What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
This really odd horror drama black comedy pairing two former real-life (or would that be reel-life) rival queens of the cinema Bette Davis (in the title role) and Joan Crawford was produced and directed by Robert Aldrich. Based on a novel by Henry Farrell with a screenplay by Lukas Heller it tells the story of two sisters who were formally movie stars in the 1930’s Baby Jane (Davis) being a child actress whose career was largely forgotten in the wake of her sister Blanche Hudson’s (Crawford) success. The setting (present day 1962) finds a much older Blanche forced into premature retirement because of a mysterious automobile accident being cared for by her jealous sister some thirty years later. Baby Jane resents the fact that she’s having to live in Blanche’s home because her sister has the means she never achieved or no longer has. However with control of the situation if not entirely her sanity Jane torments her wheelchair-bound sister who’s mobility is limited to her room as she begins to believe that a comeback career is possible. Victor Buono (in his credited film debut) is perfect as Jane’s pawn Edwin Flagg as she plots unspeakable acts against Blanche; he’s an out-of-work musician that lives with his domineering mother (Marjorie Bennett). Therefore he’s “forced” to take the job as Jane’s piano player; she (actually Debby Burton) sings “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy” while he tries to keep a straight face. Not quite the same situation William Holden’s Joe Gillis finds himself in with Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. (1950) but close. This thriller’s climax is “to die for”. Norma Koch won an Academy Award on her first nomination for B&W Costume Design. Davis relishing in an over-the-top performance earned her last (Best Actress) and Buono received his only (Best Supporting Actor) Oscar nomination. Ernest Haller’s B&W Cinematography and the film’s Sound (Joseph Kelly’s only) was also nominated. A cult classic it’s #63 on AFI’s 100 Most Heart-Pounding Movies list.