Teaming Bette Davis and Joan Crawford now seems like a veritable prerequisite to putting Henry Farrell’s slight tale of terror on the screen. Although the results heavily favor Davis (and she earns the credit), it should be recognized that the plot, of necessity, allows her to run unfettered through all the stages of oncoming insanity.
Crawford gives a quiet, remarkably fine interpretation of the crippled Blanche, held in emotionally by the nature and temperament of the role. Physically confined to a wheelchair and bed through the picture, she has to act from the inside and has her best scenes (because she wisely underplays with Davis) with a maid and those she plays alone.
The slight basic tale is of two sisters, complete opposites. As children, Jane is Baby Jane, a vaudeville star and the idol of the public. Offstage, she’s a vicious brat, domineering her plain, inhibited sister and preening parents. Eventually both girls go into films, where the dark, mousey Blanche blossoms into a beauty and fine actress, and becomes Hollywood’s top star.
As a result of an accident, hazily presented, Blanche is permanently crippled. Jane, dependent on her sister for her livelihood, is forced to care for her, her hate growing with the years. So, also, does the ‘Baby Jane’ illusion until, living it daily, she determines to get rid of Blanche and return to vaudeville.
Advertising for an accompanist, the sole applicant is a huge, ungainly lout (a superb off-beat performance by Victor Buono), who sizes up the situation’s opportunities and goes along, planning to get enough money to enable him to break the tarnished-silver cord binding him to a possessive mother.
The chain of circumstances grows, violence creating violence. Once the inept, draggy start is passed, the film’s pace builds with ever-growing force.
1962: Best B&W Costume Design.
Nominations: Best Actress (Bette Davis), Supp. Actor (Victor Buono), B&W Cinematography, Sound