Thursday, December 23, 2010

What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?

Robert Aldrich, 1962, bw (8.4*)
Anyone who doubted that Bette Davis is the best actress of the 20th century only need see her sadistic domineering role in Baby Jane, where she plays a psychotic "American Sweetheart", a former child star gone mad who looks like a senile Mary Pickford or Shirley Temple with dementia.

Jane Hudson is former child star "Baby Jane", now retired in L.A. with only memories of her stardom. The object of adult Jane's ire is her partially paralyzed sister, Blanche, wheelchair bound and dependent on Jane's care, which includes being tied up and occasionally beaten. Long-time acting rival Joan Crawford is also perfect in this part, and based on the hearsay that they were never friends, one can actually feel Davis' hatred of Crawford, and imagine that she relishes the punishment she dishes out to her on celluloid. In one particularly creepy scene, she dumps Blanche on the floor then kicks her around like dirty laundry.

This is one of the more spine-tingling films ever put onscreen, for unlike a typical Universal horror film, here the violence and terror is all too real. We've all known elderly people who have a screw loose or two, but Jane has come completely unhinged altogether, yet is still in charge of her own life and her sister's. Blanche seeks help from outsiders, but is constantly twarted by Jane, often in the nick of time in true "Hitchkockian fashion".

The beauty of Davis' performance is that she can shift from demented anger to girlish charm as the situation demands, and yet she is especially creepy in either guise. Davis was only 54 when she played this part, but due to garish white makeup and especially baggy eyes, she appears to be in her 70's, yet still wears the dress and hairstyle popular when she was a child star. Only a true actor would allow herself to be filmed while looking worse than death itself.

She was nominated for numerous acting awards for this performance, including all the big ones (Oscar®, BAFTA, Golden Globe) yet won nothing. The film won 2 awards out of 12 nominations, one Oscar® for bw costume design, and was actually a runner-up at Cannes.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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