Top Five Christmas Films 2017: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Saturday 23 Dec

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1963). BBC2, 10:35pm.

Director: Robert Aldrich. (133mins)

Thriller/Suspense/Film Noir
Rating: 4/5 -  very good lots to enjoy

Years after the two of them were stars, ‘Baby Jane’ Hudson (Bette Davis) and her paralysed sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) live alone in their Hollywood house. Jane is mentally and physically abusive toward Blanche, who in response indulges in passive aggressive displays of defence and poorly executed escapes. When a penniless pianist (Victor Buono) answers Jane’s newspaper ad to help score a musical comeback, both sisters see an opportunity to get away.

Review by Jason Day
The real-life, long-running (30 years +) feud between movie goddesses Joan Crawford and Bette Davis has been chronicled in the recent TV drama Feud starring (respectively) Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon as well as the stage play Bette and Joan, that has featured actresses such as (again, respectively) Greta Scacchi and Anita Dobson.

So it's with a gaudy, sweaty piquancy the movie that kick-started all that off camera drama is being screened on the Beeb this Christmas.

Bette and Joan really did hate each other, with their vastly different backgrounds and approach to their work and the two went outrageously OTT in their attempts to out do each other during the making of this mega-camp grand guignol horror. It created a short-lived genre for elderly Hollywood actresses wanting to extend their silver screen lifespan in comparatively low-rent schlock, simultaneously slamming their artistic kudos.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane was the best of that type of film and Davis (as the neglected former child star) and Crawford (as her sister, the crippled but not forgotten Hollywood darling) dazzle in wildly different performances. Davis is hysterically, repulsively exaggerated with her clown-paint make-up. Crawford is pathetic, manipulative and passive aggressive. Both entirely unsympathetic.

Tune in and watch the fireworks fly for, as Davis said in a later interview: "The best fun I ever had was kicking Joan Crawford down the stairs".

For more, read my full review:
Cast & credits
Director: Robert Aldrich. 133 mins. Seven Arts/Associates & Aldrich.
Producer: Robert Aldrich.
Writer: Lukas Heller.
Camera: Ernest Haller.
Music: Frank De Vol
Sets: William Glasgow.
Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono, Anna Lee, Wesley Addy, Marjorie Bennett, Maidie Norman, Julie Allred, Ray Hudson, Ann Barton, Gina Gillespie.


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