What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

“I didn’t bring your breakfast, because you didn’t eat your din-din!”

‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’, directed in 1962 by Robert Aldrich, is an American psychological thriller. It follows two sisters from their youth to their old age. One, Baby Jane Hudson, played by Bette Davis, is a psychotically jealous ex-child star who never managed to impress as an adult actor, whilst her sister Blanche, played by Joan Crawford, is delicate and, in childhood, bullied, but becomes the star that Baby Jane fails to. Apparently in retaliation for her success, Baby Jane (appears) to run over her sister at the height of her success. The rest of the film focuses on the two in old age. Blanche is in a wheelchair and confined to the upper floor of a house, whilst her sister ‘looks after’ her. When Blanche re-enters the spotlight with reruns of her movies on television, however, Baby Jane is tipped over the edge into a cycle of increasingly baroque bullying and, eventually, murder. Like ‘Sunset Boulevard’, this movie says much about the fickle and claustrophobic world of Hollywood. It strikes me that this is a common theme in the American movies I’ve watched for this blog: either films that critique the blacklist (‘Salt of the Earth’), those that feature the west coast as some mythic destination, those that focus on the cutthroat nature of the business (‘Sunset Boulevard’) and those that simply point to how Hollywood can kill you (‘All That Jazz’). In essence some of the best films to come out of Hollywood are about Hollywood. With ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’, this subtext is multi-layered. The film looks at the difficult transition between child and adult stardom, at the difficulties faced by aging female actors, and, most notably, uses two veteran and utterly compelling stars to warp and twist their own personas. It’s a thriller, and a camp, heightened thriller at that, but underneath the hyperbole and grotesque characters is a razor sharp critique of the American film industry itself.

Would I recommend it? Yes – in a double bill with ‘Sunset Boulevard’. Between these two films, the performances and the quotable dialogue will keep anyone entertained…

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