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More than thirty-five years after it was made, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? ($25) remains a remarkable piece of cinema. With WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, director Robert Aldrich created a highly effective and incredibly disturbing piece of psychological horror which has gone on to become regarded as a classic of the genre. When he tried to get the project off the ground, Aldrich had to deal with the reluctance of the Hollywood studio system, which didn’t see much potential in the film nor with Aldrich’s choices for leading actresses in the piece. Aldrich was vindicated when WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? proved enormously popular with the public, plus the film served to revive the careers of two of Hollywood’s greatest screen legends whom every Hollywood studio executive considered unbankable has-beens.

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford star as sisters, Jane and Blanche Hudson. During her childhood, Baby Jane Hudson was an enormously popular and spoiled child star in vaudeville. Her sister Blanche achieved fame later in life in Hollywood and became a top box office draw. Unfortunately, Jane was unable to make the transition from child star to adult actress and Blanche allowed Jane to ride her coattails, even when the studio wanted no part of her. One night after a Hollywood party, there is an accident that changes both sisters’ lives forever.

The plot then flashes forward a good thirty years, where we find Blanche confined to a wheelchair due to the accident. Out of a sense of guilt, Jane has remained with her sister all these years, but time has been unkind to her. Jane is a terrible alcoholic who teeters close to a complete mental breakdown. Blanche realizes that Jane needs help and decides to sell their home and get Jane the help she needs. Unfortunately for Blanche, Jane discovers the truth and goes completely over the edge. Jane begins a reign of psychological and physical torture on her invalid sister, while making plans for Baby Jane’s big comeback. Baby Jane is a horrifying character who seethes with the rage of a spoiled child, yet Davis brings a subtle poignancy to the role, making Jane a sympathetic victim of her circumstances. Bette Davis received an Academy Award nomination for her brave and disturbing performance. Davis herself designed the garish Baby Jane makeup, creating a look that is pathetic, yet slightly horrific.

Joan Crawford gives an equally strong performance as the crippled and victimized Blanche (although with MOMMY DEAREST in the back of my mind, I found myself kind of enjoying watching Joan Crawford suffer). Character actor Victor Buono made quite an impression with his screen debut in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?. Buono’s portrayal of a mother-dominated musician looking to break away from her and ingratiate himself into the life of Baby Jane Hudson earned him an Academy Award nomination. The cast of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? also features Anna Lee, Barbara Merrill, Robert Cornthwaite, Marjorie Bennett and Maidie Norman.

Warner Home Video offers WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? in both Letterboxed and pan and scan presentations on opposite sides of the DVD. The pan and scan version crops the image somewhat, obscuring characters at the edges of the frame. The black and white image is slightly grainy on the cropped presentation, although the image has good contrast and detail. The Letterboxed presentation restores WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? to its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio, giving the film a clear compositional focus. Ernest Haller’s Oscar nominated black and white cinematography looks fabulous on the DVD thanks to the superior Letterboxed transfer. The image is razor sharp with deep blacks and excellent contrast.

According to the DVD packaging WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? Is supposed to have a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. This is not the case. However, the Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is quite strong and will take a fair amount of amplification. Other soundtrack options include a French language track. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.

The interactive menus offer access to extensive production notes, plus cast and crew biographies/filmographies.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? is an out and out classic for horror fans and old time movie fans alike. This great looking DVD edition will make a worthwhile addition to most personal movie libraries. Recommended.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1988 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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