Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is an American psychological horror thriller, directed by Robert Aldrich and based upon the novel by Henry Farrell. Produced by Warner Brothers, it was released in 1962, starring Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Victor Buono. Buono was a newcomer to Hollywood, and this was his introductory film. The film was nominated for four academy awards, including Bette Davis for best actress, but won only one for costume design.
The story follows Baby Jane Hudson ( Bette Davis) and her sister Blanch, played by Joan Crawford. In 1917 Jane relished the attention of her adolescent career as a Hollywood icon for children across the nation. She was a spoiled, cruel child. As she aged, her career dwindled, and Blanche’s star rose into Hollywood fame. The seething jealousy raged within Jane as she found solace in a liquor bottle. Blanche’s ability to act came to a screeching halt when she broke her spine in an automobile accident. Jane was riddled with guilt as she was blind drunk and thought she did it. Now in a wheelchair, Blanche depended on Jane for everything. Jane’s descent into madness is difficult to watch as she tortures her sister.
Jane kills Blanche’s beloved parakeet and serves it as her lunch. Blanche was hopeful that the liquor was the culprit for Jane’s cruelty until she served her a rat for her dinner. Now afraid to eat and fearing her sister Jane, she begins to weaken. As the movie progresses, Blanche discovers that her sister had been stealing her money to try and revamp her career. Blanche begins to think her sister wants her dead and tries to call for help. Jane is clever and cunning, and she squashes any attempt for help.
In comes Edwin Flagg ( Victor Buono), a conman that answers an ad in the newspaper that Jane placed. He is also an alcoholic and he strokes Jane’s ego for money. The scene with him playing the piano and Bette Davis singing the children’s song is demented and sad at the same time. Bette Davis is singing a song called “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy” and dancing around like her old act. It is truly insane. Edwin knows that she is crazy but is only there for the money.
Murder, torture and mayhem are at the forefront in the middle of the film. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford hated each other away from the set, and it is evident that they brought the same disdain for each other into the film.
Jane has completely lost her mind and decides to take her weakening sister to the beach. She is oblivious to the fact that Blanche is on the verge of death. The best scene is at the end when the police, tipped off by Edwin, finally find Jane after getting ice cream cones for her and Blanche. They spot her on the beach as a crowd gathers. Jane begins to dance around as her insanity has finally taken hold. The movie pans out as the police find Blanche. Is Blanche dead or alive?
In this writer’s opinion, this classic, black and white movie is a must see for every movie buff. Denying yourself the pleasure of viewing it would be a mistake.