Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Much to the shock of pretty much everyone I know, I've never seen today's movie - Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? directed by Robert Aldrich in 1962.
I was expecting something sort of boring or dull, mostly because it had such a long running time, and I wanted to be driving around in my new car instead of stuck in front of the TV again. However, I was really surprised by how awesome this movie is! It's legitimately scary and weird, and I loved the performances from both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. I wasn't expecting it to be...I don't know, actually good. There was just something about the story and the performances that really stuck with me. I loved that both main characters were women, as well. Not because I'm having a "the wimmins!" kind of thing, but because it's more rare, I think, to see actresses take roles like this. It's just a really good movie all-around, and I really enjoyed watching it.
The movie is about two sisters - "Baby" Jane Hudson and Blanche Hudson. When Jane was really little, she was a child star, famous for these horribly sickly-sweet performances of stupid songs. Backstage, she was a nightmare, always demanding things and being obnoxious. Blanche got no attention, really. The film fast forwards to the present, showing up that both sisters are now living together in their old age. Blanche has been paralyzed from the waist down in an accident, and Jane is...crazy. She wears caked-on makeup and dreams about reviving her show, performing the same musical numbers she did as a child and wearing similar costumes. Jane abuses Blanche, tormenting her and keeping her locked in the upstairs of the house. Blanche tries to call for help and tell doctors how insane Jane has become, but Jane has perfected mimicking Blanche's voice, and is always able to keep anyone from intervening. Their situation escalates until it becomes a seriously tense horror story (or at least it was for me!).
Like I said before, I'm really impressed with the performances. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford really went all-out. Especially Bette Davis - the role really required her to have no shame. She had to wear makeup that made her look horribly ugly, disgusting costumes, and had to go full-on crazy. I loved the scene where she tried to perform her famous song "I've Written a Letter to Daddy," and it's actually painful to listen to her, she sounds so awful. I'm not too familiar with either actress, because I'm stupid and young, but I could imagine that this movie could have potentially been image-ruining. There really aren't many actresses who take these sort of roles, ones that make them act horribly and look terrible. Sometimes women get lucky and there are some roles written that channel some real insanity instead of just boring like many roles for women (Black Swan comes to mind as one that channels some crazy) but they really aren't like, image-altering. They don't really require the actresses to look terrible or you know, showcase their utter lack of singing skills. Can you even think of an actress today who would put on one of Jane's dresses, or cake on clumpy mascara and bleeding lipstick? I really appreciated the actresses in this, although from what Ebert wrote about it, their performances weren't too off from their actual personalities. Yikes!
Ebert says in his essay that the movie is often viewed as being campy, which I guess I really don't get. Maybe it's just me, and I've seen some seriously campy movies, but this was way better than that. I thought it was really tense during a lot of scenes, and while I laughed sometimes (at things like "I didn't bring your breakfast, because you didn't eat your din-din! "), it was often because it was funny in a sort of unsettling way.  Things got really tense for me as the film went on, especially during the scene where the maid, Elvira, is trying to open Blanche's door to rescue her and you know that Jane is coming back home and will be inside in any second. I definitely felt my heart pounding as I watched that. I don't know if I'm just stupid, but there was really something unnerving to me about this kind of out-of-control insanity.
I really loved this movie. I kept talking about it after I saw it to anyone who would listen, because I was so impressed by it and frustrated, I guess, that I never saw it before. I know so many people who would like this movie, and it's one I would buy if I ever saw it on Blu-ray. I love the performances, the weird claustrophobic set, and the absolutely out of control insanity. It was a really fun watch and didn't feel like it was long, either. If you haven't seen it, it's worth checking out. It could be insanely fun and campy, or legitimately scary, but either way, it's a great movie.
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?


  1. I remember parts of this movie from my younger days. It was always on late at night and just flashes of scenes still wander around in my brain. I could swear it was a parrot and not a rat that was served on the platter. Still weirded out just thinking about it. As a kid, staying up late on a weekend, this is the kind of movie that was on. That could explain my  strange behavior today.

  2. I fucking loved this movie as a kid, and I love it even more now. I think this is Bette Davis' greatest performance, and one of Joan Crawford's best. Did you know that these two actresses had the biggest feud in Hollywood history? The hatred and history between the two is legendary, which made this movie the legend that it is. I think it's perfect in practically every way. I'd give it top marks :) Great Review! I'm glad someone else loves it as much as I do!