Catch-up: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)


Why I had never heard of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? before last week, I don’t know.  But I loved it.  

Baby Jane is one of those rare films that feels fragile.  It could have so easily been an embarrassment for everyone involved – especially Bette Davis, but for the studio and director Robert Aldrich, as well. Like with Davis’ character, Baby Jane Hudson, it is sad to watch someone who believes in herself (or himself) be terrible at what they do.  However, the movie succeeds beautifully! only to blow it in the second half.  But it’s still worth watching, definitely.    Bette Davis is tour de force shit. Her movements, her walk, her lifting of a tray or taking a slug of gin, her scraping voice or her birdlike impressions of Blanche (Joan Crawford), her singing – or perhaps straining is more apt: Davis is completely the character; she’s still a star, and she gave me the willies!  (This movie is a suspense / borderline horror movie, just to clarify.)  Joan Crawford plays Blanche, Jane’s paralyzed sister, your standard, nail-biting, “But Jane!  Jane!  Please!  Listen to me!” role: Crawford holds it down enough, but she’s not a lot of fun.  Victor Buono has the outstanding performance – I feel like I’m supposed to say that; I was not as taken with him as I thought I was supposed to be – as Jane’s gargantuan pianist. Concerning Stephen King, Rob Reiner, William Goldman, and Misery in general: its similarities to Baby Jane are obvious.  But so what?  Just because Misery also has a homicidal yet vulnerable caretaker of a wheelchair-bound bland character doesn’t make it a bad movie.  In fact, it has a better ending – much better – than Baby Jane.  (Misery, the book, is worth avoiding.  Especially because once you start, you have to finish it, whether you want to or not.  Made more annoying by Paul Sheldon, the narrator, referring to said compulsion in his readers as “the gotta.”  I couldn’t put the fucking thing down. I hated it, but I had to know what happened.  The Gotta.)

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