more catching up: shameless, true detective, girls
félix with shades

blu-ray series #6: what ever happened to baby jane? (robert aldrich, 1962)

(The “Blu-ray Series” is by request from my wife, who said I had to watch all of the Blu-rays on the shelf that I hadn’t gotten around to, before I bought any more. It’s not my fault I was given three more as xmas gifts.)

My daughter Sara gave this to me for xmas, and said she looked forward to the review, so I guess this is By Request, as well.

The things you learn while scrounging around the Internet looking for stuff about a movie. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? introduced a new genre, “Psycho-biddy”. While I had never heard of this before today, I instantly understood the concept. (Other examples include Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?, What’s the Matter with Helen?, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?, The Anniversary, and Die! Die! My Darling, with stars like Shelley Winters, Olivia de Havilland, Genevieve Page, Ruth Gordon, Tallulah Bankhead, and Debbie Reynolds. I have fond memories of a couple of those.) Wikipedia tells us that “The genre has also been variously nicknamed by the press as ‘hagsploitation’, ‘hag horror’ and ‘Grande Dame Guignol’.” While there may be an underlying misogyny to the whole concept (which I suppose goes back at least as far as Jane Eyre), these movies also gave leading roles to actresses whose careers had faded as they moved into their 50s. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were glad to make Baby Jane, even though they ended up being typecast in similar movies after that (especially Crawford).

What is supposed to make Baby Jane particularly juicy is that Davis and Crawford were said to have hated each other long before the movie was made. This adds to the lurid voyeurism of the film … think of how Sweet Charlotte seemed more placid once Crawford left the picture, saying she couldn’t stand to work again with Davis. (She was replaced by de Havilland, which suggests a more perfect pairing might have been de Havilland and Joan Fontaine.) Baby Jane requires the backstage gossip regarding Davis and Crawford to make it work.

And it does work, although it’s not exactly deep. It makes a point about the plight of aging actresses in Hollywood, but it is less interested in that issue than it is in plying Davis’ face with more and more makeup. The end of the film is poignant, but everything that leads up to it is a character study that is singularly lacking in that poignancy. It is hard to feel sorry for Jane when she’s feeding rats to her sister, and Crawford’s Blanche exists to be The Victim in the fright fest.

It may sound like I don’t like the movie, but that’s not the case … I’ve liked it since the first time I saw it back in the 60s. Davis got the Oscar nomination … of course she did, she got to play a crazy lady and had plenty of legitimate reasons to overact. Crawford is at least as good as Davis, but her role in necessarily less showy. 7/10. Possible companion movies would include any of the “Psycho-biddy” films. Robert Aldrich directed several fine movies. Kiss Me Deadly is more than fine … it is one of my favorite movies, period. A less-known Aldrich movie I am partial to is Attack!. For Bette Davis, you can’t go wrong watching All About Eve for the fiftieth time. And I’m not a big fan of Joan Crawford, but I am a big fan of The Women.



Do you that the more palatable modern forms of psycho-biddy appear in the "Powersuits" of the 80s and beyond? Sigourney Weaver in "Working Girl" or Meryl Streep in "Devil Wears Prada"?

Steven Rubio

That's a good point. If I had to comment on that off the top of my head, I'd say those characters weren't "psycho" the way Baby Jane was. Someone out there needs to write their dissertation on the evolution of this kind of character from Baby Jane to Devil Wears Prada.

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