Monday, August 07, 2017

Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? 1962

I watched this again for maybe the 4th or 5th time the other night, but this time a friend who had never seen it joined me for this freak fest from the deep bowels of 1962 Hollywood. He didn’t care for it much. His taste runs to schlock grade Z horror and sci-fi films, the lousier the better, and he made me sit through a viewing of the 1957 “I Was A Teenage Werewolf “ a favorite of mine from my adolescence I will admit. Actually the double bill wasn’t as far fetched as it might seem. Both are about outcasts and both use actual L.A. locations and both are campy and low. So much has been written about, Baby Jane, this camp treasure from the day it opened without much fanfare in 62 to now because of the recent popular tv movie Feud.
I saw it for the first time from the balcony of my neighborhood RKO theatre one friday night. I was 15 and what I most remember besides the movie are the group of young Brooklyn smart ass lesbians who sat behind me and my friends and made witty and snarky comments some of which I still remember, I laughed my self silly over their remarks, but at the time I of course had no idea of their sexual orientation, that came to me many years later.
The film was a big hit and a huge money maker which surprised everyone especially those connected with the making of it. Who would want to see a movie that starred two old has been movie stars, well evidently many did. I of course knew who Davis and Crawford were and connected with them as they skidded and slipped among the palm trees of L.A. causing havoc and despair.
The film was directed by Robert Aldrich who had a good career making B’s and sometimes A’s but mostly B’s and this was his ticket to ride among the big leagues, the major players. The story is seeped in Hollywood lore and gore that adds to the fun, and yes the film is fun but it’s also sad and grim.
The film is about two sisters one who seems good, and one who seems bad. One had a big Hollywood career in the 30’s until a terrible accident ended her career; the other sister was a child star in vaudeville (the time lines are a little murky) but was a flop when she tried the movies. Here Aldrich mixes in real clips from early films of both stars that help to add to the texture and reality of the story.
After the terrible accident they both retired to their gothic falling apart mansion and Baby Jane now grotesque and cuckoo is forced to take care of Blanche who is stuck in a wheel chair because of the accident. Jane is a bitch and is very mean to Blanche and tortures her mentally and even sometimes physically and lucky for Blanche there is a kind African American care giver who tries to protect her from Jane and pays dearly for her loyalty. Also in the picture is the young Victor Buono as a user and sham who lives with his mother and who answers a help wanted ad that Jane takes out to find someone who can help her with her comeback into show biz.
Buono who got an Oscar nomination (so did Davis) is an overweight moma’s boy who slouches, schleps, sweats and plots to get some money out of Davis for his false encouragement on her comeback as Davis pathetically sings to him the overhanging tune in the film “I’m writing a letter to Daddy.”
As I said it is a freak show a grotesque dark comedy of human errors played in a Grand Guignol fashion but in sunny and blank L.A. Also in the cast is the wonderful Marjorie Bennett as Victor’s sleazy mom, Anna Lee as a nosey neighbor and B.D. Merrill as her daughter who in real life was Bette’s daughter who took a cleaver to her in a tell all book. The film has good set design especially the house interiors that pretty much drips all over the place and Norma Koch won an Oscar for her costumes for a black and white film. The music by the light Frank DeVol is overdone and Mickey Mouse and intrudes and almost ruins the film, but the high contrast cinematography is done by the veteran and terrific Ernest Haller who knows how to light and darken the cast. The film had a huge effect on Hollywood and spawned many lesser campy spin offs and toss offs, and gave Davis and Crawford a boost to their dead careers, at least for a while.


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