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

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a perfect example of a story about love, hate, fame, jealousy and fortune in siblings’

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, 1962

Directed by: Robert Aldrich

Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono

 

In 1917 ‘Baby Jane’ Hudson (Bette Davis) is an adored yet ill-tempered child star with a sister, Blanche (Joan Crawford), jealously lives in her shadow. By 1935 they have switched; Blanche is now a world-famous movie star while Jane has fallen deeper and deeper into alcoholism. A car incident paralyses Blanche for life, and by 1962 the pair are living together, with Jane taking care of Blanche (believing she caused the paralysis). But Jane’s mental state is deteriorating fast.

A film filled with interesting facets around it (Bette Davis and Joan Crawford themselves were slowly fading away from the public eye, as were their on-screen characters, and there was a huge falling out over Crawford’s behaviour at the subsequent Academy Awards where Crawford, angry at Davis’ nomination over her, campaigned against Davis winning and eventually accepted the Best Actress nomination on behalf of actual winner Anne Bancroft), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a perfect example of a story about love, hate, fame, jealousy and fortune in siblings. By having each sister have their moment of fame it gives an incredible amount of backstory to each character, and by the end it’s beautifully left open as to who was in the right and who was in the wrong. All of this is beautifully accompanied by two terrific performances, one of a psychotic woman suffering a breakdown and one of a terrified victim trapped by her own sister.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? also has a terrific soundtrack accompanying it; with the main song (‘I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy’) being played throughout by the characters and in the film’s soundtrack. At points it’s a little loud but it’s a beautiful song that can be used as a song to bring an audience to applaud and to really emphasise the mental state Jane is in as the film progresses. But unfortunately the film does have a few flaws.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, 2

Firstly, the side-story of Edwin Flagg (Victor Buono) is, to me, completely distracting from the film. Jane, wanting to recreate her ‘Baby Jane’ act and persona, recruits a piano player struggling to make money now that his mother is too injured to perform, and there is a hint of conning going on from Edwin (as he wants the money up front after we’ve seen he and his mother talk about how they’ll survive), but it’s all played out for laughs. One quote I saw labelled this film as a black comedy, but Edwin’s comedy style doesn’t mesh with other black comedies; he’s almost a cartoon character bumbling around (he’s a rather large man which adds to his comedy), slurping his cereal and getting drunk. It’s too far distracting from the dark story that is being told through Blanche and Jane. I know he serves his purpose in helping Jane’s fall back into her ‘Baby Jane’ ways (and Buono somehow was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award), but for me they didn’t go well. Another rather poor element was the way Blanche’s torment was told. There’s a scene where she writes for help on a piece of paper and throws it out of the window but it’s intercepted by Jane who hands it back in a mocking fashion, but the windows are never boarded up so there’s nothing stopping Blanche from trying it again. She almost seems confined, at times, to her fate, but an open window has all the makings for her survival. She also gets to a phone but calls the doctor rather than the police, which is strange, and Elvira (Maidie Norman), a maid, puts down the weapon and runs to help Blanche, but she puts down the weapon next to Jane, who is obviously in a disturbed place as she finds Blanche gagged and tied to the bed. A few of the writing choices later on in the film unfortunately hampered what was a very well written story (at its core).

 

Personal: * * *     Acting: * * * * *     Writing: * * *     Presentation: * * * *

Overall Rating: * * * ¾

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