Film / What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Whatever happened to Baby Jane?
To her smile, her golden hair?
Why must everything be so unfair?
Is there no one left to care
What really happened to Baby Jane?

A classic 1962 thriller directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. It was adapted from a novel by Henry Farrell.

Aging sisters Blanche (Crawford) and "Baby" Jane Hudson (Davis) live together in a decaying mansion in Hollywood. Jane had been a vaudeville child star in the 1910s, but her fame disappeared a long time ago. Blanche, meanwhile, was a successful film actress in the '30s, but was crippled in a mysterious car accident involving Jane.

Jane is mentally disturbed, an alcoholic, and greatly resents Blanche. When she learns that Blanche plans to sell the mansion and put her in a sanitarium, things really start to go downhill. Jane's mental state gradually worsens, and she becomes emotionally and physically abusive to her sister, eventually holding her hostage.

There is also a 1991 TV movie version starring real-life sisters Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave as Jane and Blanche. It doesn't seem to have been poorly received by critics, but it hasn't made much of an impression either.

Followed two years later by a Spiritual Successor, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, also directed by Aldrich and starring Davis, but with Olivia de Havilland in the Crawford part.

Contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Jane.
  • Asshole Victim: Blanche, as it turns out.
  • Ax-Crazy: Jane devolves into this.
  • Bitch Alert: The moment Jane steps off the stage in her first scene you know she's going to be trouble.
  • Big Fancy House: Jane and Blanche's mansion.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Blanche.
  • Black and White Morality: Subverted.
  • Black and Gray Morality: What it actually is.
  • Cain and Abel: Jane and Blanche Hudson, respectively.
  • Camp: The film is known for having a fair amount of this, which helps account for its Cult Classic status.
  • Cool Car: Jane's 1931 Duesenberg Model J roadster (in the 1935 scenes) and 1947 Lincoln Continental convertible (in the "present day" part of the film).
  • Creepy Child: Little Blanche, who seems to spend all of Jane's shows fixing her with a Death Glare.
  • Creepy Doll: The Baby Jane Hudson doll- creepy and menacing before anything even happens.
  • Curse Cut Short: Jane calling Blanche a bitch is drowned out by the sound of the buzzer.
  • Cute but Cacophonic: Baby Jane's singing voice comes off as somewhat shrill, even for a little girl.
  • Deathbed Confession: On the beach, when Blanche thinks that she's dying, she tells Jane the truth about the car accident.
  • Dark Reprise: When Baby Jane first sings the song "I've Written a Letter to Daddy" in the beginning of the story, it just comes off as a sappy kid's song. However, it becomes incredibly creepy when she sings it later as an old woman.
  • Daylight Horror: Blanche's presumed death, and Jane's final descent into madness, take place at a crowded beach on a sunny day.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: A really dark example. Jane starts off the film as a grumpy and bitter old woman but as she gets herself further into trouble she unravels and behaves more like a frightened child.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Edwin may be a slimy greaseball that is just going after Jane for her money, but when he sees Blanche all tied up, he immediately runs out the door and contacts the police.
  • Evil Cripple: Blanche.
  • Evil All Along: Blanche was endlessly bitter about the preferential treatment her sister got as a child. The situation only declined further when they were adults, as their careers were tied together. Every film Blanche made, one had to be made with Jane, and Jane couldn't act; meaning every flop Jane made damaged Blanche's career. Finally Blanche had enough, and tried to kill her sister, but ended up crippling herself. Blanche made it look like Jane was responsible; even Jane believed this, since she was drunk, and couldn't remember the night. Thus, she was forced to live with guilt for the rest of her life. Still bitter, Blanche forced her sister to wait on her hand and foot for thirty years before Jane loses her mind, and The Dog Bites Back.
  • The Film of the Book
  • Former Child Star: Jane.
  • Giftedly Bad: Jane. She is a terrible actress, can't sing and could only dance as a child. Jane herself thinks her talent defines her, and believes it is the one thing she can never lose.
  • Gilded Cage: Blanche's room is quite nice, but unfortunately her sister wouldn't let her leave.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: One of the most extreme examples.
  • Glurge: Invoked and parodied with "I've Written a Letter to Daddy", an awful, maudlin vaudeville number about a little girl who sends a love note stamped with kisses to her father in Heaven. It's first heard performed by Debbie Burton in the most quavering, histrionic, off-key way imaginable, just to make it all sillier; it gets even creepier when Jane, now over 55 and with her actual father long dead, performs it again.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: The fact that Jane is blonde and wears white, while Blanche has black hair and wears dark clothes, should be the first clue that all is not as it seems. It's especially noticeable because Blanche's name means "white."
  • Gold Digger: Edwin is repulsed by Jane, but he still wines and dines her hoping to milk the situation for all it's worth.
  • Insane Troll Logic: While explaining how they can run away from the police and never be found, Jane delightedly remarks that they'll go to the beach and "live at the seashore all the time", where she'll invite everyone to come and visit them.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Jane was an angelic little girl and a reasonably attractive young woman but has now grown old and is a complete mess. Averted with Blanche who has aged well enough.
  • Kick the Dog: Jane kills Blanche's pet bird, and serves it to her on a dinner plate.
  • Lady Drunk: Jane.
  • Large Ham: Bette Davis' portrayal of Jane. Joan Crawford has a few moments too, resulting in Ham-to-Ham Combat.
    • Cold Ham: In stark contrast to some of his other roles, Victor Buono plays almost all of his scenes as Edwin with quiet, immeasurable loathing for the people around him. It's not until he gets drunk and loosens up that he becomes a true Large Ham.
    "Here I come, the SUPER CHIEF!" (Giggling)
  • Madness Makeover: Jane went from being a very pretty but troubled young woman, to a crazy old biddy who never washes her face, styles her hair in ringlets and looks more dishevelled as her grip on sanity loosens. When Jane no longer feels guilt over crippling her sister, the reverse happens - her wrinkles disappear and she looks like a happy girl.
  • Momma's Boy: Edwin.
  • My Beloved Smother: Edwin's mother is very clingy and possessive, and gets jealous when he starts spending his time with Jane.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: Jane was a cutesy Shirley Temple-esque child star and a horrible spoilt brat offstage.
  • Nosy Neighbor: Mrs. Bates is a mild example.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Jane, trying to look like a child.
  • One-Hit Wonder: In-universe example: Jane with "I've Written a Letter to Daddy." invoked
  • Questioning Title
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Jane when she gets a good look at herself in the dance mirror.
  • Really Gets Around: Jane in the 30s, part of the reason she was The Load to Blanche.
  • Regal Ringlets: Jane's hair.
  • The Resenter: Both sisters.
  • Sanity Slippage: Jane is mentally disturbed from the start, and goes downhill over the course the film. At the end, she loses all contact with reality.
  • Self-Deprecation: When the filmmakers were looking for bad films of Bette Davis to use for Jane's bad films, she said any of her early 1930s ones would do.
  • She Knows Too Much: Jane murders Elvira, after she finds out that Jane is keeping Blanche as a captive.
  • Shrine to Self: Jane has one of these in her room.
  • Sibling Rivalry
  • Slipknot Ponytail: Blanche's hair comes unravelled out of its updo as Jane's treatment of her worsens.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Jane has no idea that "Baby Jane Hudson" is totally forgotten, and thinks lots of people would love to see her make a comeback.
  • Spoiled Brat: Young Jane was like this.
  • Stepford Smiler: Blanche has always been a big one, but is forced to fake it even more to placate Jane as she gets crazier and more violent.
  • Stylistic Suck: Early in the film, studio executives watch scenes from Jane's films, and note that she's an awful actress. However, those were real scenes from the early movies of Bette Davis.
  • Take Our Word for It: We never find out what Jane wrote about Blanche on the envelope containing her fan letters, with Elvira only saying, "I can't remember the last time I saw words like that written down". (In 1962, it probably would've been impossible to say such words in a movie).
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Since Jane thought she had crippled Blanche, she apparently snapped and became cruel because she thought that she was a bad person and played the part of an evil sister. When she finds out she was totally innocent, she reverts to a sweet, innocent girl - note the use of soft lighting from then on.
  • Timeshifted Actor: Jane and Blanche as children are played by June Allred and Gina Gillespie.
  • Twist Ending: At the end the secret of the accident is revealed by Blanche. It was thought by everybody (even Jane, who was drunk and couldn't remember) that she tried to kill Blanche, but it was actually the other way around. Blanche tried to run over Jane, who was able to get out of the way in time, and instead Blanche snapped her own spine as the car crashed.
    Jane: You mean all this time, we could have been friends?
  • The Unfavorite: Blanche in the 1910s. Her father seems to openly dislike her and though her mother is kinder to her, she is largely overlooked.
    • It's quite possible the roles are reversed when the sisters go to live with their aunt, who openly favors Blanche the same way their father favored Jane.
  • Uncanny Valley Makeup: Jane, so, so much. Bette Davis suggested the idea she never washes her face, she just cakes new makeup on every day.
  • The Unreveal: Does Blanche die there on the beach, or not? We'll never know.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Jane goes completely insane at the end, and when she's discovered by the police, and as a crowd gathers around her, she starts her old song-and-dance routine.
  • Voice Changeling: Jane can perfectly imitate Blanche's voice.
  • What Have I Become?: Jane freaks out when she happens to glance in the mirror when she's reliving her child star career and sees her ravaged, sagging, horribly made up face staring back at her.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Baby Jane, of course. Also a Former Child Star.
    • Just to complete the trifecta, from what little we get to see of when she was a star, she was The Prima Donna. And she seems to have stayed that way...