Metro Weekly

Hill Center celebrates “Davis & Crawford: A Fabulous Rivalry”

Hill Center's latest film series dives into the works of Hollywood's fiercest -- and most brilliant -- rivals

In This Our Life: Davis and de Havilland

The 1942 drama In This Our Life was somewhat rare when first released, offering a sympathetic portrayal of African Americans and the discrimination they faced.

The result? “The movie was banned from being allowed to be shown overseas,” says Nell Minow. “It came out around the early part of World War II. And because it portrayed the United States as being racist, or some elements of the United States as being racist, that was considered not good for the war effort.”

In This Our Life screens as part of “Davis & Crawford: A Fabulous Rivalry,” a free film screening and discussion series hosted by Minow, a nationally renowned film critic known for her column “Movie Mom,” and New Yorker contributor Margaret Talbot. It runs on select Sundays over the next month at the Hill Center.

Inspired in part by Feud, Ryan Murphy’s series on FX, “Davis & Crawford” focuses on two films starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford apiece. “We’re both very big fans of both actresses, but I am unequivocally Team Betty,” Minow says. “We each decided that we would present one iconic, well-known film, and one that was not well known and was completely nuts. There was a very target-rich environment there, a lot to choose from.”

Directed by John Houston, In This Our Life, which screens Sunday, Nov. 5, stars Bette Davis “as just the most awful person ever. She does this one unbelievably atrocious thing after another.” The counterpart is A Woman’s Face, screening Sunday, Oct. 22. Minow describes the drama as “a very, very nutty Joan Crawford film” in which “her face has been badly injured and then she has plastic surgery and it turns her life around.”

The series closes on Sunday, Nov. 22, with Mildred Pierce, the film for which Crawford won her first Oscar, but it launches this Sunday, Oct. 8, with William Wyler’s 1938 classic Jezebel, which netted Davis her second Oscar. Davis plays “a southern belle, and she goes to the big ball where the unmarried ladies are supposed to wear white as a symbol of their virtue. And because she is just such a jezebel, she’s such a scamp, she’s so strong-headed, she decides she’s going to wear a scarlet red dress, which is just completely shocking. That is one of the most famous dresses in movie history.”

It’s not even Minow’s favorite dress from this movie, much less “my single favorite dress in the history of movies.” That one comes later, “when she puts on a white dress to apologize in. That is just an absolutely gorgeous dress.”

Jezebel kicks off “Davis & Crawford: A Fabulous Rivalry” on Sunday, Oct. 8, at 4 p.m., at the Hill Center, Old Navy Hospital, 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. Free, but registration recommended for guaranteed seating. Call 202-549-4172 or visit HillCenterDC.org.

Read Nell Minow’s reviews of current films at moviemom.maxlazebnik.com.

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.