What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Hollywood devours itself in this melodrama about two sisters, former movie stars, sniping at each other in a decaying mansion. Director Robert Aldrich took a chance by casting Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, in their only film together, years after they had ceased to rule the box office. Then he encouraged them to go for broke in their roles, with Davis in particular walking a fine line between high terror and high camp as demented Jane, a former child vaudeville star tormenting her paraplegic sister while preparing for a comeback. Most of the stories of the stars’ feuding are probably apocryphal, but the chance to see the screen giants strike sparks off each other was irresistible, turning the film into a sleeper hit. It marked a major comeback for both ladies, with Davis in particular finding later projects worthy of her talents. The picture also launched a new horror genre, sometimes called “psycho-biddy” films, that cast aging actresses like Davis, Crawford, Olivia de Havilland and Tallulah Bankhead as all-too- human monsters. This remains the best of the lot.

Dir. Robert Aldrich

In attendance: Charles Busch