What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (film)
|What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?|
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
|Music by||Frank De Vol|
|Edited by||Michael Luciano|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$9.5 million|
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a 1962 American psychological horror thriller film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich and starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The plot concerns an aging former actress who holds her paraplegic ex-movie star sister captive in an old Hollywood mansion. The screenplay by Lukas Heller is based on the 1960 novel What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? by Henry Farrell. Upon the film's release, it was met with widespread critical and box-office acclaim and was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design, Black and White.
The intensely bitter Hollywood rivalry between the film's two stars, Davis and Crawford, was heavily important to the film's initial success. This in part led to the revitalization of the careers of the two stars. In the years after release, critics continued to acclaim the film for its psychologically driven black comedy, camp, and creation of the psycho-biddy subgenre. The film's novel and controversial plot meant that it originally received an X rating in the UK. Because of the appeal of the film's stars, Dave Itzkoff in The New York Times has identified it as being a "cult classic". In 2003 the character of Baby Jane Hudson was ranked No. 44 on the American Film Institute's list of the 50 Best Villains of American Cinema.
In 1917, "Baby Jane" Hudson is a spoiled and capricious child actress who performs in vaudeville theatres across the country with her father, who acts as her manager and accompanies her on stage on the piano. Her success is such that a line of porcelain dolls is made in her image. Meanwhile, her shy older sister Blanche lives in her shadow and is treated with contempt by the haughty Jane. As the sisters pass adolescence, their situations undergo a reversal; Jane's style of performing falls out of fashion, and her career declines as she descends into alcoholism, while Blanche becomes an acclaimed Hollywood actress. Mindful of a promise made to their mother, Blanche attempts to maintain a semblance of a career for Jane, going as far as to impose on producers to guarantee a number of acting roles for her. One evening in 1935, Blanche's career is cut short when she is paralyzed from the waist down in a mysterious car accident that is unofficially blamed on Jane, who is found three days later in a drunken stupor.
In 1962, Blanche and Jane are living together in a mansion purchased with Blanche's movie earnings. Blanche's mobility is limited by a wheelchair and the lack of an elevator to her upstairs bedroom. Jane, psychotic and resentful of Blanche's success, regularly mistreats Blanche and prepares to revive her old act with hired pianist Edwin Flagg. When Blanche informs Jane she intends to sell the house, Jane rightly suspects Blanche will commit her to a psychiatric hospital once the house is sold. She removes the telephone from Blanche's bedroom, cutting her off from the outside world. During Jane's absence, Blanche desperately drags herself down the stairs and calls her doctor for help. Jane returns to find Blanche on the phone and beats her unconscious before mimicking Blanche's voice to dismiss the doctor. After tying Blanche to her bed and locking her in her room, Jane abruptly fires their maid Elvira when she comes to the house. While Jane is away, the suspicious Elvira sneaks into the house and attempts to access Blanche's room. Concerned by the lack of a response, Elvira tries to break open the door with a hammer. Jane returns home and reluctantly gives Elvira the key. As soon as Elvira enters Blanche's room, Jane takes the hammer and kills Elvira.
A few days later, the police call to tell Jane that Elvira's cousin has reported her missing. Jane panics and prepares to leave, taking Blanche with her. Before they can leave, an inebriated Edwin casually enters the house and discovers Blanche bound to her bed. Edwin flees and notifies the authorities. Jane, in a fit of infantile regression, takes Blanche to a beach where she sang as a child, attracting the attention of nearby beach-goers. Blanche—lying starved, dehydrated and near death on a blanket—confesses to Jane that she is paraplegic through her own fault: on the night of the accident, Blanche tried to run Jane over because she was angry at Jane for mocking her at a party earlier that night. Blanche's spine broke when her car struck the iron gates outside their mansion, and she dragged herself in front of the car's hood to stage the accident and frame Jane. Blanche took advantage of Jane's shock and subsequent bender removing the real dynamics of the accident from her mind, and subjected Jane to a life of guilt, loneliness and servitude. After Jane buys ice cream for herself and Blanche from a nearby kiosk, she is recognized by two police officers, who ask her to lead them to Blanche. Jane dodges the officers' inquiry and dances before a crowd of bemused onlookers, while the officers find Blanche and rush to confirm her condition. The ending is ambiguous, leading the watcher to ponder what happened to Blanche.
- Bette Davis as Jane Hudson
- Julie Allred as nine-year-old Jane
- Debbie Burton as young Jane's singing voice
- Joan Crawford as Blanche Hudson
- Gina Gillespie as thirteen-year-old Blanche
- Victor Buono as Edwin Flagg
- Marjorie Bennett as Dehlia Flagg
- Maidie Norman as Elvira Stitt
- Anna Lee as Mrs. Bates
- B. D. Merrill as Liza Bates
- Dave Willock as Ray Hudson
- Anne Barton as Cora Hudson
- Wesley Addy as Marty McDonald
- Bert Freed as Ben Golden
- Robert Cornthwaite as Doctor Shelby
- Maxine Cooper as Bank Teller
- Ernest Anderson as Ernie, the ice-cream vendor
Bette Davis created her own makeup for the role of "Baby Jane" Hudson. Director Robert Aldrich said it closely matched his idea for the character's grotesque makeup, but he was afraid to suggest it lest he offend Davis. Unlike most of her peers in Hollywood, Davis was unafraid to wear ugly costumes and makeup if they enhanced her performance. She wore unflattering makeup portraying a vain socialite disfigured by diphtheria in Mr. Skeffington (1944), and donned severe makeup and partially shaved her head to play Queen Elizabeth I in The Virgin Queen.
The house exterior of the Hudson mansion is located at 172 South McCadden Place in the neighborhood of Hancock Park, 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 filmed near Aldrich's beach house in Malibu, the same site where Aldrich filmed the final scene of Kiss Me Deadly (1955). The beach house's exterior is briefly visible during the film's final scenes.
The character of Liza, Mrs. Bates' daughter, was played by Davis' real-life daughter B. D. Merrill. After Joan Crawford's daughter Christina wrote the best-selling tell-all book Mommie Dearest, Merrill published a memoir that also depicted her mother in an unfavorable light.
Crawford was scheduled to appear alongside Davis on a publicity tour of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? but cancelled at the last minute. Davis claimed that Crawford backed out because she did not want to share the stage with her. In a 1972 telephone conversation, Crawford told author Shaun Considine that after seeing the film she urged Davis to go and have a look. When she failed to hear back from her co-star, Crawford called Davis and asked her what she thought of the film. Davis replied, "You were so right, Joan. The picture is good. And I was terrific." Crawford said, "That was it. She never said anything about my performance. Not a word." Considine alleges that this incident and Davis' refusal to acknowledge her co-star's contribution to the film led Crawford to cancel the publicity tour and upstage Davis at the Oscars.
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 if they won. Davis claimed that Crawford lobbied against her among Academy voters. Anne Bancroft won Best Actress for The Miracle Worker, but was in New York performing a stage play; she had agreed to let Crawford accept the award on her behalf if she won. Crawford triumphantly swept on-stage to pick up the trophy. Davis later said, "It would have meant a million more dollars to our film if I had won. Joan was thrilled I hadn't." As both Davis and Crawford had accepted lower salaries in exchange for a share of the film's profits, Davis considered it foolish of Crawford to have worked against their common interests, especially at a time when roles for actresses their age were scarce.
During the filming of Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), Crawford acknowledged to visiting reporter and 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."
Contemporary reviews were mixed. In a generally negative 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. There is nothing moving or particularly significant about these two." Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times also panned the film, writing that Crawford and Davis had been turned into "grotesque caricatures of themselves" and that the film "mocks not only its characters but also the sensibilities of its audience." The Chicago Tribune wrote, "This isn't a movie, it's a caricature. Bette Davis' make-up could very well have been done by Charles Addams, Joan Crawford's perils make those of Pauline look like good, clean fun and the plot piles one fantastic twist upon another until it all becomes nonsensical." Brendan Gill of The New Yorker was somewhat negative as well, calling the film "far from being a Hitchcock—it goes on and on, in a light much dimmer than necessary, and the climax, when it belatedly arrives, is a bungled, languid mingling of pursuers and pursued which put me in mind of Last Year at Marienbad. Still, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford do get a chance to carry on like mad things, which at least one of them is supposed to be."
Among the positive reviews, Variety stated that after a slow and overlong introduction the film became "an emotional toboggan ride," adding, "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." Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post also liked the film, writing that "Miss Davis has the showiest role and bites into it with all her admired force, looking a fright from head to foot. I doubt if she would regret some of the laughs she gets. She plays for them and psychologically, they are needed. If Miss Crawford has the passive role, that is not without rewards. Suffering is one of her particular gifts." The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that numerous directorial techniques, including all the plunging shots down the staircase, made the film look "rather like an anthology of the oldest and most hackneyed devices in thrillerdom. And yet, in its curious Gothic way, the film works marvelously, though mainly as a field-day for its actors."
In Sight & Sound, Peter John Dyer stated that the film had "a frequent air of incompetence," writing of Aldrich's direction that "Like some textbook student of Hitchcock who never got beyond Blackmail, he dispenses suspense with ham-fisted conventionality." Dyer did praise the performances of the leads, however, finding that they seemed to have found "a new maturity, a discipline encouraged perhaps by the confined sets and Crawford's wheelchair, or by the interaction of their professional rivalry upon a belated mutual respect."
More recent assessments have been more uniformly positive. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 92% based on 51 reviews, with an average rating of 7.91/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? combines powerhouse acting, rich atmosphere, and absorbing melodrama in service of a taut thriller with thought-provoking subtext." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 75 out of 100 based on 15 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
In a retrospective review, 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."
Awards and nominations
|Academy Awards||Best Actress||Bette Davis||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor||Victor Buono||Nominated|
|Best Cinematography – Black-and-White||Ernest Haller||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design – Black-and-White||Norma Koch||Won|
|Best Sound||Joseph D. Kelly||Nominated|
|British Academy Film Awards||Best Foreign Actress||Joan Crawford||Nominated|
|Cannes Film Festival||Palme d'Or||Robert Aldrich||Nominated|
|Directors Guild of America Awards||Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Awards||Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama||Bette Davis||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture||Victor Buono||Nominated|
|Laurel Awards||Sleeper of the Year||What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?||Won|
|Top Female Dramatic Performance||Bette Davis||Nominated|
|Online Film & Television Association||Hall of Fame – Motion Picture||What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?||Won|
The film was a box-office hit, grossing $9 million in theatrical rentals in North America. In adjusted grosses, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? made an estimated $124 million in 2019 dollars, making it the 20th highest-grossing film of the year and giving both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford their biggest hit in over a decade.
In the United Kingdom, the film was 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. 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.
This section may need to be rewritten to comply with Wikipedia's quality standards. (July 2017)
The film's success spawned a succession of horror/thriller films featuring psychotic older women, later dubbed the psycho-biddy subgenre, among them Aldrich's Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?, and director Curtis Harrington's Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? and What's the Matter with Helen?. It was parodied by the Italian comedy film What Ever Happened to Baby Toto?
Comedy duo French and Saunders (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French) did a BBC episode called "Whatever Happened to Baby Dawn?" on 22 March 1990. French and Saunders also made a radio play about feuding sisters called "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane Austen" in 2021.
In episode 4 of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars (season 2), the queens' acting chops are tested in parody film sequels of RuPaul's favourite films. A parody of ''What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?'' called ''Wha' Ha' Happened to Baby JJ?'' was made by Alaska and Alyssa Edwards.
The backstage battle between Crawford and Davis during the production of the film is the basis for Feud: Bette and Joan, the 2017 first season of the Ryan Murphy television series Feud. It stars Jessica Lange as Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Davis. It premiered on March 5, 2017.
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- Vineyard, Jennifer (August 23, 2006) "Christina Clip Got A Boost From Outkast, Role-Playing Dancers". Retrieved June 23, 2013.
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- Wagmeister, Elizabeth. "Feud: Ryan Murphy Lands Third FX Anthology With Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange". Variety. Retrieved May 5, 2016.
- Birnbaum, Debra (January 12, 2017). "FX Sets Premiere Dates for Feud, The Americans, Archer". Variety. Retrieved January 12, 2017.
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