Sunday, December 9, 2007

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is a rather recent addition to a cult status. You see, it had a large budget, Oscar winning actresses and was a huge success when it was released... all of which are traits that would be really hard to include in any kind of cult film. I think the reason it's gained a lot of cult status is that this was intended to be a suspense/drama and turned out to be incredibly funny. Unintentional humor is usually a large part of what makes a cult film. Another aspect that makes this movie great is the off-screen antics of the films two main actresses. Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, who were in constant competition of the coveted title of Queen Bitch of Hollywood, a feud that had been growing for years before "Baby Jane" was filmed. Both actresses were practically fossils when they made this movie and were considered very low profile. One director even stated "I wouldn't give a wooden nickel for those two old broads." But director Robert Aldrich saw it differently and had struck upon a great idea... take two actresses who literally hated each others guts and put them both in a movie where their characters hate each others guts. Absolutely brilliant!! That hatred for each other fueled some of the best acting ever produced, with absolutely no inspiration needed at all. The story goes a little like this... In 1917 Baby Jane Hudson was the child star to end all child stars, singing and dancing her way across America's heart. But then she went and committed the worst crime that a child star can do... she grew up. Fast forward to 1935, Jane's sister Blanche has become the most successful actresses of her time and Jane's career is in the toilet. One night, the two of them are returning home from a party, we see one sister get out of the car to unlock the gates and the other sister hits the gas and outright runs her down. Fast forward again to "yesterday"... Blanche is in a wheelchair and Jane is her care giver. Basically two old biddies living in an old Hollywood house, and have been out of the spotlight for some time now, one was a star for a few years as a child and the other sister a much more successful actress as an adult for a much longer time. For years, the hatred and resentment has been building, until Jane is quite fed up with what she considers to be the sacrifice of her career for the sake of caring for her sister. The insinuation being that Jane ran Blanche down (just to be a bitch, I guess), so out of guilt takes care of her sister. Jane begins to treat her sister very badly and we soon learn that she also appears to be losing her grasp on reality. When they begin showing some of Blanche's old movies on television (before we had VCR's) Jane is terribly jealous and her abuse against Blanche become bizarrely inhumane. She takes out the phone in Blanche's room, is keeping flowers and fan mail meant for Blanche, she even cooks Blanche's parakeet and then serves it to her for dinner. Oh and didn't I also mention that Jane is now a raging alcoholic? The loonier Jane gets, the more desperate Blanche becomes, after all it's gotta be pretty scary to be dependent on someone who hates and resents you, cooks you parakeets and rats for dinner, is forging your signature and stealing from your bank account, and is by all means becoming a complete lunatic. All while slowly starving her sister to death, Jane is also trying to revive her act as "Baby Jane Hudson". Acting and dressing like when she was a young star, which of course looks totally creepy on someone who is now in her late 60's. Through the newspaper, she places an ad for a partner in reviving her career. She meets Edwin, who also thinks she's a nut, but a nut with money. He's just after the cash, therefore he indulges her looniness for the sake of making some money. Blanche's friend Elvira comes to find out why Blanche can't be reached on the phone and why Jane won't let her go upstairs to Blanche's room. Opening the door and finding Blanche hog tied to the bed with her mouth taped shut, she tries to help. Unfortunately Jane clobbers Elvira with a hammer from behind and kills her before she can help. That night, Jane dumps the body. A day or two later cops come questioning Jane about Elvira's disappearance, so Jane panics, grabs her barely conscious sister and heads for the beach. While lying on the beach, Jane plays in the sand while Blanche lies there dying. A wonderful twist ending occurs (which I normally wouldn't tell people, but what the hell, it's my blog). As a dying confession, Blanche reveals that it was actually her that was driving the car that fateful night, and not her sister Jane. Blanche had a hatred for Jane ever since they were little when Jane was getting all the attention. Apparently, Jane had been a real bitch to Blanche at the party that they had just returned home from and that it was Blanche that was driving, not jane who was unlocking the gates, and tried to run Jane down with the car, snapping her spine and crippling herself. She crawled out of the car and up to the gates and when the cops arrived they assumed Jane had done it. Jane was apparently too drunk to know what had happened. Then, one of the best lines of the movie... "You mean, all this time we could've been friends?". By now people are noticing a dying Blanche and a dancing Jane, so pretty soon the cops arrive, the end. We're left with the assumptions that Blanche gets the help she needs within minutes of losing her life, and that Jane is finally carted off to the funny farm where she seriously belongs. As I stated before, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis hated each other so there was definitely some awful tension going back and forth off camera (which greatly enhanced their performances on camera). A few examples: Joan Crawford was the CEO for Pepsi Cola at the time, therefore Bette Davis had Coca-Cola (Pepsi's biggest rival) machines installed everywhere. There's a scene where Jane is kicking the crap out of Blanche, and they had to use a dummy because Joan Crawford didn't trust Bette Davis to not actually kick her. In a scene where Jane is dragging Blanche out of bed and into the hall, you can tell that Bette Davis is really having a hard time carrying and dragging her, this is due to the fact that Joan Crawford hid heavy weights under her dress so that she would be much heavier when they had to do the scene. I could go on and on, the trivia for this movie is as fascinating as the movie itself. Even director Robert Aldrich was surprised (and relieved) when Bette Davis opted to do her own make-up for the film which is really terrible. He also stated that he would be literally too scared of her to make her look that bad. This truly is a great movie and is now really becoming a true cult classic.