“Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”

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Another of my wonderful local theater’s one-offs, this one on Hallowe’en:

Celebrate Halloween with a costume contest and rare 35mm screening of this endlessly quotable classic on the 50th anniversary of its original release date!

Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) was a vaudevillian child star, but as an adult, her sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) became the successful actress in the family as Jane’s career flopped. Presently, both are retired and living together in a decaying Hollywood mansion. Crippled following an accident, Blanche spends most of the time watching her old movies on television while Jane remains in a grotesque state of arrested development, acting like a bratty spoiled child as she dementedly berates and spews jealousy towards her shut-in sister.

Equal parts suspenseful psychodrama, gothic horror and campy black comedy, the film was a surprise hit, reviving Davis’ and Crawford’s moribund careers. The two veteran divas apparently hated each other and fought incessantly during the filming, and you can sense every shred of that animosity between them in their gloriously catty performances.

I remember being aware of the movie when it came out, but I hadn’t ever seen it.  It was great!  The costume contest beforehand was fun, too — the winners were a Mommie Dearest and daughter Christina, complete with coat hanger.

The movie went to greater extremes than I expected from its era.   The business with the parakeet and then the rat, for example.  It really is a horror movie!  The suspense builds well and keeps up until the end.   Even at the end, we’re not sure whether Blanche is dead or alive.  As for the actors, they were all very good (Bette Davis’s actual daughter excepted — she was kind of wooden, playing the girl next door.  I wondered why there was this exception to the generally high standard, till I found out who she was).  Bette Davis must have had a wonderful time being Baby Jane!  Not so sure that having Joan Crawford’s part would have been as enjoyable — apparently some of the fighting was real — but still it was a terrific performance.

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