Former child star 'Baby' Jane Hudson lives in a constant state of drunken jealousy over the later successes of her younger sister, who has since become crippled in an unfortunate accident. Jane's obsession with the past drives her into a deepening madness as she locks her sister away from the outside world and suppresses her with a series of mental tortures. By 1962, the careers of Hollywood queens Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were long since expired. Ironically, they would find renewed fame in their self-mocking portrayals of two faded stars not unlike themselves. Davis and Crawford are electrifying in the roles, and the pair's famous personal rivalry off-camera bleeds into their performances with a darkly comedic effect. Davis' cheap wig, garish make-up, and withered visage only add to her psychotic behavior to create one the silver screen's greatest human monsters. Crawford's performance is far more reserved but no less satisfying as the victimized Blanche. To speak only of these two fine actresses is to leave out the beautiful cinematography and elegant lighting that brings their warring to life under Robert Aldrich's artful direction.
The immediate success of Aldrich's Oscar-winning production spawned a complete sub-genre of its own known as Psycho-biddy or Grande Dame Guignol, where a haggardly older woman is either pushed to the edge of sanity or pitted against another elderly rival. These comparisons to the theatricality of the Grande Guignol are quite fitting given the melodramatic portrayals of the two lead characters. As it approaches its fiftieth anniversary, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE can be seen as nothing other than a defining classic in Horror and Suspense, and a must-see for all genre fans.
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