What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Genre: Drama and Horror Running Time: 2 hrs. 14 min.

Release Date: October 31st, 1962 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Robert Aldrich Actors: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono, Wesley Addy, Marjorie Bennett, Anna Lee, Maidie Norman

 


 

I

n 1917, little Baby Jane Hudson (Julie Allred) is a vaudeville performer, whose tap dancing and singing routines regularly sell out crowds. She’s so popular that patrons can even buy dolls in her likeness. But in private, her fame turns her into a monster; her father can’t control her, regularly relenting to her demands for ice cream and attention. “I don’t have to take a nap and you can’t make me!” Jane’s sister Blanche isn’t as talented, which means that her parents tend to neglect her in favor of the breadwinning sibling. This too has a significant impact on the child’s mind, perverting her sense of fairness and happiness in a corresponding way.

By 1935, Jane is an aspiring Hollywood starlet, though her talent in front of the camera is questionable at best. In a fateful twist, Blanche Hudson is the one who becomes a real star, garnering so much success that she can make any movie she wants. Looking out for her sister, Blanche insists upon a clause in her contract that states that for every picture made with Blanche, the studio must also make one with Baby Jane in the lead. This is aggravating for producers Ben Golden (Bert Freed) and Marty McDonald (Wesley Addy), who can’t stand to keep releasing stinkers with the unskilled Jane; her days of being in the spotlight are surely over. Soon harboring an insatiable jealousy and anger over Blanche’s rise to stardom, Baby Jane finds an opportunity to run her sister over with her enormous car in front of their mansion, crushing the woman along with the metal gate, the brick wall, and, coincidentally, a Baby Jane doll.

“She must be about 150 by now.” Nearly three decades later, in the early ’60s, the neighbors gossip about what must have happened to the Hudson sisters. Nosey Mrs. Bates (Anna Lee) and her daughter live right next door to the Hudsons, who still reside in their former Valentino estate, yet they rarely see either one. Blanche (Joan Crawford) is confined to a wheelchair, now largely dependent on her bitter sibling (or, at least, very much at her mercy); Baby Jane (Bette Davis) delivers breakfast, answers the door, and responds to a buzzer in Blanche’s room, but she’s openly antagonistic and violent. “She’s sick and she’s not getting any better!” exclaims weekly housekeeper Elvira (Maidie Norman), who insists that Jane needs to be put away in an institution where she can get professional help. When Blanche’s old films get picked up for syndication on television, Jane becomes even more unhinged, fueled by booze, hallucinations, and undying resentment.

“Don’t you think I know everything that goes on in this house?” Davis is delightfully wicked, demonstrating a devilish clarity amid her deteriorating grip on reality (or perhaps just on humanity). She’s so evil it’s almost funny. But her paranoia and actions of torment are rather terrifying, especially because she wields almost complete control over her paraplegic housemate. Blanche becomes a prisoner, resorting to sneaking communications out of the upstairs window, but Jane always seems to foil her plans of freedom from abuse.

This dramatic horror film has a pervasive sense of desperation and depression; even Edwin Flagg (Victor Buono), a piano accompanist answering an ad in the paper to be Jane’s assistant, isn’t immune to dejection (while also providing a hint of comic relief). Of course, plenty of thrills arrive in the psychological tortures, chiefly in Jane serving Blanche meals consisting of former pets or cellar-dwelling rodents, along with dashed glimmers of hope when visitors stop by. Distinct notes of “Sunset Boulevard,” “Gaslight,” and “Psycho” are present (while also lending ideas to “Misery” and “Fatal Attraction”) as the film transitions into a murder mystery. Its descent into chaotic madness is exquisite, although it’s overlong in the process, going into a considerable amount of detail for its depiction of escalating insanity. Yet the closing revelations are breathtaking and unforgettable.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10