What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

dir. Robert Aldrich

TIFF Cinematheque - Hollywood Classics

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Robert Aldrich's Grand Guignol cult classic about a pair of aged, ex-starlet sisters (Bette Davis and Joan Crawford) bound together in bitter (and lethal) rivalry in a fetid Hollywood villa returns in a special fiftieth anniversary digital restoration.


Guignol gets no grander, gargoyles no more garish than in Robert Aldrich's macabre cult classic. Known for gnawing the porch since they were tots, real-life rivals Bette Davis and Joan Crawford tear into their roles as the bitterest of sisters, former child star "Baby Jane" Hudson and crippled, one-time up-and-comer Blanche, holed up in a fetid Italianate villa in L.A., caking on makeup to hide the ravages of time while nursing dreams of a return to stardom. (Norma Desmond must live somewhere in the neighbourhood.) When the wheelchair-bound Blanche tries to escape from Baby Jane's increasingly deranged ministrations — her meal tray holds creepy treats — the sororal torment escalates into high-camp jamboree. (As the film's original release trailer has it, to the question posed by the title: "The answer is Total Suspense!") In the five decades since its original release, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? has become a pop-culture treasure trove, from Davis' immortal line "But you are, Blanche!" (a camp invocation for the ages) to the many remixes of her tawdry song performed in ringlets and bows, "I've Written a Letter to Daddy." Though Crawford more than holds her own as the beleaguered Blanche, it was Davis who received the lion's share of accolades (including an Academy Award nomination) for her performance as the child vaudevillian turned alcoholic crone.