Bette Davis once famously said the most fun she ever had with Joan Crawford was pushing her down the stairs in ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’.
From a casting point of view, featuring two strong actresses who had for years been involved in a very public and bitter rivalry is just inspired, as the story hinges on just this relationship between sisters Jane and Blanche Hudson.
It’s unavoidable to think that the real-life relationship between the two leads didn’t spill over on to the screen and during the planning stages someone must have had a wicked sense of humour to say nothing of irony.
The sisters’ enmity stems from their contrasting experiences in showbusiness; Jane (Davis) as a spoiled, indulged child star in vaudeville regarded with envy by her overlooked sister Blanche (Crawford) and then, in later life, the roles are reversed when Blanche becomes a glamorous movie star while Jane’s star is in the descendant and her career is bombing at the box office.
Green-eyed jealousy comes screaming to the surface when, returning home after a party, years of resentment boil over and one sister is shown driving their car into the other although, cleverly, leaving open the question of which one. Spooling forward by years, the sisters are living together, wheelchair-bound Blanche almost entirely dependent on Jane, by this time an alcoholic in denial that her looks are going the same way as her career.
Both women have retreated to their pasts to make their present situation more liveable but it’s clear Blanche is virtually a prisoner, terrorised by Jane and, as gradually becomes apparent, in fear for her life as her sister’s mental condition deteriorates. But is all it appears to be? It’s a darkly psychological thriller played fantastically by the two leads, Bette Davis garnering a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal of the decaying former child star.