Occasionally, I will watch a film that will truly haunt me. When this happens I can not seem to get the images or sounds of the film out of my head for several days. After watching The Arbor and Haneke’s Amour, I found myself constantly referring back to these films in my mind and replaying specific scenes in my head. I do not intend for this to sound like a negative thing, on the contrary, it is the mark of a beautifully executed piece of cinema. One of my most recent experiences of this was late on a Saturday night watching Robert Aldrich’s sensationally creepy What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Bette Davis takes centre stage in this unnerving tale of one woman’s violent descent into insanity. Jane Hudson, formerly known as “Baby Jane Hudson“, lives with the agony of a lost career. She has been unable to let go of her desire for fame and adoration since her days as a childhood star. Now, taking care of her older sister, (played by the flawless Joan Crawford), Jane begins to show signs of a darker hatred and intention towards her sibling whom she has always detested due to her success as a Hollywood actress during her early adult years.
Bette Davis, now, for me, will forever represent cinematic madness. Gloria Swanson’s portrayal as the unhinged Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd. is incredibly iconic. Swanson is marvellous and deserves such high recgnition for a truly mesmerising performance. However, there is something about Davis that made my skin crawl. Where Swanson always remained glamorous, Davis sinks into a hideousness that is unlike anything I have witnessed in any psychological horror film. Her deterioration is clear for all to see and her unstable mind is reflected in her, physically. Davis does not rush her horrific transformation. She succeeds in keeping the most eerie elements hidden until the final moments of the picture.
Joan Crawford is equally wonderful. Her character, beautiful and likeable, contrasts Davis very effectively. As Jane descends into madness, Crawford descends into fear. Crawford is a simplistic actress who knows how to use the camera to full effect. Nothing is over acted by Crawford, emphasising Davis’ monstrous creation even more. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is delightfully sinister. The plot moves at a stable and entertaining pace and the film appears to be directed with care and precision. As I left the Hyde Park Picture House I was certain of two things: one, Bette Davis had just given the most harrowing performance I had ever seen on screen and two, that performance could only be truly appreciated on the silver screen. As I walked home I found myself wondering if a television screen could even contain Jane Hudson, surely she would just burst out of every side of the television set.