Bette Davis' career had been in decline for some time before this chilling psycho-thriller came along and gave her the type of role that she could really get her teeth into. Her performance as the vengeful sister of Joan Crawford is without mercy and both creates and sustains the tension in this over-long movie.
Davis is the original 'Baby Jane' - a young child vaudeville star who is so successful she even has a doll marketed on her. Her shy sister Blanche (Crawford) can only watch on in consuming envy as the sickly Baby Jane gets all the rapturous attention.
But as happens in showbiz, Jane does not grow into a successful star, unlike her ugly duckling sister who becomes the toast of Hollywood's. But Blanche's career is brutally cut short as a tragic car accident leaves her crippled. Held responsible for this is the washed up Jane who's so drunk she can't even remember what happened that night.
It's the crux of the film and director Robert Aldrich leaves the details deliberately hazy as we move forward in time to the two sisters living in a crumbling mansion. Davis is cruelly made up having lost all her beauty and Crawford is a virtual recluse, upstairs in her wheelchair. Davis is by now so consumed with bitterness, regret and booze that she takes it out on Crawford in an escalating campaign of terror. Plenty of these twists were later to be duplicated in "Misery".
It's a film that's a little slow to start and could benefit from a faster pace. But this is still essential viewing with the superb Davis in legend mode and Crawford wisely under-playing her role as the victim.
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" is now available on Warner Home Video