Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Camp Chic-Flick meets Psychological Thriller.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Directed by Robert Aldrich (1962)

Baby Jane Hudson
Bette Davis fans already know this film is an absolute must but for anyone who doesn't know about it, it's a real hoot. Bette is hypnotically repulsive in the role of tragically grown-up former child star Baby Jane Hudson and once having seen her performance, it's impossible to imagine another actress playing the role. Two words come to mind here.... gusto and fearlessness. Davis throws herself into the role.

The adult Jane has almost no redeeming features at all. She is slovenly, wears a gruesome pistache of make-up and her clothes look like something the Kranksy sisters might wear if they were going to a tea-party at the cemetery.

Jane is horrible to her crippled sister Blanche, [played with admirably composed hysteria by Joan Crawford], a former movie star who is relegated to an upstairs bedroom and at every whim and malevolent fancy of her demented sister. Yet a trickle of sympathy for Jane still manages to seep through to the viewer and by the end of the film some of us might be wondering if we should switch loyalties..[yes there is a twist!]
Maybe it's just that I've read Mommie Dearest but as an actress Crawford's cool exterior always seem to hint at a bubbling cesspool of neurosis underneath but in this case her artificial composure provides an effective contrast to Davis's surface histrionics. Rumour has it there was some, shall we say...tension on the set between Davis and Crawford. Certainly in the film, the mutual fear and loathing seems genuine and beautifully realised in the scene below:

Such a Bitch

You wouldn't be able to do these things to me Jane if I weren't stuck in this chair...
But y'are Blanche...y'are in that chair!!

The rat-lunch scene is now a Hollywood classic and indeed, the film has achieved a cult status among movie officianadoes, with Baby Jane Hudson making it into the Film Institute's top 50 Best Villains of American Cinema. Not a bad achievement when you consider the competition.

As the film progresses Jane slips further away from reality, especially after learning Blanche's intentions to sell the house from under her and pack her off to a sanitarium. Not that anyone can blame Blanche, for as Jane's craziness increases, so does the terrorization. Eventually, Jane lose it completely and makes the insane decision to retrieve her early career as Baby Jane Hudson, hiring a piano accompanest in the portly form of 'mummies boy' Edwin Flagg, played with suitably sneering camp by Victor Buono.

Flagg wonders what he's struck when, in an extreme mutton- dressed- as -lamb scenario, Jane trots out in her adult-size childrens dress, complete with girlish bows and sausage curls. Her coquettish, child-like posturing is a sight to behold and Bette's performance of I've written a Letter to Daddy is possibly one of the most hilariously cringe-inducing scenes in Hollywood film history.

Almost fifty years after it's release, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? remains vivid entertainment and is still popular with modern audiences....[it has it's own facebook page]. Perhaps the jam-packed eternal themes have ensured longevity -sibling rivalry, the vagaries of fate, blurring of fantasy and reality and the perils of celebrity-but much of the credit for Baby Jane's success must go to the powerhouse performance of it's leading lady. This film resurrected Bette Davis's career and allowed her to avoid the dumping-ground of aging romantic leads to become a character actress..a smart move on her part and the industry's.

The film's success was also a smack in the eye for Warner studio head Jack L. Warner who reputedly said: "I wouldn't give a plugged nickel for either of those two old broads."

Slightly disturbing Dennis Allen Beltran "Baby Jane" doll.