Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono
Director: Robert Aldrich
Running Time: 135 mins
What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? is an American film about an aged former child star who torments her paraplegic sister in an old Hollywood mansion.
Though not the emotionally overwhelming thriller that it’s often lauded as, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? is an undeniably gripping film, with piercing, unrelenting horror and drama that really does hit hard at times.
What really stands out about this film, however, is the performances. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are fantastic in enormously challenging roles, as their characters find themselves in a devastating sibling battle.
Crawford’s performance is filled with terror and despair, as she remains at the mercy of her spiteful sister. Her performance is what really gives the film its strongest fear factor, and although she might not deliver the overwhelming emotional resonance intended, Crawford is an integral part of this film.
But Bette Davis is even more outstanding. With a harsh, nasty and villainous performance that you’ll struggle to look away from, she brilliantly combines terrifying horror sensibilities with more complex and emotionall affecting dramatic depth.
There’s a lot that makes What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? a heavy-going watch, as Davis’ character brutally rules over her incapacitated sister out of what seems like pure spite, yet the film’s most striking power comes in its quieter, more pensive moment.
Davis’ performance of a fallen star is tinged with heartbreaking melancholy. From an innocent child performer to a drunken, bitter old woman, her arc is devastating, and her performance illicits moments of real sympathy from you as the viewer.
It seems strange to think that a brutal villain like her could ever earn your sympathy in such a way, but that’s where the film really proves most thought-provoking.
In that, the film delivers the same sense of regretful, saddening drama as Sunset Boulevard, only heightened with a more intense horror atmosphere.
The horror and thrills aren’t quite as emotionally overwhelming, never offering up the same powerfully thought-provoking themes and ideas as the story of Baby Jane herself. That doesn’t mean it’s a boring watch, but it doesn’t quite hit home on the terrifying level it aims for.
Overall, I was impressed by What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? It’s not quite the devastating thriller that it’s so often made out to be, but with fantastic performances, a piercing atmosphere and harsh yet thought-provoking drama, it’s a gripping watch all the same. And that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.