Movie Review: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)


Title: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Release Date: October 31, 1962
Director: Robert Aldrich
Production Company: Seven Arts Productions
Summary/Review:

Got to see this on the big screen thanks to a 60th anniversary re-release last week.

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were known for playing … um … confrontational characters (and were even more confrontational in real life).  So it makes sense to channel their antipathy for one another into this psychological thriller about a lifelong rivalry between two sisters.  In 1917, we see that Baby Jane Hudson (Julie Allred) is a popular child performer on the vaudeville circuit while her sister Blanche (Gina Gillespie) watches from the wings.  By 1935, their roles are reversed as Blanche (Crawford) is now a Hollywood star who insists that the less talented Jane (Davis) get film parts as part of her contract.

But the story really begins in the present day when the aging sisters now share a decaying house on the outskirts of Los Angeles.  Blanche is unable to walk due to a car crash that broke her spine and Jane reluctantly cares for her.  A revival of Blanche’s old movies on tv seems to be the last straw for Jane who essentially imprisons her sister while she goes about trying to revive her childhood singing career.  There’s nothing quite as unsettling as Bette Davis with caked on makeup, greasy hair curls, and a babydoll dress singing songs about “Daddy.” But Blanche has her dark secrets as well.

David Lynch was only a teenager when this movie was released but it is nevertheless a very Lynchian film in nature.  Davis is great in her monstrous performance and Crawford has a more subtle role where she seems to wallow in her suffering.  It’s also brilliantly meta that this movie deals with the theme of women in entertainment being disposable once they reach a certain age and stars two women whose Hollywood careers seemed to be in the past. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? actually revived their careers which seems like a just reward.

Rating: ****