WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?
(director/producer: Robert Aldrich; screenwriters: from the book by Henry Farrell/Lukas Heller; cinematographer: Ernest Haller; editor: Michael Luciano; music: Frank De Vol; cast: Bette Davis (Jane Hudson), Joan Crawford (Blanche Hudson), Victor Buono (Edwin Flagg), Anna Lee (Mrs. Bates), Maidie Norman (Elvira Stitt), Barbara Merrill (Liza Bates), Julie Allred (Baby Jane as a child), Dave Willock (Ray Hudson); Runtime: 133; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Bert Freed; Warner Brothers; 1962)
“The film will be remembered only for the acerbic performances by the two grand old ladies of Hollywood.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Robert Aldrich’s trashy camp thriller comedy/melodrama was based on a story by Henry Farrell. The two fading and feuding older ‘ice queen’ stars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who never got along were paired up in a gimmicky twist in casting by getting the dramatic actresses to stoop to playing in a lowly horror pic. Ms. Crawford’s resentment was reinforced after Davis’ nomination for Best Actress–which convinced Crawford she had been had. Wearing grotesque costumes that made them look like witches was part of the deal. In any case, costume designer Norma Koch won an Oscar for her work.
Child star Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) was a spoiled vaudeville star in the 1920s known as Baby Jane, with a doll even named after her, while her younger ‘wannabe a star’ shy sister, Blanche (Joan Crawford), was always in her shadow until their childhood ended and Blanche changed into a beauty sometime in the 1930s and became revered as a talented movie idol and Jane was only an extra. It’s now the 1960s and paralyzed invalid sister Blanche is confined to a wheelchair after a tragic car accident, and has become a recluse living together with her sister in a gloomy rundown Hollywood mansion from their youth. Jane, who couldn’t handle how far down she slid career-wise, is a bitter alcoholic with mental problems, takes advantage of the change in their situations to get revenge as her sister’s caretaker. It’s Jane’s want to relentlessly torment her sister, even serving her roasted rats for dinner and dragging her across the room.
Aside from all the acerbic Hollywood commentary between the sisters and the reputations the actresses had in real-life as bitches and hard to work with, Aldrich plays up the mysterious circumstances of the accident using the conventional devices in crime films to find out who was responsible for it. The film relies on the Grand Guignol setup to give it a purpose other than being dreary and pulpish. It leads to a secret revealed that clears up the mystery but in a forced way. The film will be remembered only for the acerbic performances by the two grand old ladies of Hollywood, as it succeeded in revitalizing their dying careers and moving them seamlessly into playing macabre roles in B-pictures. Bette Davis was 54 and Joan Crawford 58 at the time.
REVIEWED ON 1/10/2004 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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