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what_ever_happened_to_baby_janeWHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?
Written by Henry Farrell and Lucas Heller
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford

 Jane: You mean all this time we could have been friends?

The aging starlet has long been a topic of Hollywood films. One can only imagine what it must have been like to be at the forefront of the film industry, only to see yourself be one of the first on the way out because your aging face wasn’t what the studios wanted to put up on the big screen. SUNSET BOULEVARD is one of the greatest of these tales ever filmed, depicting a faded star attempting to reincarnate her image in the eyes of the public. It is far different in tone from ALL ABOUT EVE, a film that pits an older stage star against a younger actress with unstoppable ambition. WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? takes the aging Hollywood starlet to a whole other extreme, turning her into a monster, a gargoyle looking beast of a woman who is essentially bat-shit crazy.

As art imitates life, and often the other way around, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? uses two real life Hollywood leading ladies, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in one of the greatest Hollywood showdowns ever seen on screen. Crawford and Davis made names for themselves with films like OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS and THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD, respectively, and continued to impress audiences with the now classic films JOHNNY GUITAR and ALL ABOUT EVE.  But when 1962’s BABY JANE came around, a new wave of young faces was already gracing the silver screen, ushering a new audience into cinemas, leaving these two aging screen stars with dwindling careers. What better way to reignite their careers than with a movie about two aging stars methodically destroying one another? Unfortunately this film did little in the way of a career boost for both Davis and Crawford, and the two were subsequently cast in a series of made for TV movies and low-budget thrillers like STRAIGHT-JACKET, TROG and BURNT OFFERINGS. But at least they both gave it one last hoorah, and WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? is now seen as, oddly enough, both a camp classic and a masterpiece of the Hollywood gothic thriller.


The film opens in 1917 with Vaudeville star, Baby Jane Hudson (Davis later, Julie Alfred in 1917), on center stage as a singing and dancing sensation. She performs with her father to a more than eager audience, and treats them to one of the creepiest songs you’ll ever hear, “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy“. Of course as the show comes to an end, her father informs the audience that life-like Baby Jane dolls are for sale when they exit the theatre, which are quite possibly the most disturbing dolls you’ll ever see; they even sport real hair on the tops of their heads. Cut to the backstage antics, we see that Baby Jane, unsurprisingly, is a bratty spoiled starlet who demands to get her way, and constantly overshadows her sister Blanche (Crawford). A couple of years later, studio execs are watching clips from the latest Jane Hudson movie, somehow this little princess has found her way into film, and we learn that the studio thinks her acting is terrible and wants her out of the studio. This leaves the tables turned with the once shadowed, Blanche, now risen to be a Hollywood screen star and adored by fans, and the once popular Jane, now just jealous. But one night after a party there is a terrible accident and Blanche is run down on her driveway, leaving her in a wheelchair.

Many years after these events, both of their careers now over, Blanche and Jane Hudson live together in the same house, a mansion previously owned by Valentino. Wheelchair-bound, Blanche relies on her sister to care for her, and even though she has grown up, the once-child star is still just as jealous and just as bratty as she was in her youth. A TV channel is running a series of Blanche’s earlier films, which we learn are loved by her fans, and this seems to send Jane over the edge of her already teetering sanity. Jane verbally and emotionally abuses her sister and takes advantage of the fact that she is in a chair, mostly helpless, and attempts to reignite her own stage career with the help of a composer (Victor Buono) she found through a personal ad. What follows is a game of cat and mouse by two sisters who have a deep rooted jealously between them; one is outright evil and abusive while the other prefers the passive-aggressive route of antagonizing her sister. Jane spirals further and further into her own insanity and paranoia, while Blanche attempts desperately to contact anyone in the outside world who will listen and help her move her sister into a home where she can receive the care she needs.


Both the performances by Davis and Crawford prove that they are each a force to be reckoned with; they are unforgiving, powerful performances that will get right under your skin. Davis’ face, with her caked on makeup and childish demeanor in the public eye, is the stuff nightmares are made of, something from a Brother’s Grimm fairytale even. And Crawford’s Blanche, while seemingly to be the victim in all of this, is simply using her hardened stoicism to sway the audience in her favor. The large house the sisters live in is as creepy as any haunted house should be, however the ghosts in this movie are still alive and walking the halls. While one sister sings to her dolls, the other is kept away from the outside world by a dark and looming staircase that is shown many times throughout the film. It is itself quite ominous with the dark shadows of the house creeping through every corner.

My only complaint I have with this film, and one I have each time I’ve viewed it, is the pacing and running time. At 2 hours and 15 minutes there are moments that seem to drag on for the sake of giving more screen time to both of the stars, and plot points begin to feel repetitive after a while. I’ve found myself verging on boredom on numerous occasions viewing this film, something that the camp and shrill voices just can’t seem to compensate for. I have long since been a Crawford fan, and I am more recently coming around to appreciate the films of Davis, but WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? doesn’t sit anywhere near the top of my list. The pacing does a lot to slow down the film, and at times it just feels like a war between the two stars, seeing what more they can do to one another, than it does a story with much to tell. At the end of it all, once all secrets of the story are revealed, it’s a rather, dare I say, simple one of an all consuming jealousy that has destroyed the relationship between sisters that is about 1/2 an hour too long. I always wished it was more about Blanche Hudson, but as the title obviously states, it is not.


WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? is a dark and often times disturbing film that has moments filled with glorious camp; seeing the two stars battle it out is actually at times quite hilarious, but it mostly comes from the tales surrounding the filming of the movie, rather than the movie itself. Allegedly Davis kicked Crawford so hard she needed stitches, and in a scene where Davis drags Crawford across the floor she has apparently filled her pockets with weights to make it even more difficult for Davis. We may never know whether these things happened or not but it’s still amusing to know that these two starlets didn’t give into Hollywood’s ageism without a good fight, or without making a complete spectacle of themselves first.


WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? screens at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Saturday, December 7, as part of their Bette Davis series, The Hard Way: The Films of Bette Davis. For more information and for tickets, please visit

And don’t miss Black Sheep’s feature, My Top 5 Bette Davis Films!



  1. Just 4? But it’s perfect! I mean, every time I see Davis sing “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy” part of me dies and another is born. “You forgot cher money!!!”

  2. Disagree with the review. Movie is perfect, And to me, it’s one of my favorite movies ever. Joan and Bette dont need to prove anything to anyone. Even though they both hated each other but they were still more alike than they could imagine.

    • Thats great that you disagree, but telling me you think it’s perfect doesn’t tell me why you like it. I never said either star had to “prove anything”, in fact I make multiple points stating the opposite. It’s a good film that I feel is faulted by its running time and some plot redundancies. But I’m glad you’ve read my review and cared to share your opinion.

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