Have you ever been manipulated by a completely crazy person? Are they related to you? Thought so. But was it so bad that they crippled you with their car? Thought that would get you. In the classic thriller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Starring Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, Davis shows us child stars were bratty and manipulative even in 1917. This chilling film had problems during production, mainly doubt that the film would even be released. The director, Robert Aldrich, kept hearing “I wouldn’t pay a dime to see those two old broads on the screen.”
It’s funny how art can imitate life. At the time, both Crawford and David were hard up for roles in film and the two were rivals in their glory days. The film begins with baby Jane Hudson, a young and precocious child star on vaudeville in 1917 with her own porcelain doll (“For only $3.25!). Her standby is a song called “A Letter to Daddy”, an eerie song recounting a young daughter’s wish for her father back from heaven. When the show is over, she acts up in front of a crowd, embarrassing her ring master father and helpless mother. Her sister, Blanche, watches by, jealous yet patient. Her mother consoles her, assuring her that she would be famous and pleads not to treat them the same way they treat her.
Jump 20 years and Blanche is on the silver screen making epic romance films and hilarious crowd pleasing comedies, both gaining the attention of critics. Though, a part of her contract is to allow her younger sister Jane in on the money as well and get her some jobs. Jane’s films don’t even sell. The executives won’t release many of her films, almost deeming her box office poison (which is ironic, because by this time, Crawford had gained that nick name).
Jump 30 years and Blanche (Crawford) is living in a wheelchair after an accident caused by her psychotic sister Jane (Davis). Blanche is almost happy-go-lucky and totally giddy when a television station starts playing her old films. She loves her sister and feels a need to pay her back, even though Jane is delusional and mean and completely crazy.
This psychology between the two is the main spectacle of the film. Blanche seems to be completely deluding herself that Jane is a healthy and sane person, when in reality; she goes completely nutters on several occasions. This Jane character completely manipulates her older sister, almost driving her mad, stuffing dead birds and rats in her lunch and murdering maids.
The performances are amazing, some of the best for either actress. The two grace the silver screen like the icons they had once been, both in the film and in real life. The creepiness that surrounds the characters and their state of mind is almost overwhelming. It gives a complete sense of evil that has only been replicated on screen a handful of times. The score by Frank DeVol adds to the aura of mystique and the even scarier version of “A Letter for Daddy” done by a grown up crazy Jane makes shivers go down the viewer’s spine. It is a fantastic film and a stand by for all time scary films!