Saturday, October 15, 2011

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Baby Jane Hudson was the toast of Vaudeville, appearing before sold out crowds and even selling her own brand of lifelike dolls. Soon however, she became overshadowed by her sister Blanche who became an endearing star until a car crash confined her to a wheelchair and ended her career. Now, Blanche lives in an old Hollywood mansion once owned by Rudolph Valentino, under the career of delusional and insanely jealous Jane, who proceeds to torture her invalid sister while planning to make her big comeback. "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" is a perverse, shocking, and often very funny film from director Robert Aldrich. It is a send-up of ex-Hollywood starlets and made in a very similar vein to Billy Wilder's classic "Sunset Boulevard". "Baby Jane" marked a revival of the careers of its female stars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (who were reputedly offscreen rivals as well) and they are both stunning in roles that could have easily been switched. Davis, wearing what seems to be pounds of makeup gives a cackling performance as what must be one of the most diabolical of any screen villain. Crawford brings gravity to the role of the put upon sister in a less showy but still exceptional role. Two other supporting players turn in fine performances as well, including Maidie Norman as a fretful maid and Victor Buono as a bumbling piano playing mama's boy who answers an ad placed by Davis. "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" succeeds extremely well on many levels: It is technically gorgeous, with its intricate setting shot in stark black and white. It is a terrifying horror story as well as a hard hitting and funny lampoon of stardom. Finally, it is a tremendous showcase for two of the best known stars of their time who showed they were still able to rip off the gloves and go for the jugular.