What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is probably my favorite ‘old movie’ that isn’t a Hitchcock film. Those of you who say you don’t like old-timey, black & white films (like my fiancé) should really give this one a chance because it is basically like an old school version of Stephen King’s Misery.
Now, I don’t want to take any credit away from the master of horror. Misery is one of my favorite King books, and it is certainly his best novel-to-film adaptation, even winning Kathy Bates an Academy Award for Best Actress as the evil villain and #1 fan, Annie Wilkes; but before Annie Wilkes there was Baby Jane Hudson and she has been a very, very bad girl.
Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) is a washed-up actress who was once a child star. We hear about this happening quite often with celebrities rising to fame at a young age, usually ending in a not-so-happy ending. In Jane’s case, she constantly lives in the past, even going as far as dressing up in childlike dresses with big bows and garish and heavy makeup and reenacting her old routines. She lives in a crumbling mansion with her crippled sister, Blanche Hudson (Joan Crawford). Blanche’s well-being completely lies in the hands of incompetent Jane. Their relationship is based off dependence and sibling rivalry. As Jane’s behavior becomes more and more erratic, her jealousy escalating into rage, Blanche fears for her life as a bed-ridden woman locked up in her room with no communication with the outside world.
Like Misery, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was also up for multiple Academy Awards, including Bette Davis in the role of Baby Jane. Though she didn’t win, Davis’ portrayal of an aging madwoman is outstanding and remains one of the most startling characters on screen. What I find even more fascinating is the off-screen rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. These two incredibly successful actresses had a well-known hate for one another. This lifelong feud was fueled by jealousy and disdain, much like their on-screen characters in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which was probably the main reason their performances were virtually flawless. The full story behind the making of the film is just as interesting as this beyond reproach and timeless film.
If you like this film, it is really fun to get into other Davis films like The Nanny, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and Dead Ringer, and Crawford films like Berserk, Strait-Jacket, and Mommie Dearest. Though these films of the golden age are dated and lack the instant gratification of more modern thrillers, I believe these classic films can still find their way into the hearts of young Millennials.
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