Saturday 23 July 2011

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

I must confess I was disappointed with this: it is a well-known movie by an excellent director (Robert Aldrich) that enjoys a high reputation but I found it overlong, ponderous and ineffective.  For some reason, I had come to believe that it was a classic gothic horror in which two equally vile old hags holed up in a crumbling mansion treat each other spectacularly badly.  So I was surprised to find it set in a relatively modern house, in a pleasant suburb of (presumably) Los Angeles, with neighbours, housemaids, and so on.  And I was equally surprised to find that the Joan Crawford character, Blanche - Baby Jane Hudson's sister, was a rather pitiable figure.

Perhaps it's because my preconceptions were wrong that I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would.  Maybe, maybe not.  Even if that is true, the film is still way too long and contains far too little incident to justify such extravagance.  Even the famous scenes - such as Jane serving Blanche something unexpected for her dinner - seem tame.

I think the film's chief interest today lies in the casting and performances of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as the two sisters.  Crawford has by no mean a flattering part but next to Bette Davis it's a doozy.  It's a fearless performance from Davis who spends much of the time as a hateful slattern, half dressed in inappropriate clothes.  But she's so good she manages to elicit some sympathy for Jane, a sympathy which turns out to be entirely justified when she and the audience get to know the whole truth about her sister ...

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