DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

Sunday 13 May 2007


Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) dir. Robert Alrdrich
Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford


Guest Review by Pasukaru

Credited as the grand-mother, err, of the psycho-biddy sub-genre (old lady in peril, a.k.a. hagsloitation), “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” features two remarkable performances by then over-the-hill screen legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. In fact, Davis’ work as Baby Jane Hudson essentially set the bar for all subsequent crazy-lady movies.

And crazy she is. The story goes like this: Baby Jane Hudson had been a former vaudeville child star but was eventually upstaged by her more talented sister, Blanche Hudson, in the ‘30s as she became a famous movie actress. Considering that Baby Jane was a spoiled ungrateful brat, it’s not surprising that she might be a tad jealous of her successful sister. Baby Jane even had life-size dolls produced in her image for her adoring public, but now rest as eerie reminder of past glory. This doll is highlighted in the stylish opening credit sequence when a mysterious accident leaves Blanche Hudson paralyzed from the waist down. Fast forward a few decades and we are introduced to the two sisters in their golden years reminiscing about the good old days. However, for the alcoholic and queen-bitch Baby Jane, Blanche’s television broadcasting of her old film triggers a series of events that drives Baby Jane over the edge.

Bette Davis is spectacular. Some critics have accused her of going over-the-top with the character but she infuses a manic energy that is mesmerizing. Campy? Maybe, but delicious. She oscillates from emotional extremes like a pendulum likely to thrust her into the dark abyss of her mad, mad psyche. She’s a grotesque caricature that makes the audience always feel uneasy. How far will this crazy bitch go? She endlessly tortures her sweet and crippled sister physically and psychologically like a malevolent child would jab an injured bird in a cage. Joan Crawford is also great. Her measured performance really steadies the stage. We truly feel sorry for her. Eventually, when things get out of hand, we’re right there with her.

One of the more memorable scenes has Baby Jane reenacting one of her “famous” numbers for a one-man audience. Her over-done make-up, rickety bones, and broken voice make for an uncomfortably chilling scene. Gave me nightmares.

It’s not without fault, however. The film is over long. The editing could have been tighter, and the score is at times intrusive. The denouement kills the tension and feels unsatisfying, somehow. Still, Robert Aldrich, a versatile and visual filmmaker (see “Kiss Me Deadly”, “The Dirty Dozen”) keeps the gothic horror honest and delivers some hair-raising sequences. This film would later set the template for other crazy-bitch movies like “Misery” and “Carrie”. It’s a genre that hasn’t been over-used in my opinion and I feel a revival is in the works. But I say this with reservation, because it takes guts to do a character like Baby Jane Hudson, and I feel that today’s top actresses are far too vain to take such risks. I hope I’m wrong. Check it out.

Buy it here: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

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