Happy 50th Birthday Whatever Happened To Baby Jane

17 Oct

I must have been aged around four years old when I won the bright red plastic lips in a Christmas Cracker, then synchronicity played it’s part!

As I was parading around the dining room section of our living room, modelling the lips, an old movie was playing on the chunky television.  I suddenly realised all the eyes in the room were staring at the flickering screen and not my hilarious antics.

On the dusty monitor a woman with startling eyes, razor sharp cheek bones and lips so red I could see them radiating in black and white, was holding court, she was magnificent, with one swift swipe she hit the insignificant male around the face.  That was it, I fell in adoration, I had found my icon.

Bette Davis became my movie idol, as I got older I found every book I could that had been written about her or by her and devoured it, I savoured every fact and recollection and it all served to increase my ardour.

I adored all her films, but there was one movie that to me stood head and shoulders above the rest, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.  This movie was unlike any other film I had ever seen.  It was hilarious, scary, camp, outrageous, majestically acted and perfectly overacted with a script packed with pathos, acerbic put-downs and shock moments.  Life imitated art, two of Hollywood’s greatest icons who had spent a lifetime admiring, envying and trying to outdo and out act each other now brought all that legendary enmity to the silver screen and it was a shootout between these two titans and the winner was the audience.

I must have watched this movie about thirty times and every time, I notice something new.  It is a film that doesn’t seem to age.  It has gained the appeal of vintage Hollywood, some of the outside location shots of Sixties Hollywood set the heart beating with delight at the pure nostalgia, but it doesn’t in any way make the movie seem dated.  So many of the old ‘film noir’ movies are almost unwatchable they have aged so badly.  But not Baby Jane, it is as fresh and contemporary as the day it first hit the screens.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is fifty years young on 26th October 2012.  It premiered in New York to almost universal acclaim.

Over the passing years the mystique surrounding the film has continued to grow.  There have been books written about the making of the film, plays written about the two great stars filming this masterpiece.  There has been a musical, only this year it has been rumoured Walter Hill is planning a movie remake, there was already an ill-advised version filmed in the Seventies with the Redgrave sisters.  The only thing so far not considered is a pantomime and it would be perfect for a gothic ‘panto’.

Fans of the movie can still see the Baby Jane House, and many of the locations.  I took a drive one autumnal morning in Hollywood to that legendary house, just like the movie it has been untouched by time.  I just kept staring in awe, I expected Bette to come out of the side door any minute, caked in make-up, watching for Mrs Bates the nosy neighbour, jump into her car and down to the bank to cash the cheque.

This is a great web page showing many of the locations from the film that you can visit http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/w/whatever.html.  One location not mentioned is the cinema shown at the beginning of the movie, that can be found at the Warner Brothers studio in Burbank.  If you book one of their intimate tours you can still see the cinema lot in all its glory and you will get plenty of time to take as many photographs as you like.

I was lucky enough to meet Bette Davis on her last ever trip to the UK, but enough of that, that is for another blog!

This is all about my favourite movie of all time.  You may notice so far I have not mentioned Joan Crawford (oops).  That is of course a quite deliberate omission, because although she was and always will be an icon of the golden age of Hollywood and a Oscar winning diva, for fans of the film, you are either Davis or Crawford, you have to pick a team and stay on it.  Once you have your team you will argue, debate, remonstrate with anybody who disagrees with you about who was the greater, actress, star, and played the better role in the movie.

Bette was nominated for the Oscar for Baby Jane, but when Anne Bancroft eventually won for The Miracle Worker, Crawford made sure she was there to accept the award on her behalf and gloat at Davis.

I thoroughly recommend the Shaun Considine book The Divine Feud for those who want to read more about these wonderful ladies lifelong camp battle with each other.

Having retailed movies for nearly twenty years, I know that Halloween is a big day in the DVD/Blu-ray sell through market.  Everybody loves a scare, so this Halloween, go on pick up the two disc special edition of this schlock horror classic, mouth along to each scene and raise a silver platter with a dead rat in salute to this gem of a film!

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