What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962 film)

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For the 1991 television remake, see What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1991 film).
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by Robert Aldrich
Screenplay by Lukas Heller
Based on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 
by Henry Farrell
Starring Bette Davis
Joan Crawford
Victor Buono
Music by Frank DeVol
Cinematography Ernest Haller
Edited by Michael Luciano
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • October 31, 1962 (1962-10-31)
Running time
133 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,025,000[2]
Box office $9,000,000[3] 475,222 admissions (France)[4]

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a 1962 American psychological thriller[5] film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, about an actress who holds her crippled sister captive in an old Hollywood mansion. The screenplay by Lukas Heller is based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Henry Farrell. Upon the film's release it was met with widespread critical and box office acclaim and was later nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design, Black and White.

The notoriously bitter Hollywood rivalry between the film's two stars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, was heavily important to the film's immense popularity at the time.[6] This in part led to the revitalization of the then-waning careers of the former Hollywood acting legends. In the years after the film's release, critics continued to acclaim the film for its psychologically driven black comedy, camp, and creation of the hag horror subgenre.[6][7] Because of the film's then unheard of and controversial plot (it originally received an X rating in the UK),[1] and the appeal of the film's stars, it has become a cult film, and continues to play as a midnight movie.[8] In 2003, the character of Baby Jane Hudson was ranked #44 on the American Film Institute's list of the 50 Best Villains of American Cinema.[9]


In 1917, Baby Jane Hudson is a vaudevillian child star while her sister Blanche Hudson is not famous and overlooked by their father. By 1935, both sisters are movie actors, but Blanche has achieved stardom, while Jane’s films have flopped, leading Jane to drink heavily. One night, returning from a party, one of the sisters (implied to be Blanche) gets out of the car to open the garage door, while the driver (implied to be Jane) attempts to run her over, misses, and crashes into the garage. The accident leaves Blanche paralyzed.

In 1962, a wheelchair-bound Blanche (Joan Crawford) and a bitter, irritable Jane (Bette Davis) are living together in Blanche's mansion. Because she is wheelchair-bound, Blanche rarely leaves her bedroom on the second floor and becomes close with her cleaning woman, Elvira (Maidie Norman). Elvira believes that Jane is exhibiting symptoms of mental illness and becomes concerned for Blanche's well-being, but Blanche defends her sister. Later, when Blanche informs Jane she may be selling the house, Jane's mental health begins to deteriorate further. During an argument, she removes the telephone from Blanche's bedroom, cutting Blanche off from the outside world. Later, Jane begins denying Blanche food, killing her pet parakeet and serving it to her on a platter.

When Jane leaves the house to put an advertisement in the paper, Blanche tries to get the attention of her neighbor, Mrs. Bates (Anna Lee) by writing a note pleading for help and throwing it out her bedroom window. Jane returns in time to notice the note and prevents Mrs. Bates from seeing it. When Jane reads the note, the two sisters quarrel again.

The next time Elvira comes to clean the house, Jane abruptly fires her and sends her away. Meanwhile, Edwin Flagg (Victor Buono) sees Jane's newspaper advertisement for a piano player and arrives at the mansion, where he is officially hired by Jane to help her in her delusional plan to regain her childhood stardom. While Jane drives Edwin home, Blanche searches the house for food and discovers Jane has been forging her signature on checks. Desperate for help, Blanche crawls down the stairs and calls their doctor, telling him of Jane's erratic behavior and begging him to come to the house. Jane returns in time to find Blanche on the phone and beats her unconscious before imitating her voice over the phone and telling the doctor not to come. She then binds and gags Blanche and locks her back in her upstairs bedroom. Elvira, still suspicious of Jane, returns the next day and discovers Blanche in a weakened and starved state. Before she can rescue her however, Jane beats Elvira to death with a hammer and dumps her body somewhere.

Joan Crawford as Blanche Hudson.

A week later, the police call the Hudson house and tell Jane that a cousin of her maid reported her missing. Panicking, Jane prepares to leave with her sister. Before they leave, Edwin shows up uninvited, hears a noise in Blanche’s room, and discovers what Jane has done to her. Frightened, Edwin runs away, and Jane drives Blanche to the beach. The discovery of Elvira’s body is announced in the morning paper. At the beach, Blanche reveals that she was in fact the driver on the night of the car accident and that she tried to run Jane over for being mean to her all through their childhood. Jane had been too drunk to remember what had happened and blamed herself for the accident. Jane responds pensively, "All this time we could have been friends." The police arrive to arrest Jane, and while they tend to Blanche, Jane dances before the onlookers, believing she is finally receiving the attention she had had when she was young.



Bette Davis (left) as Baby Jane Hudson and Joan Crawford as her sister, Blanche Hudson

The house exterior of the Hudson mansion is located at 172 South McCadden Place in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles. Other residential exteriors show cottages on DeLongpre Avenue near Harvard Avenue in Hollywood without their current gated courtyards. The scene on the beach was shot in Malibu, reportedly the same site where Aldrich filmed the final scene of Kiss Me Deadly (1955).

Footage from the Bette Davis films Parachute Jumper and Ex-Lady (both 1933) and the Joan Crawford film Sadie McKee (1934) was utilized, to represent the film acting of Baby Jane and Blanche respectively.

The neighbor's daughter was played by Davis' daughter B.D. Merrill who, following in the footsteps of Crawford's daughter Christina, later wrote a memoir that depicted her mother in an unfavorable light.

It was an open secret that Davis and Crawford loathed each other, and filming was contentious as their real-life hatred for one another spilled over into the production, and even after filming had wrapped.

Crawford was scheduled to appear alongside Davis on a publicity tour of Baby Jane but cancelled at the last minute. Davis claimed that Crawford backed out because she didn't want to share the stage with her.[10] In a 1972 telephone conservation, Crawford related to future author Shaun Considine that after seeing a screening of the film she urged Davis to go and have a look. When she didn't hear back from her co-star, Crawford called Davis and asked her what she thought of the film to which Davis replied, "You were so right, Joan. The picture is good. And I was terrific." Crawford, "That was it. She never said anything about my performance. Not a word." Considine alleges that this denial from Davis (with regards to Joan's talent as an actress) prompted Crawford to cancel the publicity tour and upstage Davis at the Oscars.[11]

Prior to the Oscars ceremony, Crawford contacted the Best Actress nominees who were unable to attend the ceremonies and offered to accept the award on their behalf should they win. Davis claimed that Crawford lobbied against her among Academy voters. When Anne Bancroft was declared the winner for The Miracle Worker, she was in New York performing in a play, and had asked Crawford to accept her award if she won. Crawford triumphantly swept on-stage to pick up the trophy. Davis later commented, "It would have meant a million more dollars to our film if I had won. Joan was thrilled I hadn't."[12] As both Davis and Crawford had accepted lower salaries in exchange for a share of the film's profits,[13] Davis considered it especially foolish of Crawford to have worked against their common interests, especially at a time when roles for actresses of their generation were hard to find.

During the filming of Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), Crawford acknowledged to visiting reporter/author Lawrence J. Quirk the difficulty she was having with Davis because of the Oscar incident but added, "She acted like Baby Jane was a one-woman show after they nominated her. What was I supposed to do, let her hog all the glory, act like I hadn't even been in the movie? She got the nomination. I didn't begrudge her that, but it would have been nice if she'd been a little gracious in interviews and given me a little credit. I would have done it for her."[14]


The film's success led to the birth of the "psycho-biddy" subgenre of horror/thriller films featuring psychotic older women, among them Aldrich's Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? and What's the Matter with Helen?. It was parodied by the Italian comedy film What Ever Happened to Baby Toto?.[15]

The film was remade in 1991 as a television film starring real-life sisters Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave.

Critical reception[edit]

The film received positive reviews and elicited mixed responses over the Davis/Crawford combination. In his review in The New York Times, Bosley Crowther observed, "[Davis and Crawford] do get off some amusing and eventually blood-chilling displays of screaming sororal hatred and general monstrousness ... The feeble attempts that Mr. Aldrich has made to suggest the irony of two once idolized and wealthy females living in such depravity, and the pathos of their deep-seated envy having brought them to this, wash out very quickly under the flood of sheer grotesquerie."[16]

Variety stated, "Although the results heavily favor Davis (and she earns the credit), it should be recognized that the plot, of necessity, allows her to run unfettered through all the stages of oncoming insanity ... Crawford gives a quiet, remarkably fine interpretation of the crippled Blanche, held in emotionally by the nature and temperament of the role."[17]

TV Guide awarded the film four stars, calling it "Star wars, trenchantly served" and adding, "If it sometimes looks like a poisonous senior citizen show with over-the-top spoiled ham, just try to look away ... As in the best Hitchcock movies, suspense, rather than actual mayhem, drives the film."[18]

The film maintains a 91% rating on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, indicating critical acclaim.[19]


The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design.[20]

Box office[edit]

The film was a surprise box office hit, grossing $9 million at the worldwide box office and $4,050,000 in theatrical rentals in North America.[3][22]

In the United Kingdom, the film was originally given an X certificate by the BBFC in 1962, with a few minor cuts. These cuts were waived for a video submission, which was given an 18 certificate in 1988, meaning no-one under 18 years of age could purchase a copy of the film.[1] However, in 2004, the film was re-submitted for a theatrical re-release, and it was given a 12A certificate, now meaning persons under 12 years of age could view it if accompanied by an adult. It remains at this category.[23]


  1. ^ a b c "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (X)". British Board of Film Classification. 1962-11-30. Retrieved 2011-09-09. 
  2. ^ Alain Silver and James Ursini, Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, Limelight, 1995 p 256
  3. ^ a b Box Office Information for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? IMDb. Retrieved April 14, 2012.
  4. ^ French box office results for Robert Aldrich films at Box Office Story
  5. ^ allmovie.com
  6. ^ a b "'BLU-RAY REVIEW - "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"". Slant Magazine. November 6, 2012. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  7. ^ "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?". The A.V. Club. June 6, 2008. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Whatever Happened to ‘Baby Jane’? It’s Getting a Remake". New York Times. July 12, 2012. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  9. ^ "AFI'S 100 YEARS...100 HEROES & VILLAINS". AFI. July 4, 2003. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  10. ^ BETTE AND JOAN by Shaun Considine, Dell, 1989, ISBN 0-440-20776-2, pp. 347
  11. ^ BETTE AND JOAN by Shaun Considine, Dell, 1989, ISBN 0-440-20776-2, pp. 433
  12. ^ Mother Goddam: The Story of the Career of Bette Davis by Whitney Stine, with a running commentary by Bette Davis, Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1974, ISBN 0-8015-5184-6, pp. 296-297
  13. ^ Mother Goddam: The Story of the Career of Bette Davis by Whitney Stine, with a running commentary by Bette Davis, Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1974, ISBN 0-8015-5184-6, p. 307
  14. ^ Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography by Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell, University Pr of Kentucky, 2002, ISBN 0813122546, ISBN 978-0813122540, pp. 221
  15. ^ Alberto Anile. I film di Totò (1946-1967): la maschera tradita. Le mani, 1998. ISBN 8880120808. 
  16. ^ New York Times review
  17. ^ Variety review
  18. ^ TV Guide review
  19. ^ "WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1960)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  20. ^ "The 35th Academy Awards (1963) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-23. 
  21. ^ "Festival de Cannes: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  22. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
  23. ^ "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 2004-08-27. Retrieved 2011-09-09. 

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