|Submitted by filmfactsman |
(Jun 12, 2005)
Film is far better than its camp reputation would indicate.
In all their years as the queens of Hollywood, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford had never worked together in a film. Then, in 1962, producer-director Robert Aldrich gave them that opportunity. Davis and Crawford teamed for "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" But instead of providing them with a fitting swan song, it rather redirected the careers of these two indomitable film stars. The film is to the Sixties what Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" (1950) was to the Fifties: a Grand Guignol horror melodrama about Hollywood of the past and present.
Lukas Heller's script was based on a novel by Henry Farrell. The dark, unsettling tale concerns 'Baby Jane' Hudson (Davis), a vaudeville child star circa 1917 who completely overshadows her dark-haired, brooding sister Blanche (Crawford). By 1935, the sisters' roles have reversed; Blanche has become a top movie star, while Jane, her childhood charms vanished, gets film jobs only because of her sister's power. Jane is consumed with jealously, then devastated by guilt when she blames herself for a car wreck that leaves Blanche permanently crippled. The story then jumps to 1962. The aging Hudson sisters are now mutually dependent upon each other. Most of the action takes place in their decrepit house where the wheelchair-bound Blanche is tormented by Jane, who brings her dinner platters full of 'surprises'. The hostility grows from the earlier occurrence: the "accident" which left Blanche in a wheelchair grew directly out of Jane's obsession that Blanche's stardom in motion pictures overshadowed Jane's own fame in vaudeville.
Producer-director Aldrich had been turned down by all the major studios when he peddled the Baby Jane property around Hollywood, so he made the low-budget movie independently. The film was shot twenty-one days on a budget of less than a million dollars, and director Aldrich made sure that, for publicity purposes, noted interviewers covered every single one of them. Warner Brothers finally agreed to distribute it after the press began to get excited about the casting. The New York Times had headlined: TNT POTENTIAL EXPLOSION SEEN IN PAIRING OF BETTE DAVIS AND JOAN CRAWFORD.
When the film opened on Halloween in 1962, movie studio heads that had rejected the property were kicking themselves when the film turned out to be one of the biggest hits of the year, making a fortune overnight (the first Hollywood film to recoup its cost in one weekend). Time Magazine called it "the year's scariest and most sophisticated thriller" and it was nominated for five Academy Awards including Bette Davis as Best Actress and Victor Buono as Best Supporting Actor in the role of Jane's pianist/suitor Edwin Flagg.
At AFI's recent tribute to the Top 100 Thriller Movies of All Time, director Steven Spielberg called "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" his favorite 'Haunted House' movie; the Hudson mansion acting as the haunted house and Baby Jane Hudson as the 'ghost' who haunts it.