What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

  • Okay. I’m doing it! I’m watching this movie. I’ve avoided it for years, because I thought it’d probably scare the pants off me – but today, I’m just gonna go for it.
  • (There’s this new Ryan Murphy show called “Feud” that just started – I’m sure you’ve heard it mentioned by now – about Bette Davis & Joan Crawford & the making of this film. I feel obligated to at least give the show a shot – because what attention do classic film actresses get in today’s world (answer: ZERO) – and to do that most effectively, I figure I ought to have seen the movie, so I know what the hell it is that’s happening.)
  • Directed by Robert Aldrich.
  • The film starts in 1917, when Baby Jane Hudson (child version is played by Julie Allred – later she is Bette Davis) is a singing & dancing star, & her ill-treated & overlooked sister Blanche (Gina Gillespie is the child version, Joan Crawford is the adult version) watches from the sidelines. The girls’ mother (Anne Barton) tells Blanche that one day, she’ll have a turn in the spotlight & the attention, and Blanche resolutely (and forbodingly ) says ‘Oh, I know. But I won’t forget the way they’ve treated me.’
  • Fast forward to 1935, and Blanche is now a big studio star, while Baby Jane is her tag-along. Actual film footage from EX-LADY (1933) is used in a scene where studio executives comment on how talentless Grown Up Baby Jane has turned out to be. It’s clever, showing this footage of Bette Davis in her prime, rather than messing with age-defying make up or trying to find a Bette Davis lookalike.
  • Next, Blanche (? – Intrigue! We never see the face of who’s driving) pulls into her driveway, sees Jane (again – ?) in front of the gate, & plows into her with her car. Someone screams and

BAM! It’s the opening credits.

  • During the opening credits, they keep flashing back to a wrecked Baby Jane doll, which was introduced to us in the opening 1917 scene. This has a great effect.
  • The “present-day” portion of the story opens up with a scene in which we get to see some brief clips from a real Crawford movie (SADIE MCKEE, 1934). So fun.
  • Jane has a real bad drinking problem & does a wicked vocal impersonation of her sister in order to get her liquor order filled.

(Note: It’s not Bette Davis whose speaking voice you hear when she’s doing this, it’s actually Crawford’s – that’s why the impression is so spot-on.)

  • Bette Davis gets drunk & sings deranged songs to the doll version of her younger self. It’s creepy as fuck, but only because Davis does such a masterful job of playing the scene.
  • After maybe 3 scenes, you aren’t just pretty sure Jane is a loon – you know Jane is a loon. That’s how great Davis is, from the start.
  • Oh, Christ – she’s cooked the bird!

(Blanche has a pet bird, and Jane tells her it flew away. Actually, Jane kills it & serves it on top of some tomatoes as Blanche’s next meal. Cute, right?)

  • Joan Crawford’s voice is so kind & even-measured in this – it adds a lot to her character.
  • The scene after Blanche (unsuccessfully) tries to get a note to their neighbor (played by Anna Lee) is lovely in its heartbreaking-ness. Blanche goes to lift the lid of her new lunch tray, but (after the bird incident) is too afraid – and instead just begins to cry.
  • Elvira (Maidie Norman), the sisters’ maid & Blanche’s ally, comes to the house on her appointed day, but Jane sends her away, saying she (Jane) had already done all the necessary cleaning for the week. Elvira’s like, ‘Does Blanche know? She’s fine with me not coming back until next week? and Jane says, ‘Yes, of course she knows’ and ELVIRA THE DOPE BELIEVES HER!

WTF, woman?! You know Adult Jane is a loon, and you just go on your merry way?! Gah!

  • Meanwhile, AJ (Adult Jane) has placed an ad in the newspaper for an accompanist, and an Edwin Flagg (Victor Buono) has responded. Mr. Flagg is a British drunkard songwriter who lives with his mother (played by Marjorie Bennett). We’ll see where this goes.
  • Flagg knows immediately that AJ is bonkers, but plays along & encourages the “revival” of her act, because he needs the money.
  • I wonder if Baby Peggy saw this movie and was like, ‘Oh, Jesus – I hope people don’t think this is how I turned out!’?
  • HomeGirl Blanche doesn’t know much about being stealthy, does she? She heads into AJ’s room while AJ’s out & leaves the whole thing in disarray! If AJ’s not feeding you now, what do you think she’ll do when she finds you’ve gone through all her drawers & littered chocolate wrappers all over her floor?
  • Okay, I take back what I said about Elvira. She comes back on her next off day, & when AJ fires her, she asks to see Blanche before leaving. AJ demands that Elvira return her set of keys, & Elvira expertly lies that she must have left them at home.
  • Elvira sneaks into the house & finds Blanche’s door locked & her buzzer disconnected. Then she finds a hammer & screwdriver & sets to prying the door open.
  • Of course, then AJ comes home, grabs the hammer that’s been set on the hallway table & kills Elvira with it. Because apparently that’s just how this movie is gonna go.
  • The lighting of the scene in Blanche’s room, after the police call & talk to AJ about Elvira’s disappearance, and AJ runs upstairs to manically ask Blanche what she should do, is phenomenal. The highlights & shadows, in the black & white, are marvelous and add so much drama to the scene.
  • So next – Edwin is found drunk on AJ’s lawn, so AJ ushers him into the house. Due to the surprise of the police ringing the doorbell to deliver Edwin, AJ only hastily re-ties up Blanche’s hands – which, while Edwin is downstairs, allows her to free a wrist & knock over her side table & lamp. Edwin runs upstairs to see what the sound was, despite AJ’s deranged pleading – and finds Blanche, who says, “Please. Please help me.”
  • Edwin runs off to find someone to tell (he’s stupid drunk though, remember), while AJ trance-ily says scary things like “He hates me” and “He’s gonna tell” while looking like an elderly witch-demon.
  • AJ’s next (very logical) step is to drag Blanche downstairs, shove her in the car, and drive to the beach.
  • There, Blanche tells AJ that the car accident AJ was always blamed for was not her fault – that Blanche had been the one who’d tried to drive the car into AJ – but instead of seriously wounding AJ (who was blackout drunk at the time), Blanche was paralyzed by the impact of the car hitting the gate.

Quote of Note:

“You mean all this time we could have been friends? — AJ

  • The police find them at the beach, & a crowd forms around AJ, who is holding two strawberry ice cream cones in her hands, and AJ begins dancing around in circles, as though she’s Baby Jane again, and they are her fans.
  • Fun piece of trivia – the nosey neighbor’s daughter is played by Barbara Merrill, Bette Davis’s daughter in real life…and there’s definitely a resemblance.
  • Well…I can certainly see why people endlessly heap praise on this movie – it sure is something. Bette Davis is fabulous in it, and so is Joan Crawford (though her role is obviously not written to be the standout one of the two).
  • This film actually didn’t scare me as much as I always though it would. It definitely, definitely left an impression – but it didn’t flat-out terrify me, which is nice.
  • Probably everyone should see this movie. It’s a good one.
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