What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Director:

Robert Aldrich

In a tale that almost redefines sibling rivalry, faded actresses

Blanche and ‘Baby’ Jane Hudson live together. Jane was by far the most famous when she performed with their father in vaudeville but as they got older, it was Blanche who became the finer actress, which Jane still resents. Blanche is now confined to a wheelchair and Jane is firmly in control. As time goes by, Jane exercises greater and greater control over her sister, intercepting her letters and ensuring that few if anyone from the outside has any contact with her. As Jane slowly loses her mind, she torments her sister going to ever greater extremes.

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Bette Davis came up with her own makeup for her role. She said that Jane was someone who never washed her face, but just added more makeup.

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 used, to represent the film acting of Baby Jane and Blanche respectively.

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The neighbour’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.

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But ya are Blanche!

23 October 1999 | by MickeyTo (Toronto, Canada) – See all my reviews

I recently viewed this film with a friend who had never seen it before. Much to my surprise, we had to turn it off early because this friend actually found Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? boring.

I’ll admit that Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a dated piece of work. By today’s standards, there is no shock value. The actresses are not well known by the younger crowds out there. There is a lot of dialogue and very little action. It simply doesn’t fit in with today’s expectations of horror and suspense. So why does it hold up as a great film, at least by my standards and by the standards of so many others?

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To truly appreciate this film, it would be necessary to understand the background. What actually contributed to the making of this film is what I find truly fascinating.

The story itself is about two elderly sisters. One, Baby Jane, (played by Bette Davis) was a child star in the early part of the century. She was hugely popular on the vaudeville circuit. Backstage she was a spoiled brat. Later on in life the other sister, Blanche (played by Joan Crawford) became a popular Hollywood movie star, overshadowing her now ‘has-been’ sister. A supposed car accident leaves Blanche crippled during the height of her popularity and a crazed Jane is left to care for her.

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In their later life Blanche is confined to her bedroom and Jane, still donning the make up and curls from her childhood runs the house. Jane still believes she can resurect her career, but is tormented by her sisters continued popularity as her films are rerun on television.

There are some fabulous lines throughout the movie that have become legendary. Blanche says, “You couldn’t do this to me if I wasn’t in this wheel chair.’ Jane quips “But ya are Blanche, but ya are.”

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Davis plays Jane to the hilt, looking hysterically eerie as she tortures Crawford’s stoic Blanche. My kid sister saw this film after seeing Mommie Dearest and aptly stated that this was just dessert for a woman who beat her children so badly. I think my sister was most impressed when Davis kicks Joan in the stomach. “Take that Mommie Dearest!”

Back to my original point, I believe that in order to truly appreciate this story, one must appreciate the behind-the-scenes legend that truly is the essence of this film. Davis and Crawford were, and are, two of the most formidable actresses in Hollywood. Between them there are hundreds of films, three Oscars, and countless tidbits of gossip.

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Both had to claw and chew their way to the top, and had to fight harder to stay there. They both had stormy relationships, and bitter feuds with studio bosses and directors. And both have a legion of fans that have survived long after they did. And of course, lets not forget the fact that they may have despised each other.

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There is a fantastic book called Bette and Joan (I can’t recall the author’s name) that I recommend any novice viewer read prior to viewing this film. In it, the lives of these two remarkable women are described in gossipy detail. A lot of time is spent detailing the making of this film. At the time Joan was pushing her husbands company, Pepsi. It was rumored, perhaps by Bette that her Pepsi bottles were half filled with vodka. Bette also complains vehemently about the size of Joan’s fake cleavage, and how they got in the way of some of those scenes. It’s even suggested that some of those beatings that Joan took from Bette were real.

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With all of this background, one might soon appreciate, as I did, the importance of this film in documenting the lives of these two prominent women. I don’t think we’ll ever come so close to true Hollywood Babylon as we will with this brilliant work.

A compelling movie; Davis and Crawford tear each other apart

10/10
Author:LoneWolfAndCubfrom Australia
21 June 2006

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? might seem dated, but it is still an extremely riveting watch. I literally could not look away, as soon as the movie started, I couldn’t stop until it had finished. Not a lot of movies can do that to me. The acting is extremely good, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are just so good as the main focus of the movie. The chilling score is suits the movie and the camera-work reminds me a lot of Hitchcock.

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The story focuses on two sisters, Blanche Hudson (Joan Crawford) who was crippled in an accident awhile ago and “Baby” Jane Hudson (Bette Davis). Jane used to be a big child star, she even had a doll brand after her. Now, though, she is no longer recognised while her sister has recently become very famous. They live in an old mansion, with Blanche confined to her room upstairs while Jane gets madder and more cruel by the day.

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Bette Davis gives the star performance here, some may call it over-acting but it is far from. She really makes Jane as mad, cruel and sad as possible. Joan Crawford is equally good in a very different role. She is much more timid then Jane and quite scared. The supporting cast are all good as well, especially Victor Buono as Victor Flagg, an odd pianist that befriends Jane. The black and white really are used to full effect, they make the mansion look extra creepy. Robert Aldrich’s direction is fine.

To today’s modern audience, this may seem boring as it does not have any action. Most of the movie is dialogue, but I do urge those who haven’t seen it to do so, as it is a truly excellent movie.

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Impressive Thriller

8/10
Author:ragosaalfrom Argentina
10 October 2006

“What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” is a most unusual and impressive thriller. Director Robert Aldrich achieves a fantastic sordid and dark atmosphere at the Huadson sisters mansion -where most of the action takes place- with an unusual black and white shooting for the early 60’s. An interesting story, a well delivered screenplay and an accurate musical score also rise the film high.

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But the main credit of the picture is casting together to real big names in Hollywood’s history, not at their peak then but always reliable and attractive to see. Bette Davis (Jane) takes the most interesting character as the former child star that couldn’t make it as an adult in show business so she has gone insane and keeps behaving as the spoiled child he was. She looks grotesque and ridiculous in her child outfits, hairdo and heavy make up. Davis is outstanding in her role and looks really mean when she tortures both mentally and physically her sister Blanche, delicate and reasonable. Joan Crawford plays Blanche and very well too, a former big star whose career ended after a strange car accident that put her on a wheel chair for life.

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In the end things are not completely as they seem but the final twist is not what makes this film an extremely good one; it’s the strange relationship between the sisters, that requires of that final twist to understand Blanche’s tolerant conduct towards her sister.

The movie is perhaps a little too long and it would probably have been even better with a 10 minutes cut. But no doubt this is a top product in its genre and a great movie indeed.

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When Davis and Crawford worked together

9/10
Author:Petri Pelkonen (petri_pelkonen@hotmail.com)from Finland
10 December 2008

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were the biggest rivals during the golden age of Hollywood.This is their only collaboration.In the beginning of the movie we’re at 1917, where the six-year old Baby Jane Hudson (Davis) is a successful Vaudeville performer.Then we move to 1935 where her sister Blanche (Crawford) becomes paralyzed in an automobile accident for which Jane is held responsible.In the present-day of the film we see Blanche being kept as a prisoner upstairs of their mansion by the sadistic Jane.Robert Aldrich’ What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) is a terrific psychological thriller with some black comedy.The leading ladies are truly magnificent.Bette Davis was born a hundred years ago in 1908 and died in 1989.She could play all kind of roles and make the characters memorable.

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Baby Jane Hudson is that kind of a role.Joan Crawford lived from 1905 to 1977 and started making pictures during the silent era.Her Blanche Hudson is vulnerable and that’s why we like her that much.A fine performance is given by Victor Buono who plays the shiftless musician Victor Flagg.Maidie Norman plays Elvira Stitt.Michael Fox, who the soap opera fans remember from The Bold and the Beautiful plays Motorcycle cop.This movie is a classic.

Those Hudson Sisters

9/10
Author:bkoganbingfrom Buffalo, New York
30 April 2010
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Not that this film isn’t good, it’s very good in a ghoulish sort of way. But the miracle is that it got made at all. Was director Robert Aldrich really a director here or more of a referee.

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In any event Aldrich in directing Whatever Happened To Baby Jane took a pair of screen legends whose well known and public loathing for each other and managed without being killed to fashion a film about a pair of has been performers who live in the same house with their memories, their problems and mutual hatreds.

Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson was a child vaudeville performer who like so many child stars was a has been when she became a teen. Not to worry about income because when she became a teen, her younger sister Blanche played by Joan Crawford then became the family breadwinner. But that came to an end when she was crippled in a car crash and it was widely believed that her sister had deliberately used the car as a weapon of jealousy.

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So these two with everything and yet nothing in common are bound to the family house and each other. Crawford a prisoner in her wheelchair and Davis a prisoner of her own fantasies as she retreats gradually into her childhood and glory days.

Crawford is seeing how Davis is becoming more and more unhinged and decides to sell the family estate and get Davis into the 1962 equivalent of Happydale. But Davis gets wind of the plan and she makes Crawford a prisoner in her own home and eventually Davis just loses it totally.

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The wrap up of shooting must have been a day celebrated by Robert Aldrich on each anniversary the rest of his life. But he got himself a film that’s as fascinating as a bloody 20 car pile up on the Interstate. Whatever Happened To Baby Jane got an Oscar for costume design for a black and white film and four other nominations.

One of those nominations was for Best Actress, a then record 10 of them for Bette Davis in the title role. Bette Davis was an actress who could make some mediocre films entertaining when she took the brakes off. Here the role called for the most outrageous kind of overacting and Bette made the most of it. Joan’s more subdued role of the victim in this film, good as she was didn’t have a chance next to Bette’s for recognition. Of course Crawford legendarily took a perverse pleasure in being the honorary acceptor for Anne Bancroft when she won the Oscar for Best Actress for The Miracle Worker in 1962. Truth be told Anne was the Best Actress that year.

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Whatever Happened To Baby Jane is such a two woman film that the rest of the cast is just left in the dust. Another miracle occurred when Victor Buono received some recognition with a nomination for Best Supporting Actor as the mother fixated pianist who plays along with Bette Davis when she decides to revive her career. Of course the strange noises and doings in that house eventually creep him out. Buono’s scenes are all with Davis and with the scene stealing Marjorie Bennett who’s kind of a mirror image of Baby Jane Hudson as Buono’s inebriated mother. Just holding his own with these two I’m figuring the Academy figured Buono deserved some recognition.

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Bette and Joan, both were destined to be trapped in mediocrity for the most part in roles well beneath their talents. Bette to her credit did escape with such things as an Agatha Christie mystery occasionally and The Whales Of August. But mostly she and Joan did horror flicks because of the impression that Whatever Happened To Baby Jane left on the minds of the movie-going public. Both also got unceremoniously dissed by their daughters in memoirs, Bette not having the decency to die before B.D. Hyman’s book came out.

Whatever Happened To Baby Jane as repulsively fascinating as it is is a testament to two screen legends and the stamina of director Robert Aldrich who got them to share the screen.

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One of the great movies about the movies

10/10
Author:Martin Bradley (MOscarbradley@aol.com)from Derry, Ireland
3 July 2006

One of the great movies about the movies, (and great movies about the movies aren’t reverential, they bite the hand that feeds them), and the best of Aldrich’s ‘women’s pictures’. Detractors see it as a misogynist load of horse manure about a couple of self-loathing sisters hauled up together in a decaying Hollywood mansion, a too-close-to-home study of the real life rivalry between stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford or even as a veiled study of homosexual self-depreciation with the sisters as ageing drag queens. But these are the very things that make the picture great. It is precisely because it can be read in this way that makes it such a perversely enjoyable, subversive piece of work.

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As the sisters, Davis and Crawford pull all the stops out and then some. What makes Crawford’s performance great is that she is never sympathetic even when Davis is feeding her dead rat or quite literally kicking her when she’s down, while Davis is simply astonishing. With her face painted like a hideous Kabuki mask and dressed up like a doll that’s filled with maggots it’s an unashamedly naked piece of acting, as revealing as her work in “All About Eve” and almost as good. Unfortunately the film’s commercial success lead both actresses into a downward spiral of not dissimilar but considerably lack-lustre material. But this bitch-fest is the real McCoy.

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Mildred and Mildred, For One and Only Time

10/10
Author:nycritic
7 June 2006
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

By 1962, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford had been all but relics from Old Hollywood. Even then, they were faint memories of a time gone by. No one young and alive at that time knew who they were nor did they have an interest in their all but dead careers. New stars were on the rise, sensibilities were changing, movies were starting to rely less on star power and taking risks with lesser known actors who did not convey the typical Hollywood image. New directors were also the hot ticket, and had little time or patience to deal with the vitriolic antics of temperamental females who threw their ego around like they would do with a small object in the heat of an argument. It was the start of the end of the American innocence.

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And innocence lost is what seems to be the central theme of Robert Aldrich’s Gothic horror movie WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? The story of two sisters living in complete isolation from the rest of the world, hating each other every from dusk ’til dawn, and harboring a deadly secret that could kill them is not the kind of material anyone would associate the two lead actresses with, but by then, their choices in scripts were precious few, both had begun to take baby steps in television — considered by many actors to be a step down in their careers — and both needed the work to pay the bills. When Crawford got her hands on the book, she decided to turn it into a movie because it would give her a chance to work with the actress she admired the most, even when such admiration was rebuffed with brutal aggression and had turned into hatred.

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Enlisting Robert Aldrich, who had directed her in AUTUMN LEAVES (and with whom Crawford had had an affair with), and securing Davis in the role of the more dominant sister, cinema history was made when for the first time audiences got to see both actresses essay not only their character counterparts, but relive their extreme, morbid antipathy against each other. Reports of tension on the set flew like wildfire: for the first time since Miriam Hopkins, Bette Davis was up against the only other female whom she did not particularly like. Crawford knew she would have to compete in many other ways — salary and dressing room included — to make her experience with the stronger-willed Davis bearable. But… Crawford must have known what she was getting into: when you express such admiration for someone who does not respond back, and force yourself into a project with that person, anything can happen.

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Despite the belief of a feud, both actresses expressed getting along quite well together. Of course, Davis added that had they worked for three months instead of three weeks, the result would have been much different. It is interesting, however, to see how they play against each other scene by scene: Davis overacts to almost impossible degrees and without knowing makes Crawford come off better. It was like seeing Mildred Rogers meeting Mildred Pierce for a perverse face-off: and it is also interesting to see that the wig Davis wears bears a resemblance to the way she wore her hair in OF HUMAN BONDAGE to some degree, the same way the resemblance to Crawford as Blanche to her anterior character is striking.

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As a movie, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? is a lesser sister film to SUNSET BLVD., but also a precursor to Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Stephen King’s MISERY with the genders reversed. It did pave the way for a sub-genre within the horror genre featuring older women in exaggerated Gothic stories of murder and mayhem, and on that alone it does deserve that accolade. It also became something of a distant relation to the works of David Lynch in its willingness to depict an inherent weirdness within the sadomasochistic, co-dependent relationship between the sisters.

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At times a little exploitative, at times gripping, and at times flat out funny, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? was yet another triumph in both Crawford’s and Davis’ careers with an Oscar nomination for Davis, an Oscar snub for Crawford, and increased tension between the two women. Both were slated to appear in a follow-up movie that became HUSH, HUSH… SWEET CHARLOTTE in 1964, but because of “medical reasons” Crawford had to bow out, leaving Davis’ old friend Olivia deHaviland to step in. Neither actress would ever work together again.

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Crawford’s career would come to an end not 8 years later in 1970 following a string of grade F horror movies (a shortened version of what has become Karen Black’s career), whereas Davis would successfully alternate the remainder of the Sixties and all throughout the Seventies and Eighties between OK horror movies, TV dramas (where she would get Emmy nominations), and even a pilot for a series co-starring friend Anne Baxter. As it is, this remains a blueprint for actors who have been known to despise each other, working together, and making their mutual animosity the stuff of high camp and egotistical overacting.

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Confused grating disappointment

3/10
Author: kanerazor from Yorba Linda, CA
17 April 2005
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I am a huge lover of all films, especially classics and horror flicks. I had heard about this film for years and was really excited when I rented it, but was thoroughly unsatisfied by the product. Where do I begin…

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The setup is very compelling. I loved seeing Jane as a talentless brat and Blanche as the quiet older sister who grows up to become the hottest actress in Hollywood while Jane turns into a drunk laughingstock. Then when it looks like Jane cripples Blanche, I was horrified and my eyes were glued to the screen. It was all downhill from there.

First of all, I have to take issue with Bette Davis’s performance. I know that’s sacrilege, but I couldn’t stand her. I’m not sure how much of the blame should be divided among her, the screenplay and the director but her character was so over-the-top that it just became cartoonish at times. Some would of course argue that that’s to the film’s benefit, because they love the black comedy.

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I’ve heard that the film is a favorite of drag queens, and I can see why. But I think it severely undermines the film’s merits as a HORROR movie, which is how it’s almost always qualified. If they wanted to go the black comedy route, they should have gone farther with that b/c I thought as they did it things just didn’t mix. Davis’s caricature was such a glaring contrast to the sincere performance of Joan Crawford, as well as pretty much everything else in the movie.

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Speaking of Crawford, though, I found her character mind-boggling at times. So it was established that Blanche has been trapped by Jane for all the years since the accident. Why couldn’t she just leave? Surely the top actress in Hollywood would be able to afford personal care! Some fans might say that’s answered at the end of the movie, but I’ll come back to that. When Jane was torturing her that much, why couldn’t Blanche at least call the police and say she was being held against her will? It’s mentioned during the movie that Jane’s started going insane, so maybe it hasn’t been going on that long, but if Blanche doesn’t even get any visitors ever, she must sense something’s wrong.

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And then when Blanche goes through the INCREDIBLE ordeal of getting to the phone downstairs when she’s home alone after Jane’s taken out her phone, why doesn’t she use that to CALL THE POLICE! Some might say she was concerned about Jane and wanted to get a doctor for her, but I’m sorry, when a character’s such a one-dimensional doormat, I stop caring about here. If the ending is supposed to justify all this, well I think whatever Blanche did was more than made up for by the endless abuse Jane subject her to, and I don’t see how anyone could reasonably argue otherwise.

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When Elvira found Blanche, I was relieved thinking at least the movie was going somewhere now with Blanche about to be rescued. BUT WHY DID ELVIRA LEAVE THE HAMMER OUTSIDE WITH THAT PSYCHO RIGHT NEXT TO IT? Gee, who thought Jane would bash her head in? I was again happy when Edwin found Blanche, but he just ran off stammering! What the hell was the point of him even being in the movie? I’m thinking there just wasn’t enough story to fill out a film otherwise. I thought he was just an annoying fat guy, and he turned out to be an annoying heartless fat guy. How did Victor Buono get an Oscar nomination for that? Why am I not surprised that people never saw or heard of Mr. Buono again after this movie?

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While the movie had glaring flaws, I thought it would at least be great to see Blanche saved and Jane killed at the end. But instead, one of the worst twists in history was thrown at us! The only things the film had in its favor at any point were a sympathetic heroine and a contemptible villain. So what do they do at the end? Make Blanche responsible for her own trouble and Jane a lovable loon! Even if Blanche paralyzed herself, Jane kept her a prisoner, starved her, beat her, and berated her endlessly. And let’s not forget SHE MURDERED ELVIRA! I’m not buying the mental illness excuse the movie tries-Jane was a monster her whole life and apparently towards the end became a monster unable to handle how pitiful she was. The pathetic attempt at shocking viewers just made me wish I’d never met either sister! Oh, and by the way-Jane’s giddy dancing at the end? A RIPOFF of the INFINITELY superior Sunset Boulevard!!!!!!!

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