What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Aldrich, 1962)

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is a film with some great pieces that don’t quite come together for me. There are a lot of good pieces really. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are both wonderful, although I wish Crawford had been given more to work with in terms of her character. The plot concept is great. The house that is the setting for most of the movie is creepy and very well done. A few of the supporting roles shine: the curious neighbor, the maid. It was in putting the pieces together that Aldrich left some potentialities unfulfilled.

Before I enter into spoiler land, let me summarize: This is a very good movie, if not “great”. I’m glad I watched it. If you like stylish, psychological thrillers, there are some good scary parts.

Spoilers follow.

The biggest overall failure in the movie for me was that Crawford’s character didn’t foreshadow the movie-ending reveal – that she had in fact crippled herself when she tried to kill her sister. So, the plot twist dropped out of the sky and fell completely flat. Crawford’s character was fairly one-dimensional – so pitiful and so helpless. Then we find out in the end that she has a streak of murderess in her – just seemed awfully unlikely.

The accompanist and his irritating mother were interesting in their own right as characters, but I thought they were a distraction at a point in the movie where tension was building. For a movie that seemed to want to be a Hitchcock flick, it was odd to see a big loose end flapping around like that – so unlike Hitchcock.

For most of the film we are cooped up in a spooky house, just like Crawford’s character – only getting an occasional glimpse of the outside world. This was very effective. The scenes outside the house seemed much less effective and mostly detracted from the claustrophobic feel of the movie when they could have added to it. The final setting at the beach seemed to cry out for more: finally free of the house we expect some profound change in the characters and their relationship that mirrors the setting. But, the beach scenes go on too long and don’t really mean much of anything at all – although they are interesting as stand-alone chunks of film “theater”. The just aren’t integrated into the overall thrust of the film in an interesting way.

So, I would disagree with this being a “Great Movie” – a very good movie with some very interesting pieces, but too many lost opportunities to be quite “great”. I’m very glad I saw it, though. I’ve always admired Bette Davis’s acting abilities and I feel like I know Jane Crawford as an actress much better now. I’ve seen a lot of Davis’s films – I’m now eager to see more Crawford.

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