From the salacious gossip that accompanied its release in the 1960s to its afterlife as a camp classic beloved by drag queens, through to Ryan Murphy’s recent revival for the TV show Feud, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane is a movie almost entirely defined by its context – and by its impact on the lives and careers of its two stars, imperious Hollywood divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
It’s an irresistible story, if one that has almost certainly been warped by a variety of far-from neutral perspectives over the decades. But Whatever Happened To Baby Jane is far more than the sum of its back story. It’s a taut, darkly funny but also emotionally grounded thriller, elevated by two truly exceptional performances by a pair of actresses delivering career-best performances.
Bette Davis walks away with the film, of course. As the title character, she doesn’t so much chew on the scenery as devour it. But her Baby Jane Hudson isn’t just an exercise in camp theatrics; it’s a richly layered performance filled with nuance and detail.
Joan Crawford often gets dismissed as the vain movie star compared to Davis’ uninhibited turn, but there’s something genuinely poignant about the seemingly thin line between Blanche Hudson and Crawford herself, particularly in the early scenes in which she watches her old movies, wistfully reminiscing about her youth and beauty. She doesn’t get as many of the quotable lines as Davis, but she’s right not to try to match her powerhouse co-star, and her more restrained performance anchors the film and keeps it (just) on the right side of ludicrousness.
On this week’s podcast, we recap the plot of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and discuss some of our favourite and most memorable moments, including a genuinely horrifying opening, some questionable car wreck logistics, Bette Davis’ brilliant lack of ego and why you should never turn your back on a crazy person with access to a hammer…
We also pitch some drinking games, check in with our listeners and imagine what a rematch might actually have looked like with some sequel pitches. If you enjoy the show, you can hit subscribe to receive a new episode every Monday morning. You can also leave us a review on your podcatcher of choice, which really helps us to reach new listeners.
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Next week, we’ll be revisiting Harry’s favourite movie genre with a ridiculous disaster epic over 5,000 years in the making. Until then, happy listening and remember – be nice to your siblings!