Masterpiece: Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?

Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? was always on my list of must see films, but for some reason I just never bought it - simply thinking I'll buy it later. After a little shopping spree on Amazon and much thought searching for potential Forgotten Classics for the blog, I ordered a handful of rather obscure (and often far too expensive) films, and  Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? was amongst them. During my first watch of this Robert Aldrich directed picture, my thoughts were mainly "I don't want this to end" and "Why did I take so long to buy this?" I'm truly in love with this film. The sheer melodrama, tension and performances just drew me in and gripped me for the duration. It's quite simply a masterpiece.

For those unaware of this 1962 melodramatic horror classic it follows two former movie stars living in isolation in their decaying Los Angeles home. The first is Jane Hudson, a former child star who performed under the name "Baby Jane Hudson", but as she aged, struggled to find success in mainstream Hollywood movies, unlike her sister, Blanche. Blanche may not have had the success of "Baby Jane" in her youth but managed to become one of the world's biggest movies stars in her thirties. This glowing career was tragically cut short after Blanche was crippled in a mysterious car accident. The two sisters soon begin to live an isolated life together in their home, where Blanche slowly becomes a prisoner under the control of her unstable sister.

The main selling point of  Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?  is the two iconic female leads, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis - who shared both a professional and personal rivalry throughout their careers, therefore the role of the bitter sisters seems to be a perfect fit. Despite their iconic status now, by the late 1950s, the two stars were considered box office poison with the two slowly relying on guest starring TV roles to keep their careers alive. Surely the combination of these two legendary feuding divas on-screen for the first time would turn around their unfortunate box office performances? And to an extent it did - this low budget picture (costing $980,000 to make) brought in a pleasant $9,000,000 for the studio. The film has since become a cult phenomenon and cinematic must-see for fans of Crawford and Davis, and simply anyone with good taste. Although their careers never reached past heights following Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? - their two careers remained relatively consistent until their deaths.

Aldrich's film inspired a whole series of similar films (some scribed by Baby Jane writer, Henry Farrell)  from the Anthony Perkins lead, How Awful About Allan, to the Debbie Reynolds-Shelley Winters star vehicle, What's The Matter With Helen? These are both worth seeking out if you enjoyed Baby Jane.

In my opinion, this is the performance of Bette Davis' career (and I've even seen her horrifyingly brilliant final film, Wicked Stepmother) - she's a character that I felt so much hatred against, which soon slowly mellowed into a strong sense of sympathy and compassion - although Baby Jane is the villain, she's also a victim herself, although it's easy to forget that at points when she's gagging or kicking her crippled sister on the ground. I'd love to have seen the grin on Davis' face as her she acts with her old rival, Crawford who's been bound & gagged. We also see a side sheer desperation of the Baby Jane character at points, which can be difficult to watch, most of this is expertly portrayed in Davis' scenes with Victor Buono, who plays a sleazy pianist brought in to help Baby Jane with her big comeback. It can also be seen in the chilling recreations of her childhood routines and ever-present 'Baby Jane' doll that is lovingly placed around the house. There's a lot of overacting from Davis, but it works superbly - Baby Jane is exaggerated in every way, she believes she's a star through and through.

Whilst, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? gives far more time to Davis' twisted sister, Jane - and yes she's truly magnificent in this, it was Joan Crawford that truly blew me away. The treatment Blanche suffers is tough to watch - this woman is trapped and isolated from society, where all her attempts at help are cut-off by her jealous sister. Crawford brings an almost quiet determination to the role, in comparison to Davis's Jane. However, as Jane's extreme treatment of Blanche intensifies we see the character broken down into a shell of the sweet movie star we have been shown throughout the film. Both Crawford and Davis are truly unforgettable and make this movie what it is. It's disappointing that we never saw any other collaborations from the two stars as they make a formidable team, think female Cushing & Lee.

There's a lot of sheer campness throughout Whilst,  Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? which mostly sources from the two lead performances. My personal favourite is a scene where Jane serves up Blanche a dead rat - Blanche responds by screaming and smashing the dinner tray away, then proceeds to spin herself round on her wheelchair, continuing to scream hysterically. Whilst this is happening Jane stands outside the room cackling maniacally - it's cinematic gold. Tribute has to be paid to Aldrich's tense direction which is way ahead of it's time and has clearly been an inspiration throughout the horror genre since. He's at his finest in one scene where Blanche tries to signal a neighbour for help whilst Jane is fast approaching, but the film is chock full of nail-biting moments like this.

Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? is truly one of a kind, it's campness, dark value and sheer magnetic performances and direction draw you in and mesmerize. This is the only time the screen icons have collaborated and it's perfect. I cannot stress to yo how much of a masterpiece this film is and if like me you keep putting of buying it, I have three words for you: BUY IT NOW.

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