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Worth A Look: 32%
Average: 12%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 19 user ratings

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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
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by MP Bartley

"Bette loves Joan. But really hates her too."
4 stars

There is no more fascinating rivalry in Hollywood than that between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The stories of the insults and humiliations they poured on each other are legendary (after Joan Crawford's husband, who was a CEO of Pepsi died, Bette Davis installed a Coke machine on set. Ouch...), but until the day that Hollywood makes a biopic of their lives, then What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? will serve as the greatest exploration of their relationship.

Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) was a huge child star in the days of vaudeville, with her blonde curls and her ickily sugary songs packing audiences in across America. Her stardom meant that her sister, Blanche (Joan Crawford), was left in the shadows and ignored by their ambitious father. This changed however when the advent of sound in film came along, and Blanche found herself as a huge star in Hollywood, whilst Jane's career withered and died. Blanche's rise to the top however, was shortlived as a car accident with Jane at the helm, crippled Blanche and left her confined to a wheelchair. Now, in their later days, Jane has Blanche exactly where she wants her - alone in the house, at the mercy of her vindictive sister who plans to take out years of jealousy and hurt on her, whilst planning to resurrect her own career as Baby Jane - oblivious to the fact that no-one remembers her, least of all recognises her.

Robert Aldrich is sometimes dismissed as a mere action director that made a commercial success of his career, but this is doing him a massive disservice. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is smart, tense and playful. We skip from the 1910s to the 1930s, before briefly seeing an ambiguous view of Blanche's accident before settling on the present day, which Aldrich casually informs us is "yesterday", in the first ten minutes, effortlessly setting up the rest of the film with clarity and precision. The difference between the outside world, bright and sunny, is in complete contrast to the inside of the Hudson sisters house, which is shrouded in gothic gloom, and decorations from an era past as Blanche constantly rewatches her old films, whilst planning to have her sister moved out under medical supervision.

What Aldrich sets up then is a massive battle of wills between the two women, and it's powered through the real life hatred that the two actresses had for each other. Davis slings about insults and threats laced with real venom whilst Crawford's loathing for her is barely restrained by the wheelchair she is trapped in. A clear influence on Misery, it revolves more around mind games and mental torture than the physical stuff (just wait and see what Jane's version of dinner means. Oof...), yet when the only physical confrontation between the two comes, it's as impactful as the sledgehammer was on James Caan's ankles. We never see any of the blows connect between the two, but we sure as hell feel them and Davis' clear delight at the scene makes it highly uncomfortable to watch. Crawford is mesmerising as someone bursting with the will to escape and fight back, but doesn't have the physical ability to do so, and so can only rage helplessly, but it is Davis who has the best role. Caked in make up and a blonde wig in a grotesque parody of her Baby Jane days, Davis is a simmering embodiment of malice and evil and has a clear ball with the role (I would love to have been in the Davis and Crawford households when that years Oscar nominations were announced. Davis was nominated, Crawford was not).

Yet Aldrich has not made this a simple revenge thriller. He is as critical of child exploitation (there is an uneasy likeness between Baby Jane and the doll figures of her that they sell at her shows. The difference between person and commodity is interchangeable at best), as he is of Jane's later behaviour. Although clearly sympathetic for Blanche's predicament he refuses to simply demonise Jane as a monster. She may be an alcoholic child trapped in an adult's body, but she also has an incestuous obsession with her father, who being dead, throws an unhealthy amount of necrophilia into the mix. David Lynch hasn't constructed a scene as disturbing as the adult Jane crooning "I Wrote My Daddy A Letter" into the mirror.

For all its macabre black humour, and lashings of gothic noir, the final ten minutes show that underneath it all there is a very sad tragedy of lost innocence. Like it or not, Jane and Blanche depend on each other as much as loathe each other, and in a strange kind of way I imagine that's something that both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford would understand very clearly.

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originally posted: 09/27/07 19:06:24
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User Comments

9/16/17 morris campbell campy nasty fun 4 stars
5/27/07 action movie fan good creepy misery like tale of davis tormenting her invalid sister (crawford) 4 stars
6/08/06 Lisa A fantastic classic - Bette/Joan really did not get on!!! 5 stars
4/13/06 anthonyuk great fun, bette and joan on top form 5 stars
10/31/05 Mike "But ya are Blanche, ya are in that wheelchair!" Great film wth great stars. 5 stars
9/27/05 BoyInTheDesignerBubble Citizen Kane my ass! This is the greatest motion picture ever made! 5 stars
2/27/04 Betty White Really fun one. 5 stars
6/14/03 Alice You have to see this one. Davis is subliem ! 5 stars
6/08/03 earl hoffert so over the f-ing top camp, it's hilarious 5 stars
11/25/02 Charles Tatum Yummy cast 5 stars
8/16/02 scott great 5 stars
7/27/02 I Can't Swim "They were too busy giving a big build-up to that CRAP you were turning out!" 5 stars
9/21/01 Chris Blanche, ya didn't eat your din din :o) 5 stars
8/30/01 Paul Guimond Clash of the,...I mean,... titans. Peerless! 5 stars
8/19/01 Monster W. Kung Cheesy, but pretty tense. Nothing groundbreaking, but enjoyable. 3 stars
5/23/01 Bada Bing Crosby Bette vs. Joan; the winner is the audience. NO REMAKES PLEEEZE 5 stars
4/01/01 Andrew Carden This is a pretty slow movie, but Bette Davis gives one hell of a performence. 3 stars
2/14/00 Reg Lookabill Excellent, A Must See! It will change your life 5 stars
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  31-Oct-1962 (NR)
  DVD: 30-May-2006



Directed by
  Robert Aldrich

Written by
  Lukas Heller

  Bette Davis
  Joan Crawford
  Victor Buono
  Anna Lee
  Maidie Norman
  Marjorie Bennett

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