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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a classic 1962 Oscar-winning psychological horror film. While lacking the blood and gore of contemporary horror films, there are enough scary images -- dead rats and dead birds served for lunch, every shriek and cackle leaving Bette Davis's mouth, for instance -- to bring nightmares to younger and more sensitive viewers. A woman is struck by a car driven by a drunk driver and left paralyzed from the waist down. One of the lead characters is consistently drunk, slurring her speech, stumbling and lurching around, and in another scene, a middle-aged man is picked up by the police, extremely drunk. Since it's a movie from the early 1960s, everyone smokes cigarettes. Innuendo is made of a woman's sexual indiscretions by two male studio executives. Profanity implied in some scenes, including a scene where a character mouths the word "bitch." Overall, this classic movie has stood the test of time in no small part to the incredible performances of on and off-screen rivals Davis and Joan Crawford, roles that revitalized their sagging late-period careers.
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What's the story?
In WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, "Baby Jane" Hudson was a child star whose singing performances delighted audiences in the packed theaters of the vaudeville circuit. Meanwhile, her older sister Blanche hid in the shadows with their mother, who was as appalled at Jane's behavior and her husband's sycophantic attitude toward the bratty little girl. Nearly two decades later, their fortunes have reversed: Blanche (Joan Crawford) is an actress adored by both fans and the studio, and Jane (Bette Davis) is seen by studio execs as a talentless has-been causing problems for the studio due to her alcohol-fueled indiscretions constantly making the newspapers. After Jane mocks Blanche at a party and drives her to leave in tears, Blanche is struck and hit by a car. The accident, widely believed to be Jane's fault, leaves Blanche paralyzed from the waist down. Two decades later, the two sisters live together in Blanche's mansion, where Blanche seldom leaves her upstairs bedroom, and Jane is an alcoholic living in the past and still resentful of Blanche's success and continued adoration from fans. As Jane's increasingly delusional behavior makes her turn sadistic toward Blanche, Blanche tells Jane she intends to sell the house. This infuriates Jane even more, who removes the phone from Jane's room, effectively cutting her off from the outside world, and begins forging her signature on checks and even imitating Blanche's voice so she can have her credit restored with the liquor store. As if serving Blanche her dead pet bird, and then later a dead rat from the cellar, wasn't enough, Jane stops feeding Blanche altogether, even tying her up in bed and taping her mouth shut as Jane desperately tries to resurrect her show business career by rehearsing with a smarmy British piano player. As Jane's behavior grows increasingly unhinged and dangerous, the suspicions regarding Jane grow larger, and the authorities must somehow find Jane and rescue Blanche before it's too late.
Is it any good?
This classic film is one of the greatest psychological horror movies ever made. This isn't due to the blood, gore, human centipedes, zombies, and serial killers that dominate contemporary horror, but to the sadistic zeal Bette Davis brings to her role as a washed-up and alcoholic former child star whose descent into madness and delusion leads her to commit acts of incredible psychological cruelty on her sister, played by on and off-screen rival Joan Crawford, who more than holds her own as the paralyzed sister and tortured victim of Davis's cruelty. As "Baby Jane," Davis's actions, voice, and demeanor create a visceral reaction in the viewer. The anger at Baby Jane is palpable as Blanche's horrors grow worse with each subsequent scene of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. The action ratchets higher and higher until anyone with a heart wants nothing more but for Blanche to survive and for Jane to get caught.
These kinds of visceral reactions are hard to come by, and arguably one of the main reasons we watch movies, and horror movies in particular. This is due to the story itself and the acting, and in marked contrast to all the sadistic splatter and excessive audio/visual effects of most modern-day horror films, the former's substance outscares the latter's style every time.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about classic movies like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. What are the qualities that make some movies endure for decades after they've been released?
This movie was based on a novel. What would be the challenges in adapting a novel into a movie?
This movie is scheduled to be remade. Why do you think Hollywood often chooses to remake movies that were once successful years prior? Are these remakes usually better or worse than the original versions? What content is permissible now that wasn't when the original came out in 1962? Vice versa?
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