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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

If you caught and enjoyed this year’s terrific FX series FEUD like Tamara and I did, you’re probably as curious about seeing the film that much of the series revolved around as we were.

Much less scary than I expected and far better written, 1962’s WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? gives our two legendary screen actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford plenty of screen time to portray sisters haunted by their past.

Davis is Baby Jane Hudson, a legendary stage performer during the depression that drew huge crowds with her song and dance act. While her sister Blanche hides in the background, Jane emerges as a spoiled brat who controls her father at every turn.

As the story moves forward twenty years, Blanche has become a huge and legendary screen actress who casts her sister Jane whenever she can, but audiences and directors run from her in droves. Suffice to say the cute kid has not aged well and Blanche has emerged as the truly talented sibling.

When a strange car accident renders Blanche a paraplegic, the story then leaps forward another twenty years.

We find Blanche upstairs in her bedroom, with Joan Crawford very good as a sister frustrated with her condition and growing concerned with Jane’s increasingly strange behavior.

Bette Davis plays her as full on crazy, going for wild pancake makeup and wild mannerisms that build as Jane begins to lust for her former stardom and push Blanche away in every way possible to keep her out of the way.

Victor Buono debuted as a young accompanist helping Jane revive her act.

Davis daughter BD plays the neighbor’s daughter and she’s every bit as awful as was depicted in the FX series. Hilariously so. Maidie Norman is terrific as the sister’s housekeeper Elvira.

Director Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen, The Longest Yard) builds the tension nicely as Jane spirals further into madness. Some of the meals Jane serves up to Blanche are worse than any fast food you can imagine. It’s all plenty of fun in a quiet, character study of madness style.

Much more of a drama than a horror film, it was a huge box office hit and began a long line of sixties films featuring stars of yesteryear as women in peril. Davis and Buono were nominated for Oscars. The only really bad asset is the horrible music by Frank De Vol. How this guy got any work is beyond me. He wrote all those silly music cues you know in a moment from ‘The Brady Bunch” and unfortunately all his music in this film also sounds like its from a seventies TV comedy. Just horrible, but after awhile you just start laughing at it.

If you’ve seen FEUD, BABY JANE is mandatory viewing. I’ll call it a dated but pleasant surprise. Crawford is really very good in the film, as is Davis, but she’s so over the top, Davis comes off as campy. A surprisingly strong B movie that gets a B+ from me.

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