Saturday, February 25, 2012

#558. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Directed By: Robert Aldrich

Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono

Tag line: "Sister, sister, oh so fair, why is there blood all over your hair?"

Trivia: The wig Bette Davis wears throughout the film had, unbeknownst to both leads, been worn by Joan Crawford in an earlier MGM movie

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is the harrowing, often frightening story of two sisters, both of whom once had careers in show business. 

Jane (Bette Davis) was a child star, perhaps the biggest stage act of her time, while Blanche (Joan Crawford) found her niche in motion pictures a few years later. Unable to jump-start her dwindling career, an adult Jane turned to the bottle, and one night, in a drunken stupor, caused an automobile accident that put Blanche in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. 

Many years have passed since that fateful evening, and the two elderly sisters are now living under the same roof. Unable to take care of herself, Blanche depends on Jane for her most basic needs. But when Jane decides to make a “triumphant return” to show business, it dredges up all the bad feelings of the past. Trapped in her wheelchair, Blanche can only sit and watch as Jane’s delusions of grandeur spiral out of control, pushing her to the brink of insanity. 

In What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, we're afforded the opportunity of watching two of Hollywood’s greatest actresses face off against one another, with Bette Davis standing out as the unscrupulous sister who will do anything to get her way. We’re given a first-hand account of Jane’s selfishness in the film's opening scene, a flashback to 1917, when “Baby Jane” (played as a child by Julie Allred) was an international sensation. While on stage, Jane is a pure delight, singing and dancing her heart out for her adoring public.  Backstage, she's Godzilla in a dress, verbally abusing her father (Dave Willock) in front of dozens of young fans, all because he refused to buy her ice cream. 

It’s obvious Jane’s success came much too early in life, whereas Blanche’s fame arrived after she had matured, and she was able to learn from her sister's mistakes. Always impressive, Joan Crawford works wonders as the handicapped former starlet, yet it's Bette Davis’ bitchy sibling, still aching from the pain of watching her sister become a big star, that commands our attention. As egotistical as she is crazy, there's no predicting how low Jane will sink to grab the spotlight for herself. 

Aside from being two tremendous performers, Davis and Crawford had a reputation for flying off the handle from time to time, and rumor has it (though it's not really much of a rumor) that they couldn't stand each other. As a result, many Hollywood pundits were convinced this pairing would lead to some nasty fireworks, and even director Robert Aldrich said early on that he wasn’t sure if he was “going to direct a motion picture or referee a title fight”. 

But if there was friction between the two, it only worked to the film’s advantage, for however they may have felt about one another off-screen, their work in front of the camera in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was practically flawless.


Anonymous said...


I simply HAD to stop by and tell you how INSPIRED I am by YOUR website, and magnificent creativity when writing my books.

Thank You So Much for Classic Flashbacks like this one!

Emily Hill

DVD Infatuation said...

Emily: You're too kind! I greatly appreciate the compliment, and look forward to checking out your new book "Ghost Stories: When The Dead Return" in the near future.

Thanks for stopping by, and for the comment!

beep said...

I think that this is a sadly overlooked film. Bette basically ran away from the mirror to the dark end of the room and redefined what it meant to be an actor. Side note: I was a child when this film came out. I was addicted to TV and so the paper was spread out for me in front of it so I could eat my dinner. And then. Then there was that ad. The broken doll's head. That's all. Just a broken doll. I was eating a rare steak. I have never (and I'm talking 50 years on) even attempted to eat a rare stake. Go figgah.

beep said...

Hum, I do have to ask what you thought of the follow-up film "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte". This flick is buried deep in my medula as it was the first Bette movie for me. Saw it in the theater back when crappy speakers were the norm (and I DO remember thinking about those crappy speakers; I couldn't have been more then twelve or so...) At any rate, this was THE film that broke a number of taboos (hand sliced off, severed head bouncing down a stair). Of course, this film is pretty silly in retrospect (it really doesn't work; yes, I do have a copy), but at the time, it completely redefined horror for me. What was your filmic defining moment(s)?