What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? - 1962
I’ll be upfront, the main reason I’m watching this movie is because of my obsession with the TV show Feud. As I sat down to watch this classic, it barely took me a minute to completely forget the TV show and get immersed in this world. The story centers around two sisters, both once movie stars, played by Bette Davis (Baby Jane) and Joan Crawford (Blanche). This casting is now Hollywood legend, boosted by their mutual disdain and bitter rivalry. Directed by Robert Aldrich, a master of movie genre, this movie had all the makings to be a bomb and it turned out to be a classic, thanks to his ability to reel in his stars.
This movie opens with a prologue that is designed to provide the audience with all the puzzle pieces needed to understand the sister’s relationship. We see when Baby Jane Hudson was a child star, famous for her theater show, in where she sings "I've Written a Letter to Daddy". Once offstage, she is shown to be a spoiled controlling brat, with her fame hungry father catering to her every need. The movie fast forwards twenty-some years and now Blanche is the movie star that everyone wants to see. This power-shift in their relationship is the main source of Baby Jane’s hatred towards her sister.
After we see the mysterious car accident that leaves Blanche paralyzed from the waist down, we finally get the credits to the movie. I loved the opening credits and the score that came with them. They come flying out of the crushed head of a Baby Jane doll as the music ramps up, preparing the audience for what’s to come.
The movie once again fast forwards in time, now both in their late 50’s early 60’s and Jane is taking care of Blanche. Much of this movie takes place within Blanche’s mansion, that she bought from Valentino in the late 1930’s. Despite it being called a mansion by everyone, it feels claustrophobic and small. It’s crammed next to their noisy neighbor and Blanche is confined to her bedroom. Aldrich’s utilized the close-up shots to drive home Blanche’s confinement and desperation.
Quick-note: Loved Bette Davis’ decision to have Jane drags her feet around the house and stomp her feet as she goes up the stairs. It created almost a theme music that announced her incoming arrival to Blanche. Putting myself in Blanche’s shoes and thinking how terrified she was just at the sound of slippers dragging across the floor, is so simple yet effective.
So, how about we focus on the star of the show, Bette Davis as Baby Jane. Davis delivers a truly unforgettable performance. I know “unforgettable performance” is a clichéd complement, but Davis deserves it. The way she switched from grumpy-tired-drunk old Jane, to sweet and psychotic Baby Jane persona was mesmerizing. The best example of this is during her performance of her famous "I've Written a Letter to Daddy" song. She stands alone in the living room singing her heart-out until she catches her reflection in the mirror. The instant switch from childlike enthusiasm to crying and realizing her sad reality, is something I’ll never forget.
Having such a grandiose performance from Davis, Crawford had to balance out the movie with a subdue performance as Blanche. She gathered mountains of sympathy from me, as all she wanted was to take care of Jane. Even in the face of all the cruelty and hatred thrown her way by Jane, she never stops wanting the best for Jane. Towards the end of the movie we understand the motivation of Blanche’s need to make things wright, but it doesn’t undercut her performance throughout the movie.
While this movie is carried by Davis and Crawford, it does have a great supporting cast. Victor Buono as Edwin Flagg, is one of my favorite aspects of this movie. Playing the struggling musician hired by Jane, as she tries to jump start her career. He is hilarious and full of sarcasm as he is willing to go along with anything Jane says or thinks as long as he gets paid. He also has a weird co-dependent relationship with his mother, that mirrors the sister’s relationship.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a great psychological thriller that will stick with you long after you watch it. The ending to this movie, I don’t want to ruin it for you, but I just want to say it’s disturbing and sad. I have been singing in my head, "I've Written a Letter to Daddy" and it both creeps me out and makes me happy. That inner conflict of emotions is why I love movies.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is available to rent of buy through Amazon, watch it.
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