Two queens of the silver screen finally appear in a film together rather late in their careers, but they're so perfect in these roles that who can complain about the wait? Joan Crawford is Blanche, the girl who grew up in her sister Jane's child-star shadow before becoming a movie star in her own right while Jane's talent and stardom faded. The elderly Jane is played by Bette Davis, whose self-imposed fright makeup gives her the air of an aged prostitute while she slowly goes bonkers.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is sort of an early warning about the dangers of child stardom: long before Dana Plato robbed a liquor store or Danny Bonaducci assaulted a transvestite, Jane Hudson was quietly going psycho on her sister. The old rambling house in California where the sequestered spinsters live makes the perfect setting for a tale of isolation and torture, which is exactly what unfolds as Jane tries to stage a career revival while waging psychological war on Blanche. If Jane's efforts to drive her sister insane don't terrify you, her tap dance act just might. The likes of Jason and Freddy shrink in comparison to villains like Jane Hudson.
The absence of color in films like this one always draws attention to the lines and details, and DVD provides clarity like you've never had at home. Movies obscured for years by fuzzy video can now be seen as they were meant to be seen, if not in theaters then in the next best thing. Both the widescreen and standard versions look great, although obviously you're losing a lot of image to the sides if you choose not to watch the movie letterboxed.
The sound is provided in mono, since it was originally recorded that way, but it's crisp and clear -- you can hear every horrifying syllable of the elderly Jane's attempts to sing. Speaking of those attempts to sing, if you leave the menu sitting long enough, Davis' voice will erupt from your speakers -- which can really scare the bejeezus out of you if you're not expecting it.
The extras on the disc are entirely text-based, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The notes on the disc provide history on its two stars, as well as insight on their relationship with each other and the film's production. Also included are some "recommendations" for other films with these actors. Some commentary by a film historian would have been welcome, but the most disappointing omission is that of a trailer. It would be nice to know how a film like this was marketed.
Chris Holland, 9/15/00