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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?: Anniversary Edition


She's on Blu-ray, for starters.

Rod Lott October 3rd, 2012

Considered the granddaddy — er, make that grandmama — of psycho-biddy flicks, 1962's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? pits two old-Hollywood legends against one another, with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as the snarling Hudson sisters.

babyjane

Both sibs are former stars. Baby Jane (Davis) was a child star, "the diminutive dancing Duse from Duluth" who entertained vaudeville audiences until she could no longer get away with a spoiled brat. Blanche (Crawford) became a leading lady of the silver screen later in life, but her glory waned long ago. Now, Blanche is wheelchair-bound and taken care of — or, rather, tormented and held prisoner by — a daffy Baby Jane, with whom she lives in a mansion in disrepair.

WEHTBJ? is most famous for the scene in which the infantile-minded Baby Jane serves her sis a rat on a silver platter. (Hey, at least she thoughtfully garnishes it with sliced tomatoes.) However, the shocks of the film are few and far between. It's more about watching two grand dames of cinema try to out-camp one another. And that they do, although for far too long — the film runs two hours and 14 minutes, with long stretches where nothing happens but redundant conversation.

The movie opens with an air of perversity, with a 1917 prologue showing the young Baby Jane bringing the house down with a manipulative rendition of "I've Written a Letter to Daddy" — like the Toddlers and Tiaras of its day. Only on occasion does the present-day narrative pay off with similar unease.

While the film was a huge success, showered with five Academy Award nominations, I much prefer director Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen) operating on the more down-and-dirty level earlier in his career — namely, 1955's excellent B-noir, Kiss Me Deadly.

For this 50th-anniversary Blu-ray, Warner Home Video has whipped up a terrific package, housing the disc within a book; it should go without saying not to read it until after watching. Each of the two lead actresses earns her own documentary featurette, but the one to watch is the one that tackles both, "Blind Ambition," because it gets into details of the infamous Davis/Crawford rivalry. In the words of one of its interviewees, "They were out for each other." And the package is all the better for it. —Rod Lott

 
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