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|Index||182 reviews in total|
Hollywood has a habit of treating worst those who love it best. And
this is part of the reason that since the collapse of the studio system
American movie production has been locked in cycles of irony and
self-parody. Motion pictures tended to imitate the life around them,
and in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? you have, played out on screen
for your enjoyment, the sorry states of two grandes dames of cinema -
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford - and the much-maligned producer-director
The two leading ladies famously had a longstanding rivalry, and it's often commented on how this fuelled their performances. Maybe this is the case, but it's interesting how their portrayals here relate to their offscreen personae. This is among Miss Crawford's finest turns, and in fact one rough way to guage the strength of her acting is in how amiable she comes across, since it's fairly well-documented that in real life she was conniving, selfish and abusive to her children. Funnily enough though I don't think Crawford realised the irony of her warm screen image - she probably believed she was a nice person. Compare this to Davis, who was wryly aware of her reputation for bitchiness both on screen and off, and very knowingly pushes that image to its credible limits as Baby Jane. It is perhaps her most exaggerated role, but also appears to be one of her most effortless as she hams beautifully on the cusp between realism and caricature, in a performance that matches that garish crust of makeup.
And makeup is really integral to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, in an era where such things were not highly considered (for example we only have only had an Academy Award for it since 1981). Bette Davis is a startling sight, with cheeks like chalk and enough mascara to sink a battleship, inadvertently accentuating her age rather than concealing it. It might seem a step too far outside of a comedy, but it's worth bearing in mind that makeup is for women a primary means of expression and even a form of defence and self-denial, and there are plenty of women in real life who look just as ghastly as Davis does here. And for proof of that one need look no further than co-star Crawford, who since the early 40s had perpetually sported her trademark pencil-eyebrowed, thin-lipped, ghost-faced visage, an unintentionally macabre look if ever there was one. Appropriately however, Crawford's slap has been toned down for this picture, and in one or two of the later scenes we see her looking very natural, and incidentally the most beautiful she has appeared since the 1930s.
As far as I know producer-director Robert Alrich never wore makeup, but he is an intriguing figure behind this little drama nonetheless. He had been on the scene since the early-40s, directed several pictures of varying quality in the mid-50s, and became a Hollywood exile after helming the controversial drama The Big Knife. After shooting a couple of flicks abroad, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was his comeback. Rather than going wild in the more liberal post-studio system industry, he shows his technique to have matured and refined in his years away. There is a bit less of the shameless attention-grabbing of his earlier pictures, but still that deliberately odd and slightly detached look to each shot - god-shots, low angles, foreground clutter - which is simply ideal for this intense (but not totally mindless) melodrama.
To be honest though Aldrich was always a better producer than a director. Although he rarely took a writing credit he appears to have taken a hand in post-production structuring, and one of his neatest touches was to always have the opening credits several minutes into the picture, creating a prologue and leaving the grand opening to announce the real beginning of the story. He was also great when it came to assembling production teams. Here the crowded art set decoration of George Sawley is complemented by the grimy cinematography of Ernest Haller to create a musty, decaying look to the Hudson's mansion. It's also worth remembering that while Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is adapted from a novel, it was Aldrich that made its commentary on Hollywood politics far closer to the bone by deciding to cast Davis and Crawford.
Is this picture then a vicious attack on the fallout from the star system, as was The Big Knife? If it was, it was a bit late, since Hollywood no longer worked in quite the same way. Besides, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is far more affectionate, almost nostalgic in tone. Davis in particular probably regarded it as rather fun - after all she had been playing washed-up, ageing actresses since Dangerous in 1935; at least this time round she had the chance to inject a bit of over-the-top of absurdism. And Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is after all verging on comedy. True, the only aspect which is truly funny is the supporting part brilliantly played by Victor Buono, but the overall feel is one that suggests that joking could occur at any moment, and in fact it is this slightly bizarre tone that keeps this unusually lengthy suspense thriller as spellbinding entertainment.
This movie is a classic and will forever stick with anyone who watches
it. Disturbing in many ways, especially for an early 60's flick.
Bettie Davis was to me better in her later movies than she was in her "glory days". She seemed to be the best person on earth to play Baby Jane cause she has a very evil look to her. I think the casting was perfect in ever way, one of the best scripted movies ever in my opinion. The acting was superb.
I always felt a great director could've added so much to this film, but the story and acting makes up for it. Its good, but it lacked so much also. It should've focused more on how evil Jane was, it could've made me as a viewer feel more sorry for Blanche (sp).
It was 1962 and it was nice to see the occasional gem such as this come around. I will recommend you watch it if you like the lifetime movie of the week style of thriller, I say stay away from it if you are wanting some psycho deranged mad woman, because Baby Jane doesn't pull that off well....There's a thin line between psycho and crazy. Norman Bates is Psycho, Baby Jane was the latter.
6 out of 10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane" is a polished "A" picture that would
be reduced to the sensationalized tabloid hash of a Lifetime
made-for-TV movie today. The story, when stripped to its core, could
have been played for pure camp value (and indeed, some make an argument
for this): washed-up child star 'Baby' Jane Hudson (a grotesque Bette
Davis) looks after her sister, Blanche (Joan Crawford) in their
father's decaying Hollywood mansion; Jane, still living with outlandish
delusions of resurrecting her long-faded star, enlists a young musician
(Victor Buono) to accompany her show-tunes of yesteryear. But the
further Jane crawls into her crumbling psyche, the more she tries to
hide her fearful sister's existence.
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane" is a film that explores sibling relations/rivalry in a manner that is at once heartening, subtle, prone to explosion (or, in the case of Jane Hudson, IMplosion), and--finally--self-destruction. By the time we are watching Baby Jane encircled by a group of onlookers on the beach she went to as a child, while Blanche lays dying on the sand, we actually feel a certain amount of pity in spite of this deluded woman's appalling behavior. That might be the biggest trick up "Baby Jane"'s sleeve--while we side with Blanche, we also see her as a passive, fearful person based on her physical confinement; the dynamic of their relationship is confounding and surprising, but never as clear-cut as we'd like.
I have had my experience living with both wacked-out roommates and a screwed-up sibling, and "What Ever Happened..." shows the gray areas of such volatile situations. Who truly takes the blame for how we wind up? Jane is no less a villain than her passive mother and vicarious father, who--to her demise--put her on stage as a child, resulting in a delusional addiction from which she never recovers (when she sings the song, "A Letter to Daddy," so many years later, it carries a chilling resonance). As for Blanche, who is all talk and no action, she presents the dilemma of the mature, responsible elder who is extremely aware of her situation, but sees herself trapped in a corner where any action she takes will simply make things worse (there is an exquisitely suspenseful scene where the crippled Blanche makes her way to the downstairs phone, only to have Jane walk in on her). As deranged, delusional, and cruel as Jane is, her extreme efforts to keep hers and her sister's existence a secret is indicative of a strange sort of compassion. Like David Lynch's "Blue Velvet," "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane" is another film that presents love as an ailment, rather than something ethereal.
The black-and-white cinematography is gorgeous and sets a fitting mood that is by turns blackly humorous and filled with impending dread. The old mansion and all it contains delivers ample atmospheric chills (take note of the barred windows in Blanche's upstairs room), and draws favorable comparison to the house in "Psycho." The performances are stunning and filled with conviction--Davis and Crawford, who had a notoriously bad working relationship, portray their individual madness and hope with stunning realism; Victor Buono's young musician provides some light comic relief, but also acts as an outsider eye into the bowels of the mansion and the broken souls contained within. Robert Aldrich directs the film with a confident hand, and keeps things speeding along, jacking up the suspense with great frequency that even at the climax, where things seemed to have calmed down, we still find ourselves unremittingly tense from all that has gone on before.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? tells the story of Baby Jane (Bette
Davis), an aged child star and her disabled sister, Blanche (Joan
Crawford) for whom Baby Jane 'looks after'. Using black and white
instead of color sets the dark mood. There is a cleverly done sequence
at the start which explains that there was an accident without showing
WHTBJ is a very well done movie. It's kinda scary without really meaning to be. It's disturbing. Your heart beats. But why is your heart beating? It's just a movie. Perhaps it's because the characters are so well done. You like them, you even like Baby Jane despite her possessive, harsh behavior. You feel quite a bit of sympathy for her... she just wants to be loved, something we can all identify with. Baby Jane's embarrassing rendition of "I've Written a Letter to Daddy" makes you realize how much she longs to be loved, adored, worshiped. It's a magnificent movie.
It's funny, disturbing, dark, fascinating, sad, tragic... you can really feel the tension and electricity between Bette and Joan. Excellent performances by all, excellent movie.
This warped Gothic shocker is the ultimate Bette Davis movie. She is
absolutely brilliant is the demented, sadistic, unpredictable Baby Jane,
going so far over the top that she seems truly insane. Just look at her--a
grotesque caricature of a Shirley Temple-style child star, complete with
blonde ringlets and clownlike white powder caked onto her haggard face,
trying to add a coy little-girl inflection to her cracked, boozy voice.
Remember how Norman Bates was scary because he seemed so "normal" on the
outside? The exact opposite is why Jane is so frightening. She is obviously,
entirely sick and capable of anything. The scene of her croaking "I've
Written a Letter to Daddy" in a darkened room is one of the most haunting,
chilling moments in motion picture history.
Also great is Joan Crawford as tortured sister Blanche. She really makes us care about the character, so much so that we can forget what a monster Joan was in reality. The ladies are perfectly accompanied by Victor Buono, Oscar-nominated in his best role. The black-and-white cinematography is flawless and provides the perfect atmosphere, and the imagery is unforgettable. The entire film is deeply disturbing and gloriously capped by the bizarre finale.
An essential for cult aficionados, with Bette giving the best performance of her long, illustrious career.
Is it a horror comedy? Not quite, but "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" has camp followers who will swear it's a howler. I didn't see much humor in it, except for Bette Davis' over-the-top performance and wild make-up job. Based on the novel by Henry Farrell, Bette plays an aged ex-child star tormenting her sister (Joan Crawford), a former star herself who made more of a mark as an actress before a tragic car accident left her crippled. The film has but one plot-twist and an awful lot of talk (Victor Buono's role as a nutty mama's boy is tiring); however, it's a one-shot deal to see Davis and Crawford together, and a few of their shared scenes do live up to all the Hollywood stories which have now become legendary. The black-and-white cinematography and creepy set-designs are fantastic, as is that old car Davis tools around in. Overall, "Baby Jane" just misses classic status, mostly due to the indifferent handling. Everyone seems to be making a different movie. **1/2 from ****
"Subtle"? No way. "Well-crafted"? Not exactly. "Sleazy and
captivating"? YEP, you betcha!
This is definitely a "guilty pleasure" movie. You know, one that you love to watch but is certainly not sophisticated or subtle. Though a psychological drama, the movie is loud, loud, loud to the extreme--and therein lies most of its cult charm. At her most dramatic and bellicose is Bette Davis--who plays a totally insane and vindictive wench. And, believe it or not, Joan Crawford UNDERPLAYS her part! I know to lovers of classic cinema this seems impossible, as Ms. Crawford might just be one of the biggest over-emoters in the history of film! No, this film is really Bette Davis' film from start to finish--Crawford is just there as an object to be tortured and tormented by our anti-hero, Bette ("Baby Jane"). According to one biography I read about Ms. Davis, she really DID torture Ms. Crawford--walloping the crap out of her on several occasions during filming and then claiming it was all an accident!!
So, if you are the type person that loves Shakespeare, Jeeves and Wooster or documentaries about the plight of the Eskimos, then this film probably isn't for you. If instead, you like over-the-top, silly and somewhat scandalous films about insane people doing really nasty things, then have I got a film for YOU!
PS--While I enjoyed this film, similar films from the era that I actually enjoyed more are Davis' follow-up HUSH, HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE and Crawford's STRAIT-JACKET. HUSH, HUSH was more intelligently written and subtle and STRAIT-JACKET was much more over-the-top and campy.
If you haven't seen this movie yet, a sinister tale of the eroding relationship between 2 elderly sisters- don't hesitate as it's nothing less thank a classic! The combination of perfect casting and a twisted storyline defined a very special and popular genre of 1960s horror that is as mesmerizing today as it was over 40 years ago. There have been remakes and copycats, but take my word for it - There will never be anything like the original Baby Jane!!!!!
Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) was a child star with a sister, Blanche
(Joan Crawford) who felt left out. Later in life, however, the tables
were turned, with Blanche as a big movie star and Jane as a has-been.
Most of the film, however, is set when they're in their late 50s or
early 60s. Neither is very famous any longer and Jane must take care of
Blanche. The only problem is that Jane is slightly off her rocker.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is the first of two Bette Davis films, with Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) being the other, which have a number of similarities. They are both psychological horror/thriller films, directed by Robert Aldrich, adapted from novels by Henry Farrell, with screenplays by Lukas Heller, both filmed in black & white in the early 1960s--a time when that began to be more of an artistic than a budgetary decision or necessity--and both very similar in tone, with Bette Davis as a "crazy old bat" in a big old house, interacting with a female rival, with major supporting characters as maids and men who are around as more submissive love interests, and so on. For many viewers this is the better film of the two, but for my money, I much preferred Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Even though my scores for the two films are close, the difference in quality for me was greater than my ratings would suggest, with Hush a 10 for much of its length--a slow, somewhat meandering middle section brought the final score down-while Baby Jane never really rose above a 7, instead occasionally threatening to end up with an even lower score.
The main problem for me was that the slow meandering that was a flaw with the middle section of Hush is the norm in Baby Jane. I'm almost never someone who believes that a film should be shorter, but this is a rare case where a lot of liberal editing--say cutting the film by 45 minutes (the film is 134 minutes long)--could easily bring my score up to a 9. Of course, it also shouldn't be necessary to fix the film at that later stage, and we might just as well blame the looseness and pacing on the script. Some viewers might also find a problem with a few logical points in the script, but I think they're explainable if we were to spend time delving into psychological backgrounds and motivations of the characters.
Whatever the cause, as it stands, although there are some horror and/or thriller aspects to the film, it is really recommendable only to viewers interested in realist drama material, and even then, only to viewers who like that genre slow and relatively uneventful. (Although another point of interest to horror fans is that it's easy to see a number of at least superficial similarities between Baby Jane and Stephen King's Misery, which was made into a film in 1990.)
The performances are good. Davis is exquisite enough to make me almost wish that she had only played loonies and psychos throughout her career. Crawford has the difficult task of playing a complex, understated, physically challenging role. She goes through a number of subtle transformations, and somehow manages to look beautiful even when she's black & blue, bedridden and not wearing any make-up. Victor Buono, as composer/pianist Edwin Flagg, is able to convey a tragic underdog and provide comic relief at the same time, despite his relatively small amount of screen time. The performances are the crux of the film and the reason it receives as high of a score as it does. But they cannot carry the whole film. Despite a number of very good and occasionally horrific scenes, the biggest tragedy may be that film wasn't tightened up more. If you like Baby Jane at all, be sure you also check out Hush.
It appears to be obvious that certain movie stars displayed
considerable antipathy towards one another being ruled by jealousy and
simple human weaknesses. Sometimes, these feelings had an impact on the
screen. There may be many films which can boast of that emotional
authenticity and tensions barely acted but there is hardly any film
compared to WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE by Robert Aldrich where two
women are able to almost hypnotize the viewers for more than 2 hours'
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, as much as they hated each other in real life, deliver something unique here. Both are former stars, both used to be famous but it is only Blanche (Joan Crawford), now living a miserable life in a wheelchair who can still receive certain tokens of gratitude and admiration from some people. No one, indeed no one remembers who this Baby Jane (Bette Davis) actually was. This drives her mad...
The neurotic behaviors of Baby Jane, once a star at the peak of popularity, now in absolute oblivion (which she, naturally, cannot accept), are the sole reason to see the film. Bette Davis portrays a sophisticated character of pretense, cruelty, regret, schizophrenic ambitions, unfulfilled dreams of fame and, above all, the lack of reality's awareness, perhaps caused by her alcohol addiction. In her scenes at the mirror, she appears to stick to her growth stage that she stopped at as a child and occurs to see herself still as a beautiful, sweet dolly singing for her daddy and sending kisses to his address which is heaven above. She has an acting talent as a character imitating her sister's voice on the phone. In her scenes with Joan Crawford, she is neurotically insane, cruel, pretentious, extremely bad tempered skidding on the verge of lunacy. Mind you a very brutal scene of kicking and an equally insolent moment as she gives her a rat for lunch.
Joan Crawford portrays a character to be pitied. She remains calm for most of the scenes, especially those furies of her sister that she has to stand, and embodies deep suffering. One of the most unforgettable moments of hers is when she climbs down the staircase to call a doctor for help. Consider her gestures, she plays with all her body. Probably less understood near the end of the movie, Ms Crawford absolutely equals Bette Davis, which makes the two leading women deliver brilliant performances.
The supporting cast are worth considering, here, primarily I mean Victor Buono as Edwin Flagg and Marjorie Bennett as his mother Dehlia. Sarcastic as it may seem, the movie here draws parallels to the best thematic concern of the time in cinema, something that prompted the desire to psychoanalyze the characters (one of the pioneers in that matter, at the time, was the Master of Suspense). Edwin is a mother's pampered boy in the true sense of the word. There is a hilarious scene as his mother calls to the advert on behalf of her son, her sweetie looking for a job, presenting herself as his secretary. Edwin appears to hate his mother, yet, she is the only person in his life and, at the same time, the one who does not allow him to commit himself in any affairs with women. Therefore, the encounter of Baby Jane as a daddy's girl and Edwin Flagg (no matter how ambitious and educated as he may seem) as mummy's boy is an emotional, dramatic, comedic highlight of the movie.
It is also important to mention music score, haunting music score and the cinematography that correspond to the bunch of emotions appearing in viewers.
The fascination of this film, the thrill and a bit of fear it may create have stood a test of time. What ever happened to Baby Jane is something no one seems to care but truly remarkable thing has happened to the movie, it has got richer in its thrill and effect. 9/10
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