernard Herrmann who prolifically scored most of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, including Psycho, North by Northwest, and Vertigo, which also had Bass titles.

Davis and Crawford only appeared in two films together, the first being 1944’s Hollywood Canteen, a big silly musical in which many Hollywood stars appeared as themselves under contract to Warner Bros . Davis was still riding high, having won two Oscars by the beginning of the 1940s, but Crawford was almost a studio pariah, known better for tabloid romance fodder than her work. However, in 1945, Crawford would rejuvenate her career in the Oscar-winning lead role in Mildred Pierce, and a newfound career playing middle-aged women fed up with their lot in life.

The storyline of Feud will deal almost exclusively with the making of 1962’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, when both stars were in their ’60s. The two played sisters, both child stars, except Crawford’s level-headed sister Blanche had to always play second fiddle to Davis’ Baby Jane, a spoiled brat. When they reach their golden years, and Crawford’s character gets hit by a car and is stuck in a wheelchair, Baby Jane is the one who has to take care of her, and it does not go well.

The title sequence weaves in moments from the movie, including the iconic scene of Baby Jane pushes Blanche down the stairs, with moments of their real life, including a cigar-chomping Hollywood executive using the actors like marionettes.

Davis ended up getting an Oscar nomination for her performance in Baby Jane and Crawford, who had the much more internal and thankless role to play, got nothing. The success of the movie led director Robert Aldrich to make a thematic follow-up, entitled Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, which would have reunited the two stars…except after only about a week’s filming, Crawford claimed she was ill and couldn’t continue. Evidently, she was still angry at being “upstaged” by Davis and didn’t want it to happen again. In order for the filming not to be cancelled entirely, Aldrich replaced Crawford with Davis’ friend, Olivia de Haviland, another aging star who had her own lifelong feud…with her sister, actress Joan Fontaine. Oh what a tangled web.

This series looks like it’ll be all enjoyable Old Hollywood scandal, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out!

The eight episode first season of Feud, starring Jessica Lange as Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Davis, will premiere March 5, 2017, on FX. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Image: FX


Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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