What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

She's written a letter to daddy...

She’s written a letter to daddy…

There are a lot of movies out there these days that aim to shock and horrify, and they’ll go to drastic measures to do so. Take, for instance, Tom Six’s The Human Centipede. The thought of hinging helpless folks ass-to-mouth in hopes of creating one digestive system out of multiple human bodies sure is shocking and horrifying. But, it is also ridiculous and unbelievable, and that’s ultimately why Six fails at his job. For something to be truly shocking and horrifying, it must be believable. That is what makes What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? such an incredibly successful and effective shocker; not only did the film’s two stars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, despise each-other in real life, the storyline they play out here is totally and completely believable.

It all started with Vaudeville, 1917. Baby Jane is a huge child star, singing treacly songs about sending letters to daddy in heaven (sealed with a kiss, to boot). You can even get a life-size Baby Jane doll, complete with blonde ringlets. Jane’s sister, Blanche (Crawford) is mousy and jealous. Their mother

Ready for her close-up...

Ready for her close-up…

promises Blanche she will one day have her turn in the spotlight, and she is right: fast-forward to the 1930’s where Blanche is the star. The only reason Jane is getting any work is because it’s written into Blanche’s contract that for every picture she does, Jane does one, too.

Unfortunately, Blanche’s time in the sun is cut short by a tragic accident; she is crushed between a car and the gate of her family’s mansion and resigned to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, effectively ending her career, and her autonomy. Though Jane was never officially charged with causing the accident, everyone is certain she is guilty, and so she is charged with caring for Blanche for the rest of her life. And thus begins a sick and twisted journey into the mind of a deranged, psychotic, washed-up alcoholic and the torment and terror she rains down upon her meek, defenseless, paralyzed sister. Three decades after the accident, Blanche is constantly tormented by Jane, and once Jane finds out Blanche is trying to sell the house they live in and send her off to a sanitarium, Jane does all she can to cut off Blanche’s ties with the outside world and make her nothing but a prisoner…

A telephone never seemed so far away.

A telephone never seemed so far away.

This film is renowned for being a camp classic, and there is plenty of camp to go around. Bette Davis’s performance is absolutely outrageous (and fantastically entertaining), but it’s also not completely out of the realm of believability: people go crazy sometimes, especially in Hollywood. Jealousy and stardom really make a terrible cocktail, as evidenced by Crawford and Davis’s actual off-screen rivalry. But it’s more than just campy, it is legitimately frightening! It’s not often I think of anything that’s considered camp as actually scary, and that I think is what makes Baby Jane so awesome. I found myself shocked at what was happening to Jane and how she was treating Blanche, but also shocked by Davis’s acting. I mean, like, wow, that woman seems seriously unhinged! How can you ham it up so hardcore and still be believable? A true feat, I think, and one we are lucky to behold!


4 Responses to “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)”

  1. 1 ladyfaceladyface
    January 29, 2014 at 8:09 am

    I recently saw this on the big—nay, silver!—screen. It is haunting. Before I die, I think Joan Crawford’s face will flash before my eyes.

  2. February 8, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I totally want to rent this movie now!

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