What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?: Anniversary Edition

  • Reviewed by: Dr Adam Jahnke
  • Review Date: Oct 19, 2012
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Robert Aldrich

Release Date(s)

1962 (October 9, 2012)

Studio(s)

Warner Bros.

Review

Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? doesn’t get the respect it deserves from horror fans. A lot of people probably don’t even consider it to be a horror movie, despite the fact that it launched a decades-long trend of casting older Hollywood actresses in movies that undeniably belong to the genre. It’s frequently described as a “camp classic”, which I don’t think is fair. Yes, it’s often funny but intentionally so. In fact, I think it’s one of the most skillful blends of pitch black humor and creepy weirdness ever put together.

Baby Jane Hudson was a beloved vaudeville child star, completely overshadowing her meek sister, Blanche. But when vaudeville died and Baby Jane tried to make the transition to movies, the tables were turned. Now Blanche was the successful star and Jane was an alcoholic has-been only kept under contract thanks to her sister’s loyalty. It all comes to an end when an accident leaves Blanche confined to a wheelchair, kept a virtual prisoner in her own home by Jane. Years later, Jane (Bette Davis) finally snaps when she learns that Blanche (Joan Crawford) plans to sell the house. Finally pushed over the edge, Jane stops with the “virtually” part and literally confines Blanche to her room while she plans her own deluded comeback.

In many ways, Baby Jane picks up where Sunset Blvd. left off, taking a sharp left turn into utter dementia. Both Davis and Crawford are amazing but you have to give Bette the advantage. With her disheveled hair and makeup that looks like it was applied with a trowel, she acts like she’s never even heard the word “vanity”. Seeing these two old rivals go at each other would be entertainment enough. But Aldrich ups the ante with a fantastic Victor Buono as the greedy accompanist Jane hires to assist her with her comeback. Buono’s performance is pitch-perfect and contributes to some of the movie’s most uncomfortable and hilarious scenes.

Warner’s new Blu-ray edition of Baby Jane is vaguely defined as an “Anniversary Edition” (for the record, this year marks the 50th). The black-and-white image looks extremely good in HD. It is, perhaps, not as immediately attention-grabbing as some other black-and-white Blu-rays. But it is an accurate, film-like representation. Audio is in monaural DTS-HD Master Audio and I have no complaints or particularly high praise to heap upon it. It is what it is and is fine for all that.

The extras are ported over from the 2006 two-disc special edition and are generally excellent. The audio commentary by Charles Busch and John Epperson focuses on the movie’s camp elements and status as an iconic drag queen picture. It’s fun and actually pretty interesting but a second audio commentary treating it a bit more seriously would have been a nice addition. There’s a trio of complimentary documentaries, the longest of which is All About Bette, an almost-hour long TNT special hosted by Jodie Foster. Joan Crawford merits only half an hour in her Film Profile segment but it’s also pretty interesting. The two come together in the 30-minute Bette and Joan: Blind Ambition. The disc also includes Bette’s legendary, must-see musical performance from The Andy Williams Show, the theatrical trailer and something called the Dan-O-Rama Movie Mix trailer, which is almost more of a music video than anything else. The disc comes packaged in the DigiBook format that includes some nice promotional materials and publicity stills.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is one of those movies that a lot of people seem to know about but haven’t actually seen. Whatever your preconceived notions of it may be, set them aside and let Aldrich’s weird vision of forgotten Hollywood take hold of you. It’s a funny, squirmy and suspenseful classic.

- Dr. Adam Jahnke

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