“Blanche, you aren’t ever going to sell this house — and you aren’t ever going to leave it, either!”
Aging former child star “Baby Jane” (Bette Davis) resents having to care for her invalid sister, Blanche (Joan Crawford). When she meets a pianist (Victor Buono) who promises to help her revive her career, she makes plans to get rid of Blanche — once and for all.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Actors and Actresses
- Anna Lee Films
- Bette Davis Films
- Joan Crawford Films
- Mental Illness
- Psychological Horror
- Robert Aldrich Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “scary, perverse character study” — a “Grand Guignol… of personality-disorder horror films” — is too well made on too many counts to be considered a true camp classic (though it’s certainly enjoyed by many on that level as well). It features stellar performances by all those involved (especially Davis and her “business partner”, the inimitable Victor Buono); beautiful black-and-white cinematography; appropriately creepy sets; and a storyline which manages to elicit both genuine fright and concern for its protagonists.
There are countless memorable moments in Baby Jane: Jane taunting Blanche by serving her a dead canary — and later a dead rat — for dinner; Jane coyly asking a young man behind the counter at the newspaper office if he recognizes her; Jane taking delight in building sandcastles on the beach; all of Jane’s interactions with Buono (whose use of subtle facial twitches is truly hilarious). Perhaps most interesting, however, is the fact that while director Robert Aldrich appears to be ridiculing his stars — they’re looking their absolute worst here — he also manages to generate genuine sympathy for their plights. Crawford and Davis may have been the unfortunate inspiration for, as Peary puts it, “a whole slew of fright films in which humor came from looking at grotesquely made-up faces of [once beautiful] old women”; but in this film, they’re the real deal: broken, tragic women whose jealousy and vanity have forced them both onto an inescapably disastrous trajectory.
Note: In his review, Peary points out the many similarities between What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard; take note especially of the final scene on the beach.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Bette Davis’s Oscar-nominated performance (one of her finest) as the delusional “Baby Jane”
- Crawford’s less dramatic, but equally impressive, performance as the wheelchair-bound Blanche
- Many delightfully sinister moments between Davis and Crawford (notorious rivals in real life as well)
- Victor Buono’s wonderfully comedic turn as Edwin, Jane’s would-be salvation
- Maidie Norman as Blanche’s concerned housemaid
- Many moments of genuine terror — as when Blanche cries out for help by tossing a crumpled piece of paper down to their neighbor, only to watch Jane picking it up instead
- Appropriately baroque set designs
- An effectively creepy musical score
Definitely. In addition to featuring Oscar-nominated performances by both Davis and Buono, this infamous camp classic inspired (for better or for worse) a spate of similarly-themed “aging hag” films, and thus holds a special place in cinematic history.
- Cult Movie
- Historically Relevant
- Noteworthy Performance(s)
- Oscar Winner or Nominee
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)