Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: Lukas Heller, based on the novel by Henry Farrell
Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono
Running Time: 132 minutes
Genre: Psychological thriller, horror, gothic, Hollywood
Summary: In 1917 "Baby" Jane Hudson (Julie Allred) is a huge child star in the world of vaudeville, performing to large, adoring crowds, and there is even a popular "Baby Jane" doll produced. In 1935 however, Blanche Hudson (Crawford), Jane's sister, is one of the wold's biggest movie stars while the adult "Baby" Jane (Davis) has been unable to transfer her childhood fame to adult hood and, after some unsuccessful attempts to break into film, now languishes in obscurity. Until one night, after a party, when the two sisters are involved ina car accident. In the early sixties, Blanche has been confined to a wheelchair since the accident and lives with her sister in a vast decaying Hollywood mansion. Jane, who is now an alcoholic and obsessed with her childhood glory days, is supposed to be looking after Blanche but her intense hatred of Blanche, and jealousy at her film success and continued popularity, causes Jane to keep her locked up inside the mansion and subject her to physical and psychological cruelty. As Jane becomes increasingly preoccupied with the idea of a showbiz comeback her treatment of Blanche worsens as she slides further into insanity.
Opinions: This film was a massive success in it's day and has been extremely influential. It spawned a small subgenre of movies in which elderly Hollwood actresses attempted to revive their careers by playing maniacs. By modern standards the film is prettty slow-moving, depending more on slow-burning suspense rather than gruesome shocks although the sight of Bette Davis with her face caked with make-up wearing baby-doll dresses is genuinely disturbing and the famous scene where she serves up a dead rat for her sister's lunch is still shocking. The main strength of the movie lies in the performances of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford who famously hated each other off-screen. There are rumours that Davis kicked Crawford in the head in one scene, requiring her to need stitches, and that Crawford hid weights in her clothes for a scene where Davis had to drag her along the floor. Also Crawford was apparently very angry that the film garnered Davis an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress instead of her, and she contacted the other Best Actress nominees and offered to collect their awards for them if they were unable to attend. Of course, the rumours are probably part of the reason why the film has now become something of a cult classic. In fact, whatever the reality of what happened behind the scenes, both actresses turn in great perfomances with Davis managing to elicit genuine sympathy for the monsterous Baby Jane, and her scenes with Victor Buono as a sleazy musician are very funny in a dark way. Of course, as is only right and proper with this kind of movie, there is plenty of hammy overacting and hysterical catfights. The movie is very well-made with lavish production design for the shadowy mansion and an impressive use of bizarre camera angles. On a deeper level it is an interesting look at the pain of life after fame. The main problem is that the movie is too long and could easily withstand the running time being reduced by about half an hour.
However it is worth checking out.