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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962)

It's the little Grande Dame Guinold that could. Worked up against all the odds by producer/director Robert Aldrich as a co-starring vehicle for Joan Crawford (whom he’d worked with before) and Bette Davis (whom he hadn’t), the film is often miscategorized as camp drag queen horror from a pair of decaying Golden Age Hollywood legends. But grouping this with the many other sadistic fright pics for faded old-timers that followed in its successful wake undercuts the authentic masochism of Crawford’s stoic playing (though she seems unaware of how Aldrich is using her polite/pathetic zigzags), to say nothing of the film’s true glory in the carefully calibrated delusion of Davis at work & play. ‘Gaslighting’ and torturing the wheelchair-bound older sister who topped her as a star when they moved from vaudeville to the movies, Davis is working on some other artistic plane of cackling bitchery; hysterical in every sense of the word. (She might have been hatched in Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty.) The film could use a bit of trimming, and the real ‘30s movie clips meant to show Davis as also-ran and sis as a natural give, if anything, the opposite effect. (And what beautiful film grain & lighting in the old Davis pics.) But the film still gets its effects across; something few of the copycat thrillers delivered.

DOUBLE-BILL: Conceived as a Davis/Crawford follow up, HUSH . . . HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE/’64 got a break when Olivia de Havilland stepped in for the indisposed Crawford. An infinitely more subtle actress (not necessarily an improvement in these things), she works extremely well against Davis, and keeps the surprises from being telegraphed. It’s more of a dumb-fun thrill ride than BABY, with Agnes Moorehead’s housekeeper doing duty as resident gargoyle, and a real tape-worm of a title song.

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