Title: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Director: Robert Aldrich
This film has been enshrined as a paragon of Hollywood’s most notorious divas’ rivalry both on and off screen, the Davis Vs. Crawford feud, but if parrying away all the trivia and anecdotes and detaching them from their real-life images, the film itself epitomizes a fierce and taut thriller in a rarely-tapped terrain and its deceptive prelude invites us to witness a one-sided mental and physical torture between two over-the-hill broads, and buries a plausible answer in the slightly hasty but honor-bound ending, to pander for a reasonable explanation to their irrational behaviors, and director Robert Aldrich and dramaturge Lukas Heller fairly map out a melodrama-fest with B-movie mania and craziness.
Bette Davis’ Jane, what a performance! Sports the oversized child costume with a powdered-up makeup, thoroughly dominates the film from her very first scene to the soppy end. Naturally we all root for Crawford’s wheelchair-trapped Blanche, seeing that she ostensibly is the victim of her sister who deliberately maimed her legs and now is under her abuse, it seems that Jane is scheming step-by-step a deadly murder plan which is insinuated along the story, but Davis can single-handedly alter our repulsion when her despondence and delightfulness alternatively bobs up, she is half a wicked soul and half a development-arresting baby girl, whose mindset has been permanently stalled in her heyday, when she was Baby Jane Hudson, a child starlet and the bread-winner, unlike her physically confined sister, what is trapped is her mind, such a couple of damaged goods.
But when Jane’s viciousness gradually excruciates and even fatally destroys poor Blanche’s ultimate chance of striking back (with extra casualty included), one has to wonder what is behind the story since a mainstream film scarcely dares to veer to an unconventional track when evil actually triumphs, thereof the curiosity presides over and it persists until the final unveiling of the truth, a guilty-ridden goody-goody and a delusional spinster, it is a merciless coda, but at least it diverts the film into a morally-correct direction which grants a wider appealing and acceptance.
Joan Crawford has been entirely overshadowed by Davis out of the plot’s necessity, it is less a duel than a capitulated punishment; a plump Victor Buono (who also earns an Oscar nomination alongside Ms. Davis) as the only male-interloper into their lives, vividly impresses us with comic-relief nuances, also extends himself as an odd pair with Davis.
Heavily scored, the film anticipates our mood turbulence precisely which can also be deemed counterproductive by over-dramatizing the tension, but anyone who adore great performances should not miss this film, out of a touch of humanity, Bette Davis teaches every performer a textbook lesson – how to embody cruelness and render empathy in a perfect unison.