The Hudson sisters--Davis and Crawford--are aging actresses who live in a rotting Los Angeles mansion. Davis had been a spoiled brat vaudeville headliner known as "Baby Jane," but as she grew older her career faded. Crawford lived in her shadow as a girl but had an enormously successful adult
career as a screen glamour girl. But she was unable to help Davis gain a career in film, due to the latter's drinking and eccentric behavior. At the peak of her stardom, Crawford suffered a career-ending accident for which Davis was seemingly responsible. Ever since then the two have lived
together in mutual enmity, tended to by their maid, Norman. When Davis learns that her wheelchair-bound sister is planning to sell the mansion and put her in a sanitarium, she begins terrorizing Crawford; at the same time, she enlists the service of Buono, a young pianist who she hopes will help
her make a comeback. The film then suspensefully builds its way to a conclusion that puts a new spin on the relationship between the two sisters.
As in the best Hitchcock movies, suspense, rather than actual mayhem, drives the film. The screenplay, by Lukas Heller, was based on the novel by Henry Farrell (who also authored the novel HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE and scripted WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?).
Aldrich had his hands full balancing the overblown but sensitive egos of the rival actresses. If full-scale battle never erupted, it is still correct to say that battle lines were constantly being drawn. The original choice to star with Davis was Tallulah Bankhead (a far more lethal combination
than the eventual one) when the property began floating around Hollywood, but Crawford acquired rights to the property, and offered it to Davis while the latter was unhappily appearing on Broadway in Night of the Iquana. Davis commanded a larger salary, Crawford a larger percentage of the gross
(Joan's years at Pepsi-Cola paid off). Davis's foot allegedly made contact with Crawford's head during a scene where Baby Jane punts her sister around the living room. Crawford supposedly retaliated by use of the old Veronica Lake trick (see I MARRIED A WITCH) by rigging weights under her robe for
a scene where Davis had to drag her, and Davis hurt her back. Crawford shared a private joke on Davis by sending hairdresser Peggy Shannon to MGM to secure her old blonde wig from ICE FOLLIES OF 1939 for Davis to wear. Davis bitched to Aldrich about Crawford's drinking (both were alcoholics) and
padded brassieres; Crawford insulted Davis's daughter (who appeared in the film--to put it kindly, she was not burdened by her mother's talent), and the incidents go on and on.
In a bucket of gooey make-up, Davis cried when she saw herself in rushes (the limited budget precluded re-shooting) but her excessive performance is riveting--capturing the malevolence Lynn Redgrave lacked in the 1991 TV remake. Crawford wisely underacts--if her performance isn't as showy as
Davis's, it's not any less accomplished. leave a comment
Star wars, trenchantly served, with Davis as wharf rat and Crawford a frantic parakeet. If it sometimes looks like a posionous senior citizen show with over-the-top spoiled ham, just try to look away. Bringing the screen's queens of sadism and masochism together for this slice of Camp
Hollywood gothic horror revitalized the careers of both.