Whatever happened to Baby Jane?
Aging sisters Blanche (Crawford) and "Baby" Jane Hudson (Davis) live together in a decaying mansion in Hollywood. Jane was a child star of Vaudeville in the 1910s, but her fame disappeared a long time ago. Blanche was a successful film actress, but she was crippled in a mysterious car accident, involving Jane.
Jane is mentally disturbed, an alcoholic, and greatly resents Blanche. When she learns that Blanche plans to sell the mansion and put her in a sanitarium, things really start to go downhill. Jane's mental state gradually worsens, and she becomes emotionally and physically abusive to her sister, eventually holding her hostage.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was added to the National Film Registry in 2021.
There is also a 1991 TV movie version starring real-life sisters Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave as Jane and Blanche. It doesn't seem to have been poorly received by critics, but it hasn't made much of an impression either.
- Bitch Alert: The moment Jane steps off the stage in her first scene you know she's going to be trouble.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Blanche
- Black and Gray Morality: What it actually is.
- Black and White Morality: Subverted.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The fact that Jane is blonde and wears white, while Blanche has black hair and wears dark clothes, should be the first clue that all is not as it seems. It's especially noticeable because Blanche's name means "white."
- Curse Cut Short: Jane calling Blanche a bitch is drowned out by the sound of the buzzer.
- Dark Reprise: When Baby Jane first sings the song "I've Written a Letter to Daddy" in the beginning of the story, it just comes off as a sappy kid's song. However, it becomes incredibly creepy when she sings it later as an old woman.
- Daylight Horror: Blanche's supposed death, and Jane's final descent into madness, take place at a crowded beach on a sunny day.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: A really dark example. Jane starts off the film as a grumpy and bitter old woman but as she gets herself further into trouble she unravels and behaves more like a frightened child.
- Evil Cripple: Blanche.
- Follow the Leader: After the success of the film, several other movies were made featuring mentally unstable older women. The genre was referred as "psycho-biddy".
- Former Child Star: Jane.
- Genre Popularizer: Though rather defunct now, the film started the psycho-biddy genre.
- Giftedly Bad: Jane. She is a terrible actress, can't sing and could only dance as a child. Jane herself thinks her talent defines her, and believes it is the one thing she can never lose.
- The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: One of the most extreme examples.
- Gold Digger: Edwin is repulsed by Jane, but he still wines and dines her hoping to milk the situation for all it's worth.
- Hair of Gold: This was the image Jane projected to the public as a star but in reality she was very much Blondes Are Evil.
- I Was Quite a Looker: Jane was an angelic little girl and a reasonably attractive young woman but has now grown old and is a complete mess. Averted with Blanche who has aged well enough.
- Kick the Dog: Jane kills Blanche's pet bird, and serves it to her on a dinner plate.
- Lady Drunk: Jane.
- Large Ham: Bette Davis' portrayal of Jane.
- Madness Makeover: Jane went from being a very pretty but troubled young woman, to a crazy old biddy who never washes her face, styles her hair in ringlets and looks more disheveled as her grip on sanity loosens.
- My Beloved Smother: Edwin's mother is very clingy and possessive, and gets jealous when he starts spending his time with Jane.
- Nice Character, Mean Actor: Jane was a cutesy Shirley Temple-esque child star and a horrible spoiled brat offstage.
- Nosy Neighbor: Mrs. Bates is a mild example.
- Not Allowed to Grow Up: Imposed by Jane upon herself, in trying to look like the child star she once was.
- One-Hit Wonder: Jane with "I've Written a Letter to Daddy."
- Questioning Title
- Rage Against the Reflection: Jane when she gets a good look at herself in the dance mirror.
- Reality Subtext: Davis and Crawford had been rivals since the '30s and utterly despised each other in real life; in his Great Movies essay on the film, Roger Ebert speculated that "it's possible that each agreed to do the picture only because she was jealous of the other's starring role."
- Really Gets Around: Jane in the 30s, part of the reason she was The Load to Blanche.
- Regal Ringlets: Jane's hair.
- Self-Deprecation: When the filmmakers were looking for bad films of Bette Davis to use for Jane's bad films, she said any of her late 1930s ones would do.
- Sibling Rivalry
- Slipknot Ponytail: Blanche's hair comes unraveled out of its updo as Jane's treatment of her worsens.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Jane has no idea that "Baby Jane Hudson" is totally forgotten, and thinks lots of people would love to see her make a comeback.
- Spoiled Brat: Young Jane was like this.
- Stepford Smiler: Blanche has always been a big one, but is forced to fake it even more to placate Jane as she gets crazier and more violent.
- Stylistic Suck: Early in the film, studio executives watch scenes from Jane's films, and note that she's an awful actress. However, those were real scenes from the early movies of Bette Davis.
- Take Our Word for It: We never find out what Jane wrote about Blanche on her fan letters with Elvira only saying "I can't remember the last time I saw words like that written down".
- Timeshifted Actor: Jane and Blanche as children are played by June Allred and Gina Gillespie.
- Twist Ending: At the end the secret of the accident is revealed by Blanche. It was thought by everybody (even Jane, who was drunk and couldn't remember) that she tried to kill Blanche, but it was actually the other way around. Blanche tried to run over Jane, who was able to get out of the way in time, and instead Blanche snapped her own spine as the car crashed.
Jane: You mean all this time, we could have been friends?
- Uncanny Valley Makeup: Jane, so, so much. Bette Davis suggested the idea she never washes her face, she just cakes new makeup on every day.
- The Unfavorite: Blanche in the 1910s. Her father seems to openly dislike her and though her mother is kinder to her, she is largely overlooked.
- Villainous Breakdown: Jane goes completely insane at the end, and when she's discovered by the police, and as a crowd gathers around her, she starts her old song-and-dance routine.
- Voice Changeling: Jane can perfectly imitate Blanche's voice.
- What Have I Become?: Jane freaks out when she happens to glance in the mirror when she's reliving her child star career and sees her ravaged, sagging, horribly made up face staring back at her.
- White Dwarf Starlet: Baby Jane, of course. Also a Former Child Star.
- Just to complete the trifecta, from what little we get to see of when she was a star, she was The Prima Donna. And she seems to have stayed that way...