What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

1962 drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A former child actress and her sister living in a Hollywood mansion try their best to get by and get along.

This film fascinates me because of the hidden edges of this pair of characters. It's more fascinating, arguably, because Bette Davis and Joan Crawford weren't the best of friends, but I think their mutual hatred of each other gave their performances--especially Davis's--a ferocity that is intoxicating. This is 2 1/2 hours of bile and venom, and the ability it has to actually make the viewer uncomfortable--at least this viewer--is a huge part of what makes the movie so good. I'm never fully convinced that the characters can be real, and there's these artificial psychologies that also take away the realism. The movie's big twist winds up a little dopey and strangely anticlimactic, too. And the score is irritatingly persistent, never adding anything at all to the proceedings. But the movie overcomes those flaws with one solid performance and one nearly stunning and unique and almost haunting performance and a story that just is never afraid to go there or there or there.

The ending is a knockout, but I really like the quietly shocking and memorable scenes in the rising action. A hammer, a parakeet, a doll, and a mirror are involved in some of those. You watch it all like you'd watch a slowly-unfolding car accident or a person eating a partially-cooked turkey in the middle of the floor without utensils. But with one of those Hollywood gossip shows playing in the background.

One more thing--I like the black and white here. It gives the movie an antique quality that, along with the melodrama, makes it feel a decade older than it actually is. This isn't necessarily a movie that could be made successfully today, yet it somehow remains timeless. And it's definitely gripping.


cory said...

This is pretty campy but really dark stuff. Watching these two hags chew the scenery is as fascinating as it is uncomfortable and freaky. You can feel the history of these two classic actresses, and it feels like a last hurrah for both of them. There was a line from a Seinfeld episode where George says, "But ya are, Blanche, ya are..." that I knew was from a movie. When I figured out that it was Baby Jane, I was inexplicably pleased with myself, so I'll give this a bonus point. A 15.

Shane said...

Stuff like that makes me wonder how much I just don't get when I watch Seinfeld. I've seen most of the episodes multiple times, and there are some lines that I know have to be references to things. Larry David seems like the type of guy who will hear something he likes and then find a way to work it in to whatever he's working on. I remember there's an episode revolving around 'Plan 9 from Outer Space,' too. I bet there's a list on the Internet somewhere of movie allusions in Seinfeld, but it's too late for me to be looking at something like that.