15 July 2024

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Contributed by Charles Busch

Charles Busch is a noted playwright and actor. His work The Tale of the Allergist's Wife ran two years on Broadway and was Tony nominated for Best Play. He's starred in the films of his Psycho Beach Party and Die Mommie Die, the latter of which won him the Best Performance award at the Sundance Film Festival. He's currently appearing in his new play The Divine Sister at the Soho Playhouse in New York City. You can visit him at his website charlesbusch.com.

I first saw What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? when it was originally released in 1962. I was eight-years-old at the time. My father took us to movies he wanted to see...and so my sisters and I developed very sophisticated tastes early on. 

Baby Jane is a great example of artists at the top of their game taking a B-movie thriller and turning it into a minor masterpiece.

Director Robert Aldrich uses stylistic elements of Sunset Boulevard and Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO - but also techniques of documentary filmmaking and European New Wave that lifts the material far above its genre.

There is also the Billy Wilderian casting of stars whose pasts reflect on the audience's view of the characters they play.

The legendary feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford - and our knowledge that they're forced to work together because of reduced professional opportunities - fuels our enjoyment of the film.

Above all, Baby Jane must be studied and cherished for the extraordinarily brave and complex performance by Davis. At a peak of creativity, Davis gives a career-defining serio-comic performance that no other actress could have pulled off.

She's outrageous. Grotesque. Exhilaratingly funny and terrifying…but also so psychologically truthful that even her wildest actions seem plausible and even oddly sympathetic.

I think this movie (among others I saw at an impressionable young age) fueled my fascination with bigger than life actresses.

When I became a performer years later, I was certainly influenced by Davis's “take no prisoners” approach and her search for a truthful reality underneath a most flamboyant exterior.

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