Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Bette Davis received her last Oscar nomination for playing the iconic role of 'Baby' Jane Hudson, a forgotten child star in What Eve Happened to Baby Jane? There are some fun stories going on about this nomination of Bette Davis. Apparently, she wanted to win desperately and she was actually the front-runner so she had no false. When she lost eventually, she felt a cold hand on her shoulder and heard the sentence "Sorry. I have an Oscar to accept". That hand belonged to Bette Davis' arch enemy and her co-star Joan Crawford. I guess this is just a lovely anecdote but I don't rule out that this actually happened. Poor Bette, I guess she was a close second. The fact that she had a campy exploitation movie must have ruined her chances.

As I said, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a very campy movie but it's sort of fun. It's a little bit too exaggerated version of Sunset Boulevard but it is a classic on its own right. It's full of suspense, great scenes, memorable lines and such. I think Victor Buono was quite good in his role and probably deserved his nomination. However, writing about these facts seems so unnecessary as this movie is really about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. I bet it must have been (it still is) a real treat to watch these divas fighting. This was a big fight which was won by Bette but Joan could even make a defeat look like a win.

Sometimes I have a really hard time writing about Bette Davis. Sure, she's become one of my favorite actresses (thanks to these reviews) and I got to know much more of her legendary work and yet I don't have the words to describe her talent. No, she's not beautiful and glamorous like Joan Crawford but she had such real, enourmous acting abilities plus a real interesting personality. I don't know but these old-school superstars seem so much more interesting than our new celebrities (that's another reason why Liz Taylor's death was such a big loss). And we won't ever know their secret.

If I held a poll about what's Bette's greatest performance, I imagine it would be a very close one between Baby Jane and Margo Channing. Although I prefer Margo, I don't think I like Baby Jane much less. Both works are true testaments of Bette's huge talent and they are iconic from the first minute to the last. Each and every moment is so strong and memorable. I mean how can you forget Bette singing a stupid song as if she was 5 years old or the way she says "You didn't eat your dindin". Yes, this must seem crazy if you haven't seen the movie. However, if you watch it you'll see how sick and disturbing it really looks on the screen.

Baby Jane Hudson is nothing more than a mentally unstable drunk. And Bette shows this so brutally and depressingly. What always amazes me is that she's both a tragic and a comic character. I laughed out loud many times at her bitchiness (or I guess it goes way beyond Bette's regular bitchiness) and cruelty. However, there's such devastating reality. This performance is mostly criticised because Bette is overacting it. But I always thought? WASN'T THAT THE POINT? Baby Jane was a person of theatrical screams, laughter and basically a five-year-old trapped in a middle-aged body.

However, I felt a kind of sadistic joy when I saw her being mean to Joan's character, Blanche. That horrible laugh when she gets Blanche's reaction to her special gourmet dindin is just wonderful. It's no wonder that it became an iconic moment of film history. Once you see that, you just won't forget it, for sure. But she also nails the scenes where she has to imitate Joan's voice. She's so hysterical there. The "evil side of Jane is shown excellently by Bette and she really brings the suspense to the screen.

And yes, it was devastating to watch Baby Jane struggle and suffer. There's a heart-breaking scene where Jane is standing in front of the mirror and she realizes how old and ugly she's become. It was really painful. Just like her "performances" with Victor Buono's character. Because of these moments (and the ending) I always felt that in the end Jane turned out to be the victim instead of Blanche. I'm not saying why exactly but thos who have seen the movie know it very well. Jane is mentally ill and she's holding onto her childhood and her stardom that never really existed. Bette showed a heart-breaking portrayal of child stars and how horrible their life can become (and it happened way before such things were mentioned). Just look over the names of these child stars: Tatum O'Neal, Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland. Their early stardom ended in addiction and/or way too early death. Bette fearlessly showed these things in a rather exaggerated but extremely shocking way.

This is an iconic performance and rightfully so. It's both delicious and shocking, funny and disgusting. Bette's brilliance is at (another) peak here and she's really unforgettable. No matter what she does on the screen, it's going to be something that you'll never ever forget. She nails each and every nuance of Baby Jane and the result is a fantastic, dazzling and intense work by a brilliant actress.

What do you think?


Fritz said...

I was expecting it!

I forgot to post my prediction for this year. I know you have posted your ranking of the nominees already on your blog but maybe your thoughts have changed by now.


1. Anne
2. Bette
3. Geraldine
4. Katharine
5. Lee

dinasztie said...

Fritz: Don't worry. You can post the prediction any time until the fourth review.

Anonymous said...

Yes! I'm so glad you liked her! She was perfect and your review perfectly showed why, I honestly could write a book on her performance, I feel it has so many layers and levels and she can be dramatic and hilarious at the same time, it's over the top but like you said, that how it was meant to be. Just BRILLIANT! I hope she's at least in your top 3 (of this year because I know it won't be possible to get on the all time top 3).

mrripley said...

I would like to know what you thought of joan,i always wished bette would've received a nom in 87 for the whales of august!!!!

dinasztie said...

Joan was good but not amazing.

Louis Morgan said...

An entertaining and effective performance, and I basically agree with your assessment. I suppose she is not quite a five for me.

Brandon B. said...

"Oh really, did she like it?"

I love this movie and performance. It takes a great actor to anchor and control such an over the top beast like Baby Jane, and Davis does that here -- approprietley broad but grounded in a twisted, plausible reality.

And who doesn't love her Boston accent!? In fact she went to my old high school (not the same building, but the same school). "Butcha' ahh Blanche!"

dinasztie said...

Brandon: She went to your high school? Oh really? Did she like it? :P

ThiagoTos said...

For me, this performance is memorable, but very, very overacted. Bette Davis is an incredible actress, for sure. But her strong personality and mannerisms never let me see the character, I always see the actress.

By the way, there are so many rumors about the competition between the two legends and they're quite funny.

Greetings from Brazil (:

dinasztie said...

ThiagoTos: Thanks. :D

Brandon B. said...

Haha, I do assumed she liked it because she never lost the accent!