What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is one of those films that has grown beyond itself to become the stuff of Hollywood legend.
There were stories of the feud between the leads that spanned their entire lives. Because of it, I think it lends the sense of vicious sibling rivalry that is evident throughout the film.
I think that was one of the reasons I had shied away from it for so long. I wasn’t sure that it could stand up to everything I had heard about it.
Still it was presented to me in the 101 Horror Movies so it was time for me to settle in and see if it lived up to everything I had heard about it.
Sure enough it pays off.
Joan Crawford and Bette Davis star as aging sisters, Davis was a child star of the vaudeville stage as Baby Jane Hudson. Crawford plays Blanche Hudson who was a star of the silver screen until an accident left her crippled, and in the car of her bitter sister.
Blanche is trapped upstairs in their mansion, planning on selling off the house and trying to get Jane into some serious medical care (she’s a bit of an alcoholic). Jane, however, is holding onto her dreams of yesteryear, and is trying to re-establish her fame, even hiring a piano accompanist, enjoyably played by Victor Buono, all while bitterly trying to control Blanche and her contact with the outside world.
The two seem intent on mentally torturing one another to the breaking point, Blanche incessantly summons Jane with a buzzer, and Jane takes great delight in serving up Blanche’s pet bird, as well as other less than domesticated animals for dinner.
The bitterness of both characters is front and center, and the film serves as a commentary on sibling rivalry, and the fear that Jane seems to generate in Blanche is almost palatable.
Jane’s treatment of Blanche is inspired by jealousy and bitterness, but the way it is let loose on Blanche is evil. She goes through all her mail, and then doesn’t pass it on to her, and then of course there is the infamous kicking scene. (Apparently, one of the kicks connected and caused Crawford to require stitches, in revenge, Crawford loaded up her pocket with weights for the sequence when Jane drags Blanche across the floor, which caused Davis to strain her back).
The film not only stands up, the acting is top notch, and truly dark. Elvira’s discovery of Blanche’s conditions and the consequences, the kicking scene, and Davis’ ghoulish make-up which seems to be almost a parody of her star-days-makeup.
The film isn’t a horror film in the supernatural sense, but it’s frightening in the terms of abuse that is piled upon Blanche, the murder Jane commits and just the lack of sanity there seems to be behind Davis’ eyes.
Though she looks much better once the beach sequence begins, the makeup is gone and she looks much better, though she’s still mad.
But the revelations in the last few minutes of the film put both characters into a different light…
If you haven’t seen this film, take a look, the legends do it justice…