Thursday, January 26, 2012

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

By s. Thursday, January 26, 2012 , , , , , , ,
96/100 (136 min, 1962)
Plot: In a decaying Hollywood mansion, Jane Hudson, a former child star, and her sister Blanche, a movie queen forced into retirement after a crippling accident, live in virtual isolation.
Director: Robert Aldrich
Writers: Henry Farrell (from the novel by), Lukas Heller (screenplay)
Stars: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Victor Buono

Sister, sister, oh so fair, why is there blood all over your hair?

The only thing more famous than this movie are the legends from its set. Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, avid rivals, made life miserable for each other when they worked on the film and long time before it for that matter. Crawford's Blanche reasonable, polite sister to Jane, was mean and hateful in reality - during the kicking scene, Bette Davis kicked Joan Crawford in the head, and the resulting wound required stitches. In retaliation, Crawford put weights in her pockets so that when Davis had to drag Crawford's near-lifeless body, she strained her back. Even the director couldn't prevent those two from being horrible to each other.

When Davis got nominated for her work in the film, Crawford launch somewhat an anti campaign which may have cost Davis her win - also when Anne Bancroft had won Best Actress for The Miracle Worker that year, Bette Davis felt an icy hand on her shoulder as Joan Crawford said "Excuse me, I have an Oscar to accept".Crawford was the one who sent a letter to Bancroft, asking if she can accept the award on her behalf. Rumour also has it that at point Davis sent Crawford chocolate box - only instead of chocolates it was filled with dogs' feces.

That hatred translated beautifully to the motion picture - the rivalry between two sisters went on from their childhood. Jane was a big child star which lead to her being spoiled, Blanche was always in her shadow. Jane was getting all the attention, all the spotlight and her every whim was being indulged.  But later on it was her who was successful, revered actress and Jane ended up as a failure, blaming her sister for the studio not picking up her movies, because they were so busy promoting Blanche's pictures. It was Blanche who helped out her sister at the time, but Jane never acknowledged that.

Tragic accident, which left Blanche crippled sealed their fates together. The movie's major part takes place in decaying mansion where Blanche and Jane live, one being trapped in the house, completely at her sister's mercy, the other falling deeper and deeper into her madness, fueled by alcoholism. While Blanche watches her own pictures on television with the look of nostalgia, Jane plans how to make her sister miserable and how to restart her own career.
The movie started the trend of films called "psycho-biddy" - a sub-genre featuring unstable older women. Bette Davis's performance as Jane was a pioneer performance, preceded only by somewhat similar character of Norma Desmond. Both "What ever happened to Baby Jane?" and "Sunset Blvd" feature somewhat similar elements - there is a fallen star, trying to be famous again, younger man who is helping her out of selfish reasons and inevitable downward spiral into insanity. There is also disturbing ending with the star completely falling into her delusions. However, apart from the ending of "Sunset Blvd" which still feels creepy, it is Davis's performance that captured that disturbing insanity perfectly. She is both eerie, when she is trying to perform her childish act again and scary when she grabs the hammer and you know she is capable of anything.

"What ever happened to Baby Jane?" has plenty of thrilling scenes where we root for Blanche as she is trying to alert her neighbours about what is going on in the house or contact the outside world in any other way. However, Jane is always there to stop her and with each failed attempted there is less and less hope for the rescue. The clutches of madness are so strong that Jane appears to be going back and forth from bitter old woman to innocent, helpless child she would like to be again.
Crawford delivers very strong performance as Blanche, character more complex than it may seem in the beginning. She managed to hide her true animosity towards Davis and in the beginning scenes she seems genuinely naive and concerned about her sister. The escalation of Jane's horrible acts truly scare Blanche, who tries to remain sane and hopeful in difficult situation. The ending sheds a lot of light and shows that both sisters were punished throughout their lives because of their jealousy towards each other and the way their lives shaped out to be - huge disappointments for both of them.

The film has very interesting structure - it shows us events from the perspective of many supporting characters in the beginning and in the end, which allows us to know the back story before we get to see the inside of the mysterious mansion and we see what really goes on in there. That house is filled with so much anguish and crashed hopes it almost looks like a haunted place. The creepy feel of the movie is aided by cinematography - Jane suddenly appears out of nowhere and you know she heard everything, she knows her sister's intentions and there is no doubt she will do something cruel about it.

Although it began "psycho-biddy" genre to this day, excluding "Misery" if you count this one to be a part of it, it remains the best movie of the trend. There was a remake made in the 90's starring Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave but it was poorly received. The reason is perhaps that the black and white format of the movie adds a lot to the movie - it feels as grey and sad as the story itself. The studio actually wanted to shoot the movie in colour but Bette Davis told them it would just make "sad story look pretty" and it's very hard not to agree with that.

"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" is one of the best depictions of dysfunctional relationship between sisters, where their differences go as far back as to their childhood and who never managed to solve their issues. Jane's madness is wonderfully portrayed on screen - with each minute her condition worsens and she falls into her delusions which when she indulges them, are heartbreaking to watch. Blanche struggles to get help, for her and for her sister, but Crawford manages to capture the underlying feeling - that there is no hope left for them anymore.


  1. Dug the review. This is one of my all time favorite movies. Robert Aldrich is a director in need of a renewed appreciation

  2. What a great review of a truly great movie. If I thought about it, this flick may be in my Top 10 of all time. Freaks me the hell out everytime I watch it.

    One thing that irks me: the title card YESTERDAY. That makes no damn sense. The first time I saw it, I thought that title card meant the film was going to take place over the course of a day. I've never understood that, "YESTERDAY." Did that bother you at all?

  3. It was very bizarre, but luckily the plot engaged me so much I completely forgot about that detail. The movie is definetly in my top 20 it's too bad none of the others made around the same concept was as good as this.

  4. What irked me about the great movie was why didn't Blanche ever scream "call police" out the window when Baby Jane left and the neighbor was in her driveway? Or heck, Blanche could have thrown things and yelled when Blanche left and the neighbor WASN'T outside. The neighbor or her daughter would have heard her. Or when Jane caught Blanche on the phone talking to the Dr. why did Blanche get to the point immediately and screamed into the phone, "Jane is abusing me, call the police immediately and hang up".

    But it was a great movie and I have seen it several times through the decades.

  5. To my point of view that's what I refer to a terrific blog article! Do you use this portal for personal goals solely or you actually have it as a source of income?

    1. Thank you! I have never made money of my reviews, it's just a non-profit hobby :)