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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Sister, sister, oh so fair, why is there blood all over your hair?

Directed by:

Robert Aldrich

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 134 minutes

US Certificate: Unrated UK Certificate: 12a

Country: United States

Being a flopped child star can never be easy. Just ask Corey Haim. But add sibling rivalry to the mix and, if ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane’ is anything to go by, you’re left with a potentially lethal concoction.

This marvellous satire on the pressures of fading celebrity takes real-life fallen stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and pits them against each other in an unforgettable Hollywood showdown which manages to be bitter, dark and a bit silly all at the same time. They play squabbling sisters Jane (Davis) and Blanche (Crawford) Hudson, forced by circumstance to share a house where resentment hangs so thick in the air that you can practically smell it wafting through the screen.

During their childhood years, Jane had been the Bonnie Langford of her day, singing and dancing on stage to the delight of the whooping and easily-impressed masses. But, as the pair grew up, Jane’s increasingly-obvious crapness saw her disappear from the public eye, whilst sis Blanche began carving a career for herself as a major Hollywood star. The tables turn, however, when a car accident leaves Blanche stuck in a wheelchair, and Jane (who, by this stage, has more or less gone completely batty) is the only one around to look after her. And you just know Blanche is going to regret not kicking up a bit of a stink about being given an upstairs bedroom…

This film was originally handed an 18 certificate, thanks to Jane’s increasingly wicked treatment of her helpless sis. Now, however, for this 2004 UK big screen re-release, it’s been brought down to a 12A, and it’s not too difficult to see why. By today’s standards, the horror side of things is actually pretty tame, and viewing this welcome big screen re-release I saw it as less a spine-tingler than a black comedy, and all of it camper than a fortnight at Butlins to boot.

It still works incredibly well though, thanks mainly to the inspired casting of the two leads. You see, not only were Davis and Crawford real-life celebrity has-beens by the time this was made in 1962, but they also genuinely couldn’t stand the sight of each other. Crawford once said of Davis: “I don't see how she built a career out of a set of mannerisms, instead of real acting ability. Take away the pop eyes, the cigarette, and those funny clipped words and what have you got? She's phony.” To which Davis replied: “She’s slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie.”

On set, the petty feud got even better, with Crawford hiding weights in her pockets for the scenes in which Davis had to drag her across the floor. Davis then had a Coke machine installed in the studio because – get this – Crawford’s late hubby had been a top exec with Pepsi! It’s all great stuff, and you can just bet Davis took immense pleasure from the scene where she gets to kick Crawford in the head (she did it for real, with Crawford requiring stitches!).

I don’t know about you, but I’m really hoping Bonnie Langford and Corey Haim are sharing a cramped bed-sit somewhere right now.

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It's Got: Budgie salad. Tastes like chicken, apparently.

It Needs: A ramp.

Alternatives:

Misery, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1991 remake starring Redgrave sisters Vanessa and Lynne)

Summary

Dark, creepy, and also a bit camp and silly – it’s the ultimate Hollywood catfight.

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