What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a 1962 American psychological thriller-horror film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The film is about an aging actress who holds her paraplegic sister captive in an old Hollywood mansion.
The intensely bitter Hollywood rivalry between the film's two stars, Davis and Crawford, was heavily important to the film's initial success.
In 1917, "Baby Jane" Hudson is an adored yet ill-tempered vaudevillian child star while her older sister Blanche lives in her shadow. By 1935, their fortunes have reversed: Blanche is a successful film actress and Jane is a laughing stock. One night, Jane mocks Blanche at a party, prompting Blanche to run away in tears. That same night, Blanche is paralyzed from the waist down in a mysterious car accident that is unofficially blamed on Jane, who is found three days later in a drunken stupor.
In 1962 a wheelchair-bound Blanche (Joan Crawford) and Jane (Bette Davis) are living together in Blanche's mansion, left to her by their father. By now, Jane has descended into alcoholism and mental illness and treats Blanche with cruelty to punish her for stealing her spotlight. Later, when Blanche informs Jane she may be selling the house, Jane's mental health begins to deteriorate further. During an argument, she removes the telephone from Blanche's bedroom, cutting Blanche off from the outside world. Later, Jane begins denying Blanche food, until she serves Blanche her dead bird on a platter.
Jane becomes obsessed with recapturing her childhood stardom and puts an advertisement in the paper for a pianist to accompany her singing, When Jane leaves the house, Blanche tries to get the attention of her neighbor, Mrs. Bates (Anna Lee), by writing a note pleading for help and throwing it out her bedroom window. Jane returns in time to notice the note and prevents Mrs. Bates from seeing it. When Jane reads the note, the two sisters quarrel again.
When Blanche's cleaning lady Elvira Stitt (Maidie Norman) comes to clean the house, Jane pays her and gives her the day off, but when Elvira returns later on, Jane abruptly fires her and sends her away. Meanwhile, Edwin Flagg (Victor Buono) sees Jane's newspaper advertisement and arrives at the mansion, where Jane hires him. While Jane drives Edwin home, Blanche searches the house for food and discovers Jane has been forging her signature on checks. Desperate for help, Blanche crawls down the stairs and calls their doctor, telling him of Jane's erratic behavior and begging him to come to the house. Jane returns in time to find Blanche on the phone and beats her unconscious before imitating her voice over the phone and telling the doctor not to come. She then binds and gags Blanche and locks her back in her upstairs bedroom. Elvira, still suspicious of Jane, returns the next day and discovers Blanche in a weakened and starved state. Before she can rescue her, however, Jane beats Elvira to death with a hammer and disposes of her body.
A week later, the police call the Hudson house and tell Jane that a cousin of her maid reported her missing. Panicking, Jane prepares to leave with her sister. Before they leave, Edwin shows up uninvited and drunk, hears a noise in Blanche’s room, and discovers what Jane has done to her. Edwin escapes and runs from the house. Jane drives Blanche to the beach and reverts to her childhood self. At the beach, Blanche says that her paralysis is her own fault: on the night of the accident, she had tried to run Jane over because she was angry at her sister for mocking her, and ever since she had let Jane believe she was to blame. Jane replies, "All this time, we could have been friends." The police arrive to arrest Jane, and while they tend to Blanche, Jane succumbs to her insanity and dances before the puzzled onlookers, believing she is once again the universally adored "Baby Jane". Whether Blanche has survived is not revealed.
- Bette Davis as Jane Hudson
- Joan Crawford as Blanche Hudson
- Victor Buono as Edwin Flagg
- Maidie Norman as Elvira Stitt
- Anna Lee as Mrs. Bates
- B. D. Merrill as Liza Bates
- Marjorie Bennett as Dehlia Flagg
- Dave Willock as Ray Hudson
- Julie Allred as nine-year-old Jane
- Gina Gillespie as thirteen-year-old Blanche
- Debbie Burton as young Jane's singing voice
- Wesley Addy as Marty McDonald
- Bert Freed as Ben Golden
- Robert Cornthwaite as Dr. Shelby
Bette Davis came up with her own makeup for her role. She said that Jane was someone who never washed her face but just added more makeup.
The house exterior of the Hudson mansion is located at 172 South McCadden Place in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles. Other residential exteriors show cottages on DeLongpre Avenue near Harvard Avenue in Hollywood without their current gated courtyards. The scene on the beach was shot in Malibu, reportedly the same site where Aldrich filmed the final scene of Kiss Me Deadly (1955).
The neighbor's daughter was played by Davis' daughter B. D. Merrill who, following in the footsteps of Crawford's daughter Christina, later wrote a memoir that depicted her mother in an unfavorable light.
It was an open secret that Davis and Crawford loathed each other, and filming was contentious as their real-life hatred for one another spilled over into the production, and even after filming had wrapped.
Crawford was scheduled to appear alongside Davis on a publicity tour of Baby Jane but canceled at the last minute. Davis claimed that Crawford backed out because she didn't want to share the stage with her. In a 1972 telephone conversation, Crawford related to future author Shaun Considine that after seeing a screening of the film she urged Davis to go and have a look. When she didn't hear back from her co-star, Crawford called Davis and asked her what she thought of the film to which Davis replied, "You were so right, Joan. The picture is good. And I was terrific." Crawford replied, "That was it. She never said anything about my performance. Not a word." Considine alleges that this denial from Davis (with regards to Joan's talent as an actress) prompted Crawford to cancel the publicity tour and upstage Davis at the Oscars.
Prior to the Oscars ceremony, Crawford contacted the Best Actress nominees who were unable to attend the ceremonies and offered to accept the award on their behalf should they win. Davis claimed that Crawford lobbied against her among Academy voters. When Anne Bancroft was declared the winner for The Miracle Worker, she was in New York performing in a play and had agreed to have Crawford accept her award if she won. Crawford triumphantly swept onstage to pick up the trophy. Davis later commented, "It would have meant a million more dollars to our film if I had won. Joan was thrilled I hadn't." As both Davis and Crawford had accepted lower salaries in exchange for a share of the film's profits, Davis considered it especially foolish of Crawford to have worked against their common interests, especially at a time when roles for actresses of their generation were hard to find.
During the filming of Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), Crawford acknowledged to visiting reporter/author Lawrence J. Quirk the difficulty she was having with Davis because of the Oscar incident but added, "She acted like Baby Jane was a one-woman show after they nominated her. What was I supposed to do, let her hog all the glory, act like I hadn't even been in the movie? She got the nomination. I didn't begrudge her that, but it would have been nice if she'd been a little gracious in interviews and given me a little credit. I would have done it for her."
The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design.
- Academy Award for Best Actress (Bette Davis, nominee)
- Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Victor Buono, nominee)
- Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Black and White (Norma Koch, winner)
- Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Black and White (Ernest Haller, nominee)
- Academy Award for Best Sound (Joseph D. Kelly, nominee)
- BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress (Crawford, nominee)
- BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress (Davis, nominee)
- Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama (Davis, nominee)
- Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture (Buono, nominee)
- Laurel Award for Golden Laurel for Sleeper of the Year (Winner)
- Golden Palm – 1963 Cannes Film Festival (nominee)
The film was a surprise box office hit, grossing $9 million at the worldwide box office and $4,050,000 in theatrical rentals in North America.
In the United Kingdom, the film was originally given an X certificate by the BBFC in 1962, with a few minor cuts. These cuts were waived for a video submission, which was given an 18 certificate in 1988, meaning no-one under 18 years of age could purchase a copy of the film. However, in 2004, the film was re-submitted for a theatrical re-release, and it was given a 12A certificate, now meaning persons under 12 years of age could view it if accompanied by an adult. It remains in this category.
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