Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?


WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962). Director: Robert Aldrich.

"I hope you can be kinder to Jane and your father then they are to you."

Former child star Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis, pictured) shares a mansion in Hollywood with her crippled sister, Blanche (Joan Crawford), who was a big movie star in her day. When they begin showing her old movies on television, Jane gets the idea of reviving her own act -- but first she has to keep Blanche from selling the house out from under her, leading to grim events and tragedy. While the subject matter with its mental illness and physical abuse is distasteful, Baby Jane is still a mesmerizing film, adroitly directed by Aldrich, well-made, and well-acted by the entire cast. Davis is simply superb as Jane [especially good when she collapses into horrified tears in front of her mirror]; Crawford is solid but has the less flamboyant role. Victor Buono and Marjorie Bennett are great as Edwin Flagg and his mother. Maidie Norman and Anna Lee are also fine as, respectively, the Hudson's maid, Elvira, and pleasant neighbor, Mrs. Bates. [Davis' witchy religious nut daughter, B.D. Hyman, isn't bad as Lee's teen aged daughter but she had no subsequent career as an actress.] Ernest Anderson, who had an important role in In This Our Life, has a brief scene with Davis near the end of the film when he plays a food vendor at the beach. Beautifully photographed by Ernest Haller. Write ups of this film always refer to the "decaying" mansion the Hudson sisters live in, but it doesn't seem to be "decaying" -- like Jane's mind -- at all.

Verdict: Grotesque -- but it works. ***1/2.

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