Saturday December 2nd 2023

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Movie Corner: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Warner Bros.


Warner Bros. 1962
Black &White Drama/Horror Thriller

The drama/ thriller feels so much like Alfred Hitchcock, but it is directed by Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen [1967], Emperor of the North [1973]). To this day, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? has aged quite well.

The story of two sisters starts as children in vaudeville in the early 1900s before becoming movie stars in Hollywood’s pre-Golden and Golden Ages. As for Jane (Bette Davis), her movies are often riddled with being difficult to work with besides her heavy drinking which will carry into her years long after acting. Blanche (Joan Crawford) on the other hand, is much easier to get along with in general and is a better actress than her cranky sister.

The camera moves fast forward several decades later where the two two sisters who never married live in Rudolph Valentino’s old mansion which looks more inviting from its façade than it does inside. By this time, Blanche is wheelchair bound and she depends partly on a very attentive maid Elvira Stitt (Maidie Norman), the only major African American in the movie, who makes two or three visits a week. But the majority of the time, Blanche is subjected to verbal and physical abuse by Jane. Jane feels she has complete control over her invalid sister. Elvira is suspicious of Jane and tries to encourage Blanche to get psychological help for her sister.

Blanche is kept in an upstairs room with bars on the window. She has no connection to the outside except the telephone and Elvira. Jane, angry at Blanche, rips out the telephone, leaving the only other telephone on the first floor. When Jane runs out of liquor she uses Blanche’s checkbook. Jane drives a 1940s sedan in mint condition. The next door neighbors, Mrs. Bates (Anna Lee) and her daughter Liz Bates (Barbara Merrill, who is Bette Davis’ real-life daughter), are kept at bay by Jane when Mrs. Bates tries to be friendly to her.

Jane puts an ad in the newspaper for a songwriter. A bachelor named Edwin Flagg (Victor Bruno), who lives with his mother Dehlia Flagg (Marjorie Bennett), answers the ad while Jane passes herself off as a professional singer wanting to revive her career. He has no idea Jane has her sister locked up in her room.
Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a terrific psychological thriller tied in suspense throughout the film. One can truly say the film has a horror element to it, too.

Cast: Bette Davis (Baby Jane Hudson), Joan Crawford (Blanche Hudson), Victor Bruno (Edwin Flagg), Julie Allred (Baby Jane Hudson, in 1917), Marjorie Bennett (Dehlia Flagg), Anna Lee (Mrs. Bates), Maidie Norman (Elvira Stitt), Dave Willock (Ray Hudson), Robert Cornthwaite (Dr. Shelby), Gina Gillespie (Blanche Hudson, in 1917), Barbara Merrill (Liza Bates), Don Ross (Police Officer), James Seay (Police Officer), John Shay (Police Officer), Jon Shepodd (Police Officer), Peter Virgo (Police Officer), Maxine Cooper (Bank Teller), Debbie Burton (Singing Voice).

Director: Robert Aldrich.
Original Music: Frank De Vol.
Cinematography: Ernest Haller.
Screenwriter: Lukas Heller, from the novel by Henry Farrell.
Running time:134 minutes.

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