Story: Jane (Bette Davis) was once the toast of the entertainment world, a child star with a booming career and even a signature doll, but the limelight wouldn’t burn bright forever. After she fell from the spotlight however, her sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) became a movie star, at least until a horrific turn of events left her paralyzed. Decades later, the sisters are reclusive in their twilight years and Jane continues to hold deep resentment against her sister. The two remain anchored in the past and daydream of their faded stardom, but Jane’s resentful ways also push her to torment Blanche. As her tactics escalate, Jane begins to try to isolate her sister from the outside world, warp her perceptions, and drive her insane. When the tension reaches a boiling point, what will become of the forgotten sisters?
Entertainment Value: A true cinematic classic, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? brings together two of Hollywood’s most infamous rivals, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. The real life rivalry is palpable, as both stars pull out all the stops to deliver epic performances and likely, try to outshine the other in the process. The narrative is sharp and always interesting, as it not only weaves the manic main story, but also touches on aging as an entertainer, holding onto the past, intense jealousies, and more, so there are ample layers involved here. The writing is masterful, crafting well fleshed out characters, over the top yet believable scenarios, and allowing the two movie icons room to leave their mark on the roles. This is a movie I could watch often and never tire of, the writing, performances, and atmosphere are simply excellent. I feel like the movie is incredibly well made and nails every note along the way, but also satisfies my love for wild b movies, not an easy balance. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is a true classic and earns our highest recommendation.
Even if the writing and direction weren’t superb here, just unleashing Joan Crawford and Bette Davis like this would ensure What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? would be timeless. The real life, long burning rivalry between the two helps blaze the screen with tension, as the two remained rivals even during and after the production. I think that desire to one up each other results in some fantastic performances that sometimes race right up to the over the top mark, only to be skillfully reeled in just enough. The two are sometimes manic to say the least in their efforts, but it always fits and never feels like too much. This is two legends and masters of their art just going for broke, tremendous performances that benefit from that special, one of a kind magic their rivalry provided. The cast also includes Victor Buono, Wesley Addy, and Marjorie Bennett.
The Disc: Warner Archive has released this classic on Blu-ray and it looks excellet. The print is super clean and allows the black & white visuals to really shine, with stark contrast throughout. The detail level is impressive and the image never comes off as soft, so the movie has been given a more than worthy presentation here. The extras include a humorous, campy audio commentary track with John Epperson and Carl Busch, documentary profiles on both Crawford and Davis, a half hour look at the rivalry itself, a television appearance by Davis, a brief promotional featurette, and the film’s theatrical trailer.
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