Tuesday, 21 October 2008

No.92 : What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane at the IMDb

This 1962 black and white classic opens in 1917 where the hottest act in town is baby Jane Hudson singing with her Dad - well there was a war on. Everyone loves Baby Jane and her life sized dolls are a hot item among the crowds who flock to her show. Backstage we see that she is a spoiled brat whose doting father acts on her every wish and scolds her plainer sister Blanche while doing so.

A few years later the tables have turned with Blanche the big star and Baby Jane being a laughing stock living off small roles gifted by her sister. Things take a sinister turn when Blanche is run over and crippled by a car seemingly driven by her drunken sister.

We then move to the present day were we see the wheelchair and housebound Blanche, now played by Joan Crawford, being cared for by her nasty sister Jane, played by Bette Davis. Jane is slowly losing her marbles and things come to a head when she learns of Blanche’s plan to sell the house and put her in a care home. The trapped Blanche has to try and outsmart her evil captor and try to forge a plan of escape before she’s murdered or starved on her all budgie and rat diet.

As Baby Jane’s madness deepens she hires a pianist to help her ill advised comeback and nothing will stop her quest of recapturing her childhood glories, even murder.

This is a cracking film that has two powerhouse performances from Hollywood’s finest at its heart. Presumably the stars must have needed the cash because two less flattering roles you can’t imagine. Crawford does well as the feisty paraplegic who has a secret of her own but the main laurels must go to Davis who plays the nutty fantasist Baby Jane in chilling fashion. Clips of her own films are used to show Baby Jane’s poor acting skills and it’s a testament to how she improved to see her as a batty old woman.

Although claustrophobic and tense the film does have some lighter moments especially when Jane manages to finagle some more booze out of the off licence by pretending to be her sister. For the most part it is a grim tale with all of Blanche’s schemes coming so tantalisingly close to success before she’s outwitted by her senile sibling.

The early scenes were well done and it was easy to see how the madness developed once Baby Jane’s star faded. There are able turns form the pianist, Dad and the Maid but for the most part this is an uneasy, tense thriller that never lets up despite a running time of over two hours. The reveal at the end was well handled and explains some of the behaviours at large while not quite excusing them.

The film, somewhat surprisingly, won only one Oscar in a minor category but given it was released in the same year as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ that’s no disgrace. Its poor return is probably more a symptom of the acting types who vote for the Oscars believing that no one in their profession could fall quite so far from grace but to my mind its gritty realistic look can’t be faulted.

A great film that has a close look at both the worlds of family and celebrity and doesn’t come out too favourable on either. Maybe not a feel good classic but one that shouldn't be missed if you like top notch acting and a thrilling, slow burning script.

Best Bit : “I’ll put my sister on”

‘W’ Rating : 20/23

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