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 DeVol|
|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 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 later 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 then-waning 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 then-unheard of 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 well-known vaudevillian child star while her older sister Blanche lives in her shadow. By 1935, their fortunes have reversed: Blanche is a successful film actress and Jane lives in obscurity, her films having failed. One night, Jane, able to imitate Blanche's voice perfectly, mocks her at a party. That same night, Blanche 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 (Joan Crawford) and Jane (Bette Davis) 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 or wheelchair ramp to her upstairs bedroom. Jane has become alcoholic and mentally ill, and she treats Blanche cruelly because she resents her success. When Blanche informs Jane she intends to sell the house, Jane rightly suspects Blanche will commit her to an asylum once the house is sold. She removes the telephone from Blanche's bedroom, cutting her off from the outside world. Jane begins denying her food, until she serves Blanche's dead pet parakeet—and, at a later meal, a dead rat—to her on a dinner platter.
Although Jane is well into middle age, she dresses like "Baby Jane" and wears caked-on layers of makeup and childlike curls and ribbons in her hair. Jane becomes obsessed with recapturing her childhood stardom and posts a newspaper advertisement for a pianist to accompany her vocal act. When Jane leaves the house, Blanche tries to get the attention of her neighbor, Mrs. Bates (Anna Lee), by throwing a note pleading for help out her bedroom window. Jane returns in time to notice the note and prevent Mrs. Bates from seeing it. When the Hudsons' maid Elvira Stitt (Maidie Norman) comes to the house, Jane gives her a paid day off to keep her from seeing Blanche.
Eccentric, overweight and cash-strapped Edwin Flagg (Victor Buono) sees Jane's newspaper advertisement and arrives at the mansion for an audition; Jane hires him as her accompanist. After cringing at her off-key warbling, Edwin insincerely flatters Jane and encourages her to revive her act. While Jane drives Edwin home, Blanche searches the house for food and discovers Jane has been forging her signature on cheques to buy costumes for her act and to access Blanche's money should she die. 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 to find Blanche on the phone and beats her unconscious before calling the doctor pretending to be Blanche and telling him not to come because Jane has chosen to see a different doctor.
Elvira returns the next day, but Jane abruptly fires her and sends her away. While Jane is at the bank cashing a cheque, Elvira returns to the house because she is suspicious. Unable to find Blanche, Elvira attempts to open the locked door of her bedroom by removing its hinges with a hammer and screwdriver. When Jane returns, Mrs. Bates tells her she saw Elvira go into the house. Jane confronts Elvira, who threatens to call the police. After Jane reluctantly gives Elvira the key to Blanche's bedroom, she finds Blanche bound-and-gagged and weak from starvation. Shocked, Elvira fails to notice Jane sneak up behind her with the hammer. Jane beats Elvira to death and disposes of her body.
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, Edwin shows up uninvited and drunk. After he discovers Blanche in her bed, bound, gagged, and emaciated, Edwin flees and notifies the authorities.
Jane drives Blanche to the beach and reverts to her childhood self. Dehydrated and near death, Blanche confesses that she is paraplegic through her own fault: on the night of the accident, Blanche tried to run her over with a car because she was angry at Jane for mocking her. Blanche's spine broke when her car struck the iron gates outside their mansion. Since then, Blanche has led Jane to believe she was to blame for the accident, forcing Jane to be her full-time caregiver and stoking bitter resentment. Grasping the situation, Jane asks, "You mean all this time we could have been friends?". Then realizing Blanche is hot, she opens the blanket Blanche is wrapped in, and goes to get strawberry ice cream cones, without paying for them, at a nearby stand. Two police officers, who had been alerted to the Hudsons' illegally parked car, find it nearby and connect it with the Hudson sisters. They then see Jane walking from the snacks stand with the ice cream cones and approach her; offering their help. When they ask her where Blanche is, a crowd forms. With childlike joy, Jane dances before the crowd of startled onlookers, believing she is once again "Baby Jane" performing for her adoring fans. The officers then see Blanche lying motionless on the sand and rush to her, along with the crowd. The film ends without revealing whether Blanche has survived her ordeal.
- 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
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 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/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 50 reviews. 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."
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
|1963||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|
|BAFTA||Best Actress||Joan Crawford||Nominated|
|Best Actress||Bette Davis||Nominated|
|Cannes Film Festival||Palme d'Or||What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?||Nominated|
- Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama (Davis, nominee)
- Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture (Buono, nominee)
- Laurel Award for Golden Laurel for Sleeper of the Year (Winner)
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?
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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- Rorke, Robert. "Why Bette Davis and Joan Crawford's Feud Lasted a Lifetime". The New York Post. Retrieved February 26, 2017.
- "Whatever Happened To Baby Dawn?, Series 3, French and Saunders - BBC Two". BBC.
- "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1991) - David Greene - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related - AllMovie". AllMovie.
- Vineyard, Jennifer (August 23, 2006) "Christina Clip Got A Boost From Outkast, Role-Playing Dancers". Retrieved June 23, 2013.
- "RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars – Season 2, Ep. 4 – Drag Movie Shequels – Full Episode | Logo TV". Logo TV. Retrieved April 9, 2017.
- 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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