Whatever Happened to Baby Jane: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 6 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

In 1917, Baby Jane Hudson was a child star of epic proportions and her presence brought in audiences in droves. She was so popular that at one time, the dolls of her likeness were a best seller. Meanwhile, her sister Blanche sat in wait and endured her sister’s bad attitude as she basked in her fame. As time passed however, Jane (Bette Davis) and Blanche (Joan Crawford) would both become movie actresses, though decades after her success as a child, Jane was now the forgotten one. Blanche had become a huge star of the screen and while Jane still got roles, she was seen as a hanger on, riding her sister’s coattails. Blanche bought a lush mansion for the two to live in, while Jane spiraled into a drunken abyss. The stardom of both sisters would soon come to an end however, when an accident would leave Blanche crippled. The rumors of Jane being at fault were constant, but no charges were ever filed. After the accident, neither sister would work in films again and Jane began to fall deeper and deeper into madness. She began to wear clothes like she did in her childhood and as for Blanche, she was turned into a prisoner in her own home. As the tension mounts and Jane turns even more twisted, what will become of these once beloved sisters?

If you take your humor black, then Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a must see, as humor doesn’t come much blacker. The dark tone wasn’t just present when the cameras rolled either, as there was a lot of heat between the two leads. The hatred is the stuff of cinema legend, as aging actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford squared off during the shoot. How much is truth and how much is hype is unknown to me, but stories abound of what the two engaged in on the shoot. But enough of the real life drama, as even it can’t compete with the pitch black material that hatred, however real it was, produced. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a thriller at its core, with all the elements needed therein, but the black streak of humor is ever present. There is melodrama in thick doses, which I normally dislike, but within this insane tale, it makes sense and works. The movie isn’t slow per se, but the build is gradual and the tension is tighter as time passes. I do think the duration is a bit much, at well over two hours, but not enough to spoil the fun. Davis and Crawford are beyond great and you can tell both are on their games, really putting a lot into their performances. I consider this to be a terrific picture and as such, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? warrants a solid recommendation.

Video: How does it look?

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. While not quite on par with Warner’s high end restorations, this transfer more than holds its own. I am sure some restoration has been done however, just not a full scale effort. Even so, whatever level of restoration was involved, the transfer shines and really allows the black & white visuals to impress. The print has small signs of the tolls of time, but is very clean and never puts a damper on the visuals. The contrast is crucial for a black & white movie and here, the black levels perform up to snuff. There is no loss of detail in the shadows, nor is the image ever washed out, an impressive visual effort all around.

Audio: How does it sound?

The included mono track covers the basics, but as is the norm with the format, it does little else. But it works well here and I think a new mix would be a waste of resources, so kudos to Warner for keeping with the original tracks on this macabre classic. I found this to be a solid experience and aside from some slight hiss, this track never slips up too much. The music seems well mixed here, the sound effects remain clear and distinct, and the main focus, the dialogue, is crisp and shows no flaws in the end. This release also includes a French language track, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The commentary here is with two transgender performers and while they are humorous at times, I’d prefer a film historian over this. The stories are all second hand and for a film like this, I value insight over humor. You can also view well crafted documentaries on each of the leads, as well as a third piece that examines the tension between the two. These run from twenty-eight to forty-eight minutes in length, so ample time is allowed to explore the actresses in depth. This release also includes an excerpt from a Davis television appearance, a vintage featurette, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

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