An iconic film of yesteryear for the often fickle and short-lived crowd of Hollywood stars, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is a film centered on the keystone of its great central acting duo. Directed by Robert Aldrich, this is mostly a vehicle for Bette Davis and Joan Crawford to show off their skills, and you know what? The film couldn’t work better.
The film became famous as the first on-screen teamup between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, two of the biggest stars of classical Hollywood. The film plays up their notorious off-screen rivalry to great effect, pitting the devilishly rotten Baby Jane against the innocent and kind-hearted sister Blanche Hudson. The psychological torment is enough to cause poor Blanche to literally spin her wheels in despair, and yet it remains incredibly engrossing for that very reason. I love the way the film helps to put thoughts in your head and feelings in your heart; the film is very skilled in that regard.
I guessed where the film was headed about 20 minutes in, so the rest of the film became an interesting experiment in schadenfreude. The film had a few other twists up its sleeves for the later moments, and the game began to shift toward wondering how Blanche was going to get out of her predicament, to use a much more light term for it. Both Joan Crawford and Bette Davis are supremely excellent, Davis in particular creates one of the most evil and memorable screen villains of all time. The film also is the first time I can remember seeing a film that starts its action before the opening credits start rolling; something typical of modern movies today but practically against Hollywood law back then. A nice refreshing bit of action that reminded me how ahead movies could choose to be at times.
This is a highly entertaining acting vehicle with a story that keeps you invested all the way through its running time. The film is made basically enough, but is elevated far above what it otherwise would be by its plot and its two main stars. The film is even more entertaining if you do a bit of research into the complex relationship between Davis and Crawford, and it is well worth doing so if you’re interested in some film history. If not, though, you should still give this one a watch; it’s well worth it.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10