‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’ – Film Review

babyjane3

With epic screen presence and notorious off-camera attitude, Bette Davis is a Hollywood legend. Made later in her career, ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane’ casts her as Baby Jane Hudson, a retired performer who lives with her crippled sister, Blanche, herself an ex-film star and clearly the more adored of the two sisters. We watch as Blanche, played by Joan Crawford, undergoes a two-hour descent into a panic reminiscent of Stephen King’s ‘Misery’, while the calculating Jane attempts to salvage any fame left over from a childhood in the spotlight.

The film opens in 1917. A young girl cries, frightened by the ghastly appearance of a Jack in the Box clown. Moments later the same girl, Baby Jane Hudson, sings to a raptured audience, deflating the adoration shortly after by demanding ‘I want ice cream’ in front of disappointed fans. These moments set the tone for Jane’s tumultuous relationship with a fickle limelight.

It’s then 1935 and two movie executives are panning Baby Jane’s latest picture, lamenting the contract that requires Jane be granted a film each time her more talented sister, Blanche, accepts a starring role. The problem is Jane’s alcohol dependence and lack of artistic talent. The Shirley Temple get-up and doll faced act apparently doesn’t translate into adult motion pictures and we get a sense that Blanche has well and truly rained on Baby Jane’s parade.

Finally, it’s 1967. Rumours circulate that Jane was responsible for the accident that left Blanche in a wheelchair, entirely dependent on Jane and confined to an upstairs bedroom. Upon learning of her sister’s intention to sell the house, Jane begins to turn on her sibling, spitting a level of vitriol and sarcasm that is delightful to watch. Attitude turns to action and Blanche is served her pet bird and then a drowned rat alongside her bread and milk.

Laughing Jane

Blanche becomes so fraught with tension that she slowly begins to starve.

Blanche

When not participating in psychological torture, Jane spends time with a creepy ‘Baby Jane Doll’.

doll

Drunk and delusional, she decides to revive the child star routines and hires a musical schmuck who has no idea who she is and who plays piano in time with her atrocious singing. A lack of fame and stardom deeply wound the aging starlet. Jane’s coping mechanisms are those of a petulant child and, although not a classic sociopath, she lashes out violently before a long-buried secret is finally brought to light.

‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane’ is a testament to Davis’ ability and the role of Jane Hudson is practically tailor-made. As in ‘All About Eve’, Bette Davis obstinately campaigned to have her age highlighted and refused any attempts to have her looks softened. The result is a whitewashed, gaudy old hag who transforms into the very thing she was frightened of as a child.

psycho

Jane is a one-hit wonder who never matured, a vicious brat in a woman’s body desperately seeking admiration. Her platinum blonde curls and pastel clothes contrast with Joan Crawford’s dark locks and sombre costume, perhaps as an attempt to contrast between the flashy or superficial, and a deeper, more mature type of notoriety. The only personal criticism was the incompatible score. My twenty-first century ears felt it was too upbeat and off-balance with the film’s suspense. If I closed my eyes I could have been watching a Disney film, at least for seventy per cent of the running time.

Historical music trends aside, ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane’ is a classic thriller worthy of its reputation. Watching two Hollywood icons slowly morph into the bleakest versions of themselves is captivating. Bette Davis might have been the prima donna of tinsel town, but the woman knew what she was doing. Pure magic.

 

5 stars.

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‘The Short Drop’ by Matthew FitzSimmons – Book Review

The Short Drop

Big thanks to NetGalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

Still finding my way around NetGalley.com, this was one of my first approved requests and boy, did I hit the jackpot. Matthew FitzSimmons first novel The Short Drop is a spellbinding and immersive thriller, rich with political intrigue and complex familial mystery.

The story opens in an all-American diner. Ex-marine Gibson Vaughn occupies a booth while searching online for a way to support an ex-wife and six year old daughter. A television newsbreak recaps the disappearance of Suzanne Lombard, Gibson’s childhood playmate and daughter of family friend, senator Benjamin Lombard. The abduction occurred almost ten years earlier, after Gibson’s infamous computer hacking stunt that exposed dodgy dealings within Lombard’s cartel. But all was not as it seemed and Vaughn’s own father ended his life after becoming implicated in the scandal.

Now, with a bad reputation keeping him jobless, he’s desperate for honest work when approached by someone from his past. A friend of his father and an insider in the political sphere, George Abe seeks Gibson’s computer skills to help track Suzanne’s abductor who, after almost a decade, has sent through evidence of involvement in the case.

The pull of sentimentality yanks Gibson into the covert investigation. Abe Consulting uncovers a long and intricate back-story before landing on the horrifying truth of what happened to Suzanne Lombard all those years ago.

FitzSimmons is not a word-waster. Tightly written and action packed, The Short Drop is accessible without being patronising. Time is a major theme and he uses it to explore the texture of grief and the complexities of human relationships. Conventional narrative works to keep a fast pace while the depth of the characters allows the reader to form alliances and race with them toward a tidy resolution.

Matthew FitzSimmons has produced a fantastic piece of crime fiction. It’s marked as the first in a series and even though it’s unclear how much more of this story could be teased out, I wouldn’t be sorry to see more of Gibson Vaughn.

5/5 Stars

 

 

 

Note: If this is typical NetGalley standard, I may never visit bookdepository again. *

 

*This is a total lie.