Creepy opening song by Baby Jane… not creepy in the standard SHOCKtober sense, just that it’s a packed 1917 theater full of women in old-timey hats who inexplicably love a maudlin tune competently sung by a cute kid (semi-competently dubbed, anyway).
In 1935, Jane’s sister Blanche is a movie star and the studio is pissed that her contract says they also have to produce films starring her drunk, untalented little sister Jane (untalented-Bette is represented by Ex-Lady clips, fair enough). Fun’s over when Blanche’s legs get crushed by a car in her own driveway. Thirty years later, the two ex-stars live together, griping back and forth.
Blanche (Joan Crawford, whose film career had dried up since Johnny Guitar) loves her pet parakeet, so of course it’s the first victim – just more evidence that The Shallows was special for letting its birdie survive. Crawford is quietly desperate as her sister isolates her and goes increasingly, dangerously crazy over the next couple days (“You aren’t ever gonna sell this house, and you aren’t ever gonna leave it”). Bette Davis, who it appears had been working more steadily, seems kinda one-note wide-eyed eccentric-horrid, so it’s delightful when she “acts,” impersonating her sister’s voice over the phone.
Just as the situation and dialogue are getting tiresome, the movie introduces sweet Victor Buono, hilarious as a pianist who answers Jane’s newspaper ad to accompany her Baby Jane comeback act. The plot only keeps functioning because Blanche doesn’t yell when he’s over, but she becomes more desperate later after Jane kicks the hell out of her for using the phone, the movie getting better as it gets crazier. Bette scares off Victor, crushes the housekeeper’s skull with a hammer, and takes her dying sister to the beach.
Played Cannes with The Leopard and Harakiri. Nominated for all the Most Acting awards at the oscars, but luck be damned, a Helen Keller movie came out the same year, so it only won for costume design. The same director/star/novelist/screenwriter combo followed up with Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.
The wikis say this is a Grand Guignol horror movie, but this is less well-defined than last night’s Giallo genre (black-gloved assassin kills people with knives – admittedly kind of a crap genre). Apparently it involves naturalism, and its followers claim that all horror movies are Grand-Guignol-influenced because they involve people doing some things that real people really do. The Guignol wikis also reference John Zorn and say the GG’s lead actress was “raped at least 3000 times,” so maybe let’s not linger on this.