In 2017, FX had a television series from the mind of Ryan Murphy called Feud: Bette and Joan. It starred Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis and the irreplaceable Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford. It was an amazing series that focused on the real-life hatred between the two classic Hollywood divas, each struggling to stay relevant as they grew older.
The beginning of the television show highlighted the time the two actresses spent on the production of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, and it showed how that movie and its eventual raging success made it even worse between Crawford and Davis.
These two virtuoso performances made me interested in the movie that the series spotlighted, but I hadn’t gotten around to seeing it since. However, this morning, I found it on YouTube and sat down to see if the film was worthy of everything that had been said of it.
Short answer: Yes, it is.
I loved What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. There was so much tension and nervousness about what had happened as you see Jane Hudson continuing to slip further into her own madness and you cringe with each horrible thing that she does to her crippled sister Blanche.
Jane was a child star, favored by her father, and Jane showed a seriously bratty side, demanding and misbehaving. However, the years were not kind to Jane as her lack of real talent came through while Blanche became a sought after Hollywood star. Jane became jealous of her sister’s success and longed for the days of Baby Jane and her, now deceased, father’s love and attention.
An unfortunate automobile accident led to Blanche being permanently crippled and being left to be taken care of by Jane. Jane tormented her sister as she slipped into a delusional state.
Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were astounding here. Crawford creates such empathy for Blanche with her desperate hope that her sister had not gone completely off the rails. You can see the guilt of the situation eating away at Blanche as she tries without success to find someone to help her.
Davis is a marvel as the crazed child star. Her appearance showed the commitment that Davis gave to the role, with white cake makeup altering her movie star image.
The film is a dark comedic/horror film and the tone fits it perfectly. The beautiful black and white adds to the mood created by the amazing performances. Plus, there is the creepy “Baby Jane Dolls” which may be one of the first instances of dolls being involved in a horror film.
I was really engaged in the movie, leaning ahead in my seat and imploring Blanche to yell for help to the neighbor (the wondrous Anna Lee, who spent years on General Hospital as Lila Quartermaine) or to chastise maid Elvira (Maidie Norman) to not put down that hammer as she was attempting to save Blanche. I had connected to Blanche and I wanted her to escape from the clutches of her evil sister.
Then the ending threw everything into a jumble as there was a twist that I had not expected, which made you reconsider everything that you had seen up until that point. It was truly well done.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is truly a wonderful movie with great performances across the board. I did not even mention Academy Award nominated Victor Buono (later to be King Tut on the Batman TV series) as Edwin Flagg, a piano player that Jane hoped would help her make it back to show biz.
This is an amazing movie and I enjoyed every minute.