Fifty-seven years ago today, the film Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? premiered. An absolute cult classic and heavily-quoted film that even had a 8 part miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan created about the production of it. It really is such a great film. You should watch it again.
Directed by: Robert Aldrich
Produced by: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay by: Lukas Heller
Based on: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? by Henry Farrell
Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono
Music by: Frank DeVol
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Edited by: Michael Luciano
Production company: Seven Arts Productions
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date: October 31, 1962
Running time: 133 minutes
Box office: $9.5 million
In 1917, “Baby Jane” Hudson is a well-known vaudevillian child star while her older sister Blanche lives in her shadow. By 1935, their fortunes have reversed: Blanche is a successful film actress and Jane lives in obscurity, her films having failed. One night, Jane, able to imitate Blanche’s voice perfectly, mocks her at a party. That same night, Blanche is paralyzed from the waist down in a mysterious car accident that is unofficially blamed on Jane, who is found three days later in a drunken stupor.
In 1962, Blanche (Joan Crawford) and Jane (Bette Davis) are living together in a mansion purchased with Blanche’s movie earnings. Blanche’s mobility is limited by a wheelchair and the lack of an elevator or wheelchair ramp to her upstairs bedroom. Jane has become alcoholic and mentally ill, and she treats Blanche cruelly because she resents her success. When Blanche informs Jane she intends to sell the house, Jane rightly suspects Blanche will commit her to an asylum once the house is sold. She removes the telephone from Blanche’s bedroom, cutting her off from the outside world. Jane begins denying her food, until she serves Blanche’s dead pet parakeet—and, at a later meal, a dead rat—to her on a dinner platter.
Although Jane is well into middle age, she dresses like “Baby Jane” and wears caked-on layers of makeup and childlike curls and ribbons in her hair. Jane becomes obsessed with recapturing her childhood stardom and posts a newspaper advertisement for a pianist to accompany her vocal act. When Jane leaves the house, Blanche tries to get the attention of her neighbor, Mrs. Bates (Anna Lee), by throwing a note pleading for help out her bedroom window. Jane returns in time to notice the note and prevent Mrs. Bates from seeing it. When the Hudsons’ maid Elvira Stitt (Maidie Norman) comes to the house, Jane gives her a paid day off to keep her from seeing Blanche.
Eccentric, overweight and cash-strapped Edwin Flagg (Victor Buono) sees Jane’s newspaper advertisement and arrives at the mansion for an audition; Jane hires him as her accompanist. After cringing at her off-key warbling, Edwin insincerely flatters Jane and encourages her to revive her act. While Jane drives Edwin home, Blanche searches the house for food and discovers Jane has been forging her signature on cheques to buy costumes for her act and to access Blanche’s money should she die. Desperate for help, Blanche crawls down the stairs and calls their doctor, telling him of Jane’s erratic behavior and begging him to come to the house. Jane returns to find Blanche on the phone and beats her unconscious before calling the doctor pretending to be Blanche and telling him not to come because Jane has chosen to see a different doctor.
Elvira returns the next day, but Jane abruptly fires her and sends her away. While Jane is at the bank cashing a cheque, Elvira returns to the house because she is suspicious. Unable to find Blanche, Elvira attempts to open the locked door of her bedroom by removing its hinges with a hammer and screwdriver. When Jane returns, Mrs. Bates tells her she saw Elvira go into the house. Jane confronts Elvira, who threatens to call the police. After Jane reluctantly gives Elvira the key to Blanche’s bedroom, she finds Blanche bound-and-gagged and weak from starvation. Shocked, Elvira fails to notice Jane sneak up behind her with the hammer. Jane beats Elvira to death and disposes of her body.
A few days later, the police call to tell Jane that Elvira’s cousin has reported her missing. Jane panics and prepares to leave, taking Blanche with her. Before they can leave, Edwin shows up uninvited and drunk. After he discovers Blanche in her bed, bound, gagged, and emaciated, Edwin flees and notifies the authorities.
Jane drives Blanche to the beach and reverts to her childhood self. Dehydrated and near death, Blanche confesses that she is paraplegic through her own fault: on the night of the accident, Blanche tried to run her over with a car because she was angry at Jane for mocking her. Blanche’s spine broke when her car struck the iron gates outside their mansion. Since then, Blanche has led Jane to believe she was to blame for the accident, forcing Jane to be her full-time caregiver and stoking bitter resentment. Grasping the situation, Jane asks, “You mean all this time we could have been friends?”. Then realizing Blanche is hot, she opens the blanket Blanche is wrapped in, and goes to get strawberry ice cream cones, without paying for them, at a nearby stand. Two police officers, who had been alerted to the Hudsons’ illegally parked car, find it nearby and connect it with the Hudson sisters. They then see Jane walking from the snacks stand with the ice cream cones and approach her; offering their help. When they ask her where Blanche is, a crowd forms. With childlike joy, Jane dances before the crowd of startled onlookers, believing she is once again “Baby Jane” performing for her adoring fans. The officers then see Blanche lying motionless on the sand and rush to her, along with the crowd. The film ends without revealing whether Blanche has survived her ordeal.