Set between 1917 and 1962. Young Baby Jane Hudson (Julie Allred) is a spoiled child star who performs under the jealous gaze of her sister Blanche (Gina Gillespie). Eighteen years later in 1935, Blanche becomes famous in Hollywood and Jane only gets parts that Blanche forces producers to give her. One evening they are in a car accident on the way to a party. In 1962, Blanche (Joan Crawford) is a disabled lady in a wheelchair that leaves the drunken Baby Jane (Bette Davis) in a derelict house. She rules Blanche like they’re living in a totalitarian state, ruling like a dictator. This is a story of sibling abuse, and how it destroyed a family from the inside.
Ryan Murphy’s Feud only enhances the appeal of Robert Aldrich’s 1962 horror movie What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? The exposition given to the Crawford-Davis rivalry only makes the battle of Baby Jane and Blanche Hudson that much more entertaining to watch. Aldrich’s horror came right in the middle of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963). It came at the right time, slap in the middle of the new horror hype that Hitchcock ushered in with the success of Psycho. What makes Baby Jane so riveting to watch is that Crawford and Davis aren’t acting. They may have had a respect for each other’s abilities as actresses and the craft, but their feud was no myth.
In essence, the studio pushed Aldrich to make the co-stars hate each other as much as possible in order to make the film as authentic as possible. And it worked, audiences can still feel their hate for one another coming from the screen. I must have watched this movie well over fifteen times and I can always feel it. It’s pure and naked. And quite honestly, it’s bloody great. Feuds aren’t born out of hate, they’re born out of pain. Based on the novel of the same name by Henry Farrell, this is one of the best examples of emotional pain I’ve seen. Through our characters, we’re privy to a story about family, abuse, rivalry, jealousy and what people will do just to make themselves feel better.
Baby Jane (Bette Davis) doesn’t really have any meaning to her life in a dying Hollywood mansion. She “cares” for her sister. She plays tricks on her, going as far as killing her pet bird and serving up a dead rat on a platter for Blanche to eat for lunch. It doesn’t end there, Blanche gets a beating when she tries to phone for help, and thus keeping her sister confined to the house under a blanket of emotional and physical abuse. Jane lives in a world of fantasy, wishing back her childhood career. Her jealousy runs riot as Blanche’s films are re-run on television. Jane takes this is a slight and stops at nothing to make Blanche’s life hell, more so when their neighbour comes knocking.
“You didn’t eat your dindin, Blanche!” says Jane. The whole movie revolves around the sisters, as they send projectiles at each other, back and forth. It’s an adult case of rivalry… that swiftly turns into abuse of the worst kind. Despite its brutality, this film is interesting to watch. Both Crawford (Mildred Pierce) and Davis (All About Eve) give excellent performances, adding scope and dimension to Blanche and Jane Hudson. Watching these two at work is a great look at human nature, especially in seeing how they reacted to the other. Davis’ Jane has mad mannerisms and expressions, and her face is powdered white, layered in makeup with curly blonde hair.
With the success of Ryan Murphy’s Feud, I can only assume What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? will become that much more popular. Based on Henry Farrell’s novel, Lukas Heller’s screenplay is the stuff of horror legend. While Blanche fails as a child and succeeds as as an adult, Jane is vice-versa. But whilst some would say that this event is simply one of those things, Jane is under the impression that her sister purposely stole her limelight and thus we have the corrosive relationship that is the film What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? Crawford is crippled in a car accident put into motion by her sister, or so they say until the shocking conclusion.
It’s impossible not to notice that Miss Davis had been a theatre actress, it’s evident in all her performances that she had been on stage. As Baby Jane, she’s a ghost-faced, crooked-lipped abuser and is scary both in mind and in appearance. Joan Crawford is less scary, she’s the victim of our movie but plays it so damn good. That said, she looks too good for someone who hasn’t supposed to have seen sunlight for nearly twenty years. Her mind is intact, but she’s been starved to near-death by Jane in a horrific fashion. Miss Crawford plays Blanche Hudson with despair and persuasion. Within her first minutes, you want to help this character. Soul-crushingly brilliant.
Victor Buono plays a good mommy’s boy Edwin Flagg, an acting and singing coach to Jane who wants to go back into performing. But this is nothing more than a middle-aged woman’s fantasy who wants nothing more than to out-do her sister. Jane Hudson must have the last laugh in all things, and because of this, she will never know a moment’s peace. I enjoyed Maidie Norman as the Hudson’s maid, and the house’s voice of reason. Though, she becomes more than a maid as questions of morality are asked in the second half of the film. Other cast members include Barbara Merrill (Davis’ daughter), Marjorie Bennett and Anna Lee. All contribute nicely to our little yarn.
Haller’s photography is unrelenting, accompanied by DeVol’s musical score. What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962) in partnership with Feud: Bette & Joan (2017) makes for a stellar double feature and the latter only improves the quality of the former. With excellent performances, cinematography and a brutal musical score, Aldrich’s 1962 horror is dated, but nonetheless excellent and goes down onto my list of best movies of all time.