What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
- Bette Davis as Jane Hudson
- Joan Crawford as Blanche Hudson
- Victor Buono as Edwin Flagg
- Maidie Norman as Elvira
A dramatic thriller of chilling intensity and cruelty, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? stands as a fine example of a twisted flick about the illusory nature of stardom and the ravages of jealousy. Boasting two stellar performances from legendary screen divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford( whose off set rivalry allegedly mirrored the barbaric actions in the film), Baby Jane is an unforgettable movie.
As a child, Jane Hudson, who was commonly nicknamed Baby Jane, was the shining star of the vaudeville stage, her younger sister Blanche was the one left out. A reversal of fortune later occurred when Blanche became an acclaimed actress in the movies. This time Jane was the one who was on the end of neglect which subsequently saw her spiral into a drink addiction. All the promise of Blanche’s stardom changed however in a car accident that left her paralyzed; her older sister was the one who was accused of the act that ended her sister’s career. Years later, the two sisters are living together in a decaying, ramshackle mansion in Los Angeles. Blanche is wheelchair bound and must rely on Jane; on the other hand, Jane, caked in clown like make up and still believing she can make a comeback, takes great delight in emotionally and physically torturing her helpless sister. Cutting her off from the outside world, Jane reigns supreme as she abuses her sister. However, when Jane finds out that Blanche intends to sell the house, the fireworks really go off as Jane’s fractured mind completely dissolves into full-on madness. With Blanche attempting to escape with the help of kindly maid Elvira and the deluded Jane enlisting the help of mother’s boy Edwin Flagg to help revive her act, we know we’re in for a Gothic and uncomfortable treat.
Robert Aldrich conjures up a creepy atmosphere of shattered dreams, vicious jealousy and uncontrollable rage within the confines of the crumbling mansion. By choosing to have the film shot in black and white, he cleverly gives What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? menace and startling intensity as we witness Jane’s mind crack and the results of it. Aldrich balances the electric and alarming drama of the piece with the uncomfortable elements of the thriller genre to create a cauldron of bubbling tension. The casting of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was an inspired stroke of genius. The off set feud that the two had is almost as interesting as the movie itself, which leaves you wondering whether the movie is a heightened variation of the rivalry between the two women. A finicky musical score brings a dark mischief to the movie, as the sounds of twinkling percussion showcase the childlike mind of Jane and slashing strings the utter sadism that she inflicts upon Blanche.
What really gives What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? its grotesque but compelling power is the performances. Bette Davis delightfully sinks her teeth into the part of Jane and emerges as a menacing and damaged character. Yet rather than make her just a monster, the excellent Davis brings a tragedy to Jane as we see how she can’t let go of her childhood stardom and how much it has clouded her mind. Davis gives the role ferocity and uncomfortable traits and this is why it is one of her finest performances. Joan Crawford shades her part as the paralyzed Blanche with vulnerability and terror as she comes to see that her sister is really coming mentally undone. It may be the quieter role of the two, but Crawford still makes it a memorable part. Victor Buono is oily charm and greed personified as the pianist who Jane employs, who really just wants the money and not to help. Maidie Norman brings understatement and sympathy to her role as Elvira, Blanche’s maid who wants to protect her from the terror that Jane inflicts on her.
Uncomfortably compelling, dramatic and quite unnerving, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is one memorable film with top-notch direction and electric performances.