In 1917, Baby Jane Hudson is a famous child star, with the look of Shirley Temple and the voice of Alanis Morissette. 45 years later, the bitter Jane (Bette Davis) and her wheelchair-bound sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) are living together, but Jane has turned from Little Orphan Annie to Annie Wilkes.
This 1962 thriller is an absolute tour de force, where everything from the make-up to the set design is perfect. The house is decaying like Jane herself, the tatty wallpaper as cracked as Jane’s haggard skin and twisted psyche.
Davis is phenomenal in the role, displaying true vulnerability deep beneath her cursed-doll-brought-to-life costume, while her Deadite face is a demented picture of guilt, jealousy and resentment.
Crawford too is terrific, and the professional rivalry between the two Hollywood stars bubbles away under the surface. There are numerous stories of their sparring on set, including Davis having a Coca-Cola machine installed just to provoke Crawford, who was married to the chairman of Pepsi. Watch and learn, Jared Leto.
Robert Aldrich shoots in creaky black and white, apparently at Davis’ insistence. His handling of plot twists and edge-of-your-seat tension is worthy of Hitchcock himself, with a great ending that leaves you quaking in your seat and reflecting on its meaning.
Like Sunset Boulevard meets Misery, this is a satirical slice of LA gothic, holding up a warped mirror to Hollywood with its child stars who never got a chance to grow up.
55 years on, the film remains audaciously edgy and monstrously fun, with real tragedy lurking amongst its camp histrionics and grotesque melodrama. Whatever happened to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? It became a carnivalesque classic.