|WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962)|
|Time: 133 mins.|
Rating: Not Rated
Won Academy Award for Best Costume Design. Nominations for Best Actress (Davis), Cinematography, Sound and Supporting Actor (Buono).
The main reason that drew me to watching this 30-year-old classic is the same that made it a mega-hit in 1962, the chance to watch two legendary movie stars act opposite each other for the first and only time. Crawford and Davis were huge box-office draws in their heydays and their talent is not wasted here. Because they play movie stars on the downward slope of their lives, it helps to have seen some of their other movies when they were young and beautiful. It's not imperative to enjoying this psychological thriller, but it blurs the line between fantasy and reality, giving the film an extra bit of juice. The fact that the two women hated each other in real life must have made certain scenes a bit sweeter as well, especially for Davis. Bette has the showier role here, but without the strength and courage of Crawford's part, BABY JANE would just be a freak show. Instead, it's a fight for survival between two very disturbed sisters and it's unclear who's going to come out with their life in tact.
The film begins during the heyday of singing and dancing sensation Baby Jane Hudson, a young girl who captures the hearts and wallets of many Americans. A sweet little girl onstage, she's her parents and sister's worst nightmare off. By the 1930's Baby Jane (Davis) is all grown up, however, it's now her sister Blanche (Crawford) who's the famous one. A big movie star, Blanche makes sure that Jane's path to stardom keeps going as well. She forces the studio to make a movie with Jane every time she makes one, but no one cares about Jane anymore and her movies are never even released. One fateful night, a horrible car accident leaves Blanche in a wheelchair and her movie career in the dumpster. Jane was blamed, but never charged. The sisters are left to fend for themselves with Jane now forced to care for her invalid sister. Cut to several decades later with both women living in relative obscurity. The years have been more kind to Blanche who has begun to worry about the stability of Jane and her ability to continue caring for her. She has begun drinking again and is longer even trying to hide her hatred for Blanche, who she blames for her career failures.
What starts out as a normal week quickly escalates into a full scale battle of wills. It seems that a revival on a local TV station of Blanche's old movies has sent Jane into a tailspin of jealousy that will have monstrous repercussions for Blanche. The tortures start out small, but it becomes clear that Jane does not have Blanche's best interests at heart and in fact is slowly trying to kill her. Their maid Elvira knows that something's not right in that overly made up head of Jane's, but she can't initially prove anything. She tries to warn Blanche, but she refuses to believe that Jane would actually hurt anyone. Unfortunately for Elvira, she's very, very wrong. Jane is determined to rid her life of her sister's presence so she can once again be a star. She takes great pleasure in torturing her sister. Blanche tries to get help using, pushing herself to her physical limit, but it's no use. Jane has been planning her demise for quite awhile and she's not about to be thwarted by a cripple. Jane's unflinching desire to be famous proves to be her undoing. Her heinous plan is discovered by Edwin Flagg (Buono), a man who was just looking for a break. In the end, the sister make it into the headlines once more, but not in the way they intended. We also discover that Baby Jane wasn't the only one with demons.
It's amazing to me that both women weren't nominated for Oscars. Davis's performance would not have been half as good without such a great one from Crawford. Like the sisters, one could not live without the other. Of course, it's always the showier role that gets the nominations. Ask Tom Cruise. The straight men never get the kudos they deserve. I can't think of any other aging screen actresses who could have done a better job. Davis must have derived great personal pleasure from not only the nomination, but from getting paid to kick the crap out of Crawford. There are some pretty physical scenes, which really make you fear for Blanche's safety. This is a take-no-prisoners, mental breakdown of the first order. A practical guide on how to drive someone utterly mad in 7 days or less. Though it has the potential for being very over-the-top, Crawford's modulated performance keeps the film from being too wacky and unbelievable. The deliberate pace of the action, has the audience strapped into the chair with Blanche wondering if this situation is as bad as you imagine or if you're just being overly anxious. You can't help but sympathize with Blanche because you're in this ride together. The film's outcome is tied to her fate and it's a scary, scary ride.
Robert Aldrich had his work cut out for him, having to direct two very strong personalities. The cinematography is stupendous, giving the film an old world feel. The contrasting shadows evoke feelings of uneasiness since you're never sure what's going to come out of them. B&W was definitely the way to go. As distracting and horrific as Jane's makeup is, she would have looked like a clown from hell if the film was in color. This way it's just a sign of her instability and desperate ties to the past. Though the film unwinds slowly, once it gets going there's nothing to do but sit back and watch the horror unfold. You're desperate for Jane to get caught, for anyone to come over and discover what she's up to, and yet you can't help but feel sorry for her. She wasn't born this way and it's the talent of Davis that keeps her sympathetic while making her one of the most frightful people you'd ever want to meet. When it comes to psychological thrillers it rarely gets better than this. It made me dread getting old and being at the mercy of someone else for my care. You just never know what people are capable of. If you're looking for a good, old-fashioned scare created by two of the best actresses to grace the screen, BABY JANE is one to watch.