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 easily overlooked. 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, the two get into a car accident which leaves Blanche paralyzed.

In 1962, a wheelchair-bound Blanche (Joan Crawford) and a severely aged Jane (Bette Davis) are living together in Blanche's mansion. Because she is wheelchair-bound, Blanche is unable to leave her bedroom. She befriends her cleaning woman, Elvira (Maidie Norman). Elvira, concerned for Blanche's well-being, believes that Jane is exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, but Blanche defends her. Later, Jane is annoyed when Blanche informs her she may be selling the house, and Jane rips the telephone cord from the wall, cutting Blanche off, and kills Blanche's pet parakeet.

When Jane leaves the house, Blanche tries to get the attention of her neighbor, Mrs. Bates (Anna Lee) and writes a note pleading for help, throwing it from her window. Jane returns and prevents Mrs. Bates from seeing the note. When Jane reads the note, the two quarrel again.

Jane begins to taunt Blanche over her meals and sends Elvira away. Meanwhile, Edwin Flagg (Victor Buono) sees Jane's newspaper advertisement for a piano player and arrives at the mansion. Jane hires Edwin and as she drives him home, Blanche searches the house for food and discovers Jane’s forgeries of her signature on checks. She calls their doctor, but Jane returns and beats Blanche into unconsciousness before imitating her voice and telling the doctor not to come. She ties Blanche to her bed. Elvira comes the next day and discovers Blanche in a weakened and starved state, but Jane kills her before she can escape and leaves the body far off.

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, but Edwin hears a noise in Blanche’s room and finds her. He runs away and Jane drives Blanche to the beach. The discovery of Elvira’s body is announced. At the beach, Blanche confesses that in the car accident which left her paralyzed, she tried to run Jane over, but missed. 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 and as they walk toward Blanche, lying helpless on the beach, Jane dances before the onlookers, believing she is finally receiving the attention she so desired. Whether Blanche has survived is not revealed.



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. At Oscar time, Crawford was infuriated when Davis was nominated for an Oscar and she was overlooked. She 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 onstage 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."[10] As both Davis and Crawford had accepted lower salaries in exchange for a share of the film's profits,[11] 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.


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?.[12]

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."[13]

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."[14]

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."[15]

The film maintains a 91% rating on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, indicating critical acclaim.[16]


The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design.[17]

  • Laurel Award for Golden Laurel for Sleeper of the Year (Winner)

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][19]

In the United Kingdom, the film was originally given an X certificate by the BFC 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.[20]


  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. ^ 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
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ Alberto Anile. I film di Totò (1946-1967): la maschera tradita. Le mani, 1998. ISBN 8880120808. 
  13. ^ New York Times review
  14. ^ Variety review
  15. ^ TV Guide review
  16. ^ "WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1960)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  17. ^ "The 35th Academy Awards (1963) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-23. 
  18. ^ "Festival de Cannes: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  19. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
  20. ^ "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 2004-08-27. Retrieved 2011-09-09. 

External links[edit]