Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (12A) 134 mins ****
Reissued in a new print, this enduring example of L.A. Gothic comprises both a last hurrah for the studio system and a critique of the monsters the entertainment industry habitually spawns: it needed the indie-minded Robert Aldrich behind the camera, because there would still have been directors around just longing to indulge those divas the movie pins to the screen like butterflies. Surely even 1962-era audiences found the set-up – obliging hissing showbiz sisters Bette Davis and Joan Crawford to cohabit in passive-aggressive seclusion – borderline implausible. Yet the film remains fascinatingly warped: an extended study in decaying flesh, set to a score mordantly trying to break into “Hooray for Hollywood”. Aldrich sensed the terror age might wreak on those working within an industry beginning to deify youth, even as he awarded two seasoned troupers another chance to devour the scenery – and each other.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? returns to selected cinemas from today.