The Devil Wears Ringlets

There's no question that without the sordid behind-the-scenes drama that accompanies 1962's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? it would still be a memorable slice of Hollywood history. Shot when two of the Golden Era's greatest grand dames—Bette Davis and Joan Crawford—were in the twilight of their careers, it's a delicious de-glamorization of two larger-than-life icons, each hamming it up and hitting notes of true brilliance in equal measure. At the same time, it's a profoundly creepy thriller about the destructive nature of fame; in the years since, of course, it's become as well-known for the intense rivalry between the two divas as for its merits as a film.

And who is to say we can't enjoy both? Certainly not the folks behind Warner's brand-new special edition, out this week. The film chronicles the tale of Blanche Hudson (Crawford), a former screen goddess now confined to wheelchair after a mysterious accident, her chief caretaker younger sister Jane (Davis), an embittered, drunken, loony ex-child star whose idea of caring for her invalid sister—whose fame in adulthood she herself could never achieve—is to torture her at every possible opportunity. Things come to head when Jane schemes to regain the celebrity of her youth just as Blanche tries to plot an escape. The excellent extras on the two-disc set, meanwhile, chart the early careers of both actresses and how they mirrored each other, crossing only once—in Baby Jane—where they butted heads off-set, and according to the historians, Davis succeeded most often in getting director Robert Aldrich on her side. (She also did the same with Warner Home Video; Baby Jane is also part of a six-title Bette Davis box set, also released this week.) Filling out the extras are commentaries (Charles Busch and Lypsinka, kvetching on Bette and Joan as drag icons, no doubt) and vintage clips and featurettes.

Also recommended this week: The Bette Davis Collection, Vol. 2; The Kids In the Hall: Season 4; The Lon Chaney Jr. Collection; The Man Who Came to Dinner; Platoon: 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition; Superman: The Ultimate Max Fleischer Cartoon Collection; The Venture Brothers: Season 1.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *