S1: Slate Plus members, I’m here to remind you to take the sleep survey. It’ll be open through April 1st. This is your chance to tell us what you think about sleepless and sleet. It’ll only take a few minutes and you can find it at Slate.com slash survey.
S2: Hello and welcome to another episode of Flashback, Slate’s podcast about. In classic movies this time around, we’re going to be talking about whatever happened to Baby Jane in 1962. I guess we’ll call it a psychological horror film.
S3: Yes, sir.
S4: And joining me here in the Slate studio, as always, is Chaos and Colin’s Vanity Fair’s film critic. Hey, Ken.
S3: Hi. How’s it going? Pretty good, except that you picked the sickest shit that we’ve talked about yet. This a childhood favorite of mine. I want to hear actually about that.
S4: First of all, let’s get psychoanalytic right now, because on our way to the studio, you were talking about how this was sort of a family bonding experience in the Collins household to watch Baby Jane.
S5: Yeah. I mean, it just is one of those. It is a camp classic. And first of all, Betty Davis, I think, is someone that my mom and my grandmother both really loved. And so I saw films like All About Eve fairly early in my life. And then, you know, once you recognize an actor, if you’re just walking past the TV and they’re on the screen, you’re like, oh, what is this? And this is one of those cases where you walk by and it’s like, what fits? But also just it I think it’s partially because my grandmother has multiple sisters. They bicker a lot. My mom has two brothers and she’s the only girl and she’s the oldest. But they bicker a lot. So and I’m the only child. So I’m the only one of these people who doesn’t have siblings. But this sibling thing in my family is real fear.
S3: And I get the feeling of watching older people be squabbling siblings reality.
S5: And I think that this is sort of like my cathartic, but I think they just all enjoyed it because it’s like them. It’s not them. They don’t torture each other, but it is them in the sense that they just always bicker. And my mom and my grandmother bicker in a way that I could also map into this movie. Again, not because people are psychologically terrorizing people in my family, but more just because, you know, it’s just funny to see the way Betty Davis is in particular in this movie. And the other line about Co-teacher Dinda, and that’s a line that I heard a lot that was your threat.
S3: That was the flavor you’re getting the parakeet and Yaddo.
S5: What was actually one of those things that you know, those things where you hear your parents say something or it’s just a part of their lexicon and then you see the movie and you’re like, oh, shit. Where did this come from? It was one of those.
S4: I distinctly remember watching this for the first time and thinking, oh, it seems very intergenerational, too, that it could appeal to someone your grandmother’s age, your mom’s brain and your age.
S5: Totally. I mean, better this than the time that I was a teen and I picked The Shining for the family to watch. That was a much harder move with my family than this one, I have to say.
S4: So where should we start with this one? I mean, we could start from the angle of Joan and Betty choosing to do this movie or Robert Aldrich is history or, you know, sort of situating it in the decaying movie star genre. That had been a thing for a while. By 1962 already?
S5: Actually, yeah. Can we talk a little bit about that? I’d love to hear a little bit more about that because I hadn’t even considered that context until you brought it up. But you’re right. It’s totally a thing.
S4: I mean, I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately because I know they talk about this all the time. But one of the chapters in my book, last time it was Robert Sherwood. Right. The playwright who wrote the Petrified Forest movie we talked about last time. This time it’s the decaying movie star. Because since I’m writing on Buster Keaton, one of the things I’m writing about is Sunset Boulevard, in which he has a cameo appearance. And I think of that as the kind of or archetypal movie about the silent movie star, you know, returning in this grisly, ghastly state. So that was already, what, eleven years before this movie came out. And there’s just so many examples during that period, because if you think about it demographically, it makes sense that generation of early movie stars was all aging now and trying to find new ways to appear in their careers. Right. And after Sunset Boulevard, necessarily because of it. But certainly in that same timeframe, the very next year came Limelight, the Charlie Chaplin movie. That’s about this, you know, sad clown, that sort of based on Chaplin, sort of based on other figures from the silent era. But is about that same sort of feeling what happens to the early 20th century star in the late 20th century? And there was just a whole wave at that point. I mean, you could even think of all about Eve as being somewhat in that genre that it’s about theater, not cinema. And then things like. I mean, on a sunny register singing in the rain about that. I mean, it’s about the 20s looked back on from the era of the 50s, which is not unlike, you know, the way that every generation looks back at one generation earlier when I was growing up, it was happy days in the 50s. Right. American Graffiti. That was sort of what the grown-ups were looking back on that era. So I’m sort of trying to put that together into it, into a theory of, you know, the nostalgia for the early 20th century that happened around the time of the 50s and 60s. And this seems like very much of a piece with that and actually kind of a late entry in the genre. And this would have been a pretty familiar story at the time. This idea of the two sisters from the silent era having a feud both because of Gypsy, the musical, which had just come out I think pretty recently and had been a big hit on Broadway. Right. Gypsy being based on the true life story of Baby June Havoc, very close named Baby Jane, who was a little blonde tow dancer who was, in fact, you know, living. Yes, sort of abusive lifestyle and dancing on toe until her feet bled and her older sister would grow up to become Gypsy Rose Lee. So that story was definitely folded into. I’m sure the novel by Lucas Heller that this movie is based on. But yeah, I get the impression that in 1962, the story itself. I mean, how far this movie pushes it and had the weird places it goes to would have been unusual and that would have accounted for why this was such a huge success. This movie, a pretty low budget movie that made a huge amount over its budget. And, you know, was one of the top grosses of that year, I think. Yeah. Yeah. I think the weirdness would account for that. But the story itself was almost an archetype at that point.
S5: You know, I have another weird context for you for this one. You ready? Because by the time I saw this, the JonBenet murder had happened. So I remember being really weirded out. And the more harps on the relationship between baby Jane and her father, it’s just creepy in a way that was immediately creepy because JonBenet had been murdered recently. And just the early shots of baby Jane onstage dancing and the curls and the kind of pageantry of it was deeply scary. You know, in a way that like. I mean, again, I got introduced. The movie is like, oh, my God, my you know, my mom loved this when she was a kid. And it was, you know, so funny and so dark. And Betty Davis. Wow. But for me, it was like JonBenet was like that image was everywhere. So I was watching it thinking this is like already weird and gross. But also there we’re going to have to talk about the daddy stuff in this. And also with the pianist, the mommy stuff and his daddy stuff, too surprising like angles of of this. Like psychologically that still interests me because it could be a movie that just is about the sisters and about this basic dynamic. But when you throw these other people into the mix, you also have these other weird things going on psychologically. You get an idea of show business that’s very.
S4: I think well, I think that somewhat accounts for this genre that I was talking about. You know, the decaying movie star genre is that it seems like a moment. I mean, the Hays Code was coming to an end. Right. Or it would be in the next few years in black and white with switching to color. And eventually independent films would start to take over the studio system. And it was definitely a moment when Hollywood was rethinking its LGF history. I mean, Sunset Boulevard, again, being just a prime example of it. There was a lot of cynicism in the way that Hollywood looked back on itself and just a lot of truth telling. You know, in a somewhat Grand Guignol kind of register like this movie. But there is a lot of truth telling there, you know. I mean, not maybe about sisters torturing each other with dead parakeets under domes, but about the idea that the promise of Hollywood was, in fact, something that was corrosive and destructive to lots of people.
S5: And that’s one of the really interesting things about this, the history of movies. You know, literature or other art forms, there’s so much older than movies are. But it is fascinating that I mean, you’re watching some like Joan Crawford, a star from the silent era in a movie like this. Look, you know, in the 60s on the verge of going into color. But it’s just the idea that these are people whose careers span like the length of Hollywood in a way. So for them to be in a film like this, you know, I mean, I love I love Emet Attacks. This is why, you know, I love Tom Cruise. I love Tom Cruise jumping off of buildings and performing his death wish or whatever he’s trying to do. And I love when stars like Joan Crawford and Betty Davis, you know, make movies about who we know they are are movies that are inseparable from their personas as actors. This is also you know, one of the things is really valuable about when Clint Eastwood still acts. It’s like there’s only one Clint Eastwood. There’s only one guy who is that guy. And just like there’s only one John Wayne. Hollywood stars are so singular that, yeah, a film like this, you really feel that also the TV stuff. I wanted to talk about like TV reviving old stars careers.
S4: Well, that’s a big part of early TV was vaudeville, you know, and people coming back doing acts that they had done on stage 30 years. It’s all Asthana and it was, of course, live TV, a lot of it at the time. So there was this sense that TV was the new stage.
S5: Yeah. Interesting to think about it in the context of the debates about TV movies that we have now, which feels so much less interesting than something like this, where it’s like a Hollywood star hidden in her house forever suddenly has a career boost from old films airing on TV is getting fan mail again. It’s like this idea that baby Jane thought she was in the clear. You know, her sister was injured. They were in the house together. They’re stuck together like this forever. But there’s never got to be a moment where her sister outshines her again. And yet that TV ruins that. I just at an angle that I’ve forgotten about. I really wasn’t thinking about, I think in the same way when the film came out.
S4: It’s true because even though the sisters aren’t portrayed as having a TV at all, TV is a huge part of the impetus for the story. Right. Because the movie kicks off and really the first characters that we get to know at all are these next door neighbors, the mom and daughter. Interesting thing about those two is that the daughter is played by Betty Davis, his actual.
S5: Daughter, who I understand from just quickly looking on the Internet, was estranged from her, which is reminding me, you know, that the other movie I grew up with at the same time was Mommy Dearest. Mommy Dearest is another camp, intimate family relationship, Hollywood story. These are the things that informed my impression of Joan Crawford for a long time.
S4: Well, and the fact that both of them had tell all memoirs written about them. Right. In fact, Barbara Merryl, the daughter in the movie, is the one who eventually wrote The Mommy Dearest of Betty Davis. The fact that they both had those pasts and that, in fact, they did have very strained family relations and some amount of abuse in their household might be part of what accounts for the intensity of this movie.
S5: And for the fact that we still have TV shows being about this rivalry, this debate that it still lives on. I did want to say there is a moment actually in the Baby Jane household where we see a TV. We cut from the next door neighbors watching old Thelma plants on TV to her watching the same thing, but doing the kind of autocratic right where she’s like he should have held this shot longer or like analyzing herself onscreen the way. Not long before that in the film, we’d seen studio execs analyzing her and her sister on screen and and Albert Tendo.
S4: Great that the way he weaves in the old clips there. Right. Isn’t that great? It really just makes you want to stop the movie right there and go and find those movies. And one of them I had never heard of parachute jumpers in the name of the 1933 movie that you see Betty in with a Southern accent. And the hilarious framing around that, of course, is that Betty Davis, the lauded, you know, really like considered the best actress of her generation as far as just pure acting chops, has to be framed as this horrible actor who will never make it, you know, which confused me for a second because I thought this can’t be Patty Davis that they’re talking about this way, even in a sort of meta way.
S6: I wondered if they found like a younger woman who look like Betty Davis to film some fake movie. But I looked it up. And this is one of the really exciting things about the studio system, right. That they can go into their own archives and just pull these movies of these actors and just use them like this.
S4: But you’re right. I forgot about that moment, which kind of goes to my argument I was going to make earlier on that I think this movie is a bit too long. Like I said, and it’s not that it’s boring even I even like the little rococo frills here and there. But I think that the suspense would be more effective if this movie were not so drawn out. And that was one of the criticisms of it at the time, most of which I don’t agree with, and most of which seemed like they have a certain kind of misogyny or almost homophobia, like an allergy to camp in a lot of the contemporary reactions to it. Not all, but a lot. But one criticism I do agree with is that I think it spins out a bit too long. So I had forgotten that she watches herself on TV. Actually, speaking of too long. I just want to quickly get out of the way talking about the frame story because it’s kind of unusually long, that intro. It’s kind of great too. And this quite some sequence is incredible. I absolutely love the car crash and then that turning into the written credits. But before the credits, we have that extensive cold open where we’ve seen neither Davis nor Crawford. We see the kids playing them as children and their relationship with their dad. We see a moment of the vaudeville show and selling the dolls afterward. And I’m just wondering how you think that all fits in and what you think about that beginning, because I have a big problem with it and I wonder if it’s deliberate on Aldrich’s part or not. And I wonder if you had the same one.
S5: Oh, no, I’m afraid to say what I think if you have a big problem with it.
S4: I’m curious and your question about it maybe. Right, Edward?
S5: You know, again, as someone who I just I can’t divorce this from the context in which I just first saw the film. But for me, everything here is in the reaction shots that we get while Baby Jane is performing the reaction shots of Blanch and their mother. That’s where the story really is offstage like.
S6: And there are other other things like there is the moment of, you know, baby Jane very strategically hitting until she’s in front of a crowd to whine for ice cream. And the other, you know, the moms and the other kids really know what her strategy was. I guess she thought that she did it publicly. Her dad would feel strong armed into doing it. But of course, it turns people against her. You know, the people waiting for autographs. And that part’s like telling as well. But I really think it’s the way that the mom and the daughter backstage are looking at what’s happening onstage and when the father goes onstage, the strangeness of it there. I do have some you know, it’s 1962 and I’m wondering how far they would have gone with what feels like the obvious. The true punchline isn’t to later in the movie when we see that every single song that Jane has is about her daddy. But even in this moment, it’s just weird.
S4: Yeah. No, you’re right. I know. I think what you’re getting at is like the reveal and the present day or even any time in a few decades after this would have been like that. Her dad had some kind of sick relationship. Right. Right. And this movie, although the song I’ve written, a letter to Daddy, which has performed it, said, you know, several points. It also appears in the score in the minor key, I always love it, even though that would be clearly points at such a relationship. I think it has to remain subtext in 1962. I mean, it is at the very most is kind of a psychological motivation. I don’t think it’s implied that there was any actual illicit daddy action going on, but it’s unquestionably perverse. And I think you’re right that the strongest shots at the beginning are just seeing Blanch and and their mother in the wings. But here is my question. Slash problem is that the little girl who plays her is not good.
S3: She’s not a good singer or dancer. I see. I started talking about the abuse stuff because I thought that’s what I mean. That wouldn’t be a problem. Exactly.
S4: I think that you’re embedded in the text or something, but it just seems important to me that they’re supposed to be this kind of equalizing right when they’re little. Jane is a success when they’re older, blanches a success. But in fact, in those early days of vaudeville, there were a lot of really talented children onstage, including Buster Keaton, like there were all these child stars who were doing amazing things, you know. And the idea that, yeah, I don’t know, maybe in a in a small town church basement or something, that would be an impressive performance. But the idea that Baby Jane is a star when she doesn’t really seem to have any charisma or talent is a weird part of this movie. And maybe it’s deliberate because certainly when she’s older, the Betty Davis character is supposed to be reaching for this pass that she can no longer attain. But it seems like the past should have actually been there. And this is actually often a problem with casting children even nowadays. But I think especially in the studio system days is that you get these overly trained children who didn’t really project any individuality or personality. But that little girl is such a big part of the early scenes. And yet to me, it’s not at all surprising when she whines for ice cream and is awful because she was already kind of awful on stage. It’s not as if her winning personality is suddenly belied by the way she behaves offstage.
S3: No, it’s she doesn’t she doesn’t have the range, whereas little blanches. Kind of incredible.
S5: She’s amazing. She really is the one who I think with the mother. And you don’t see the mother again. But who sets you up for some of the really complicated things that are gonna happen? Something I did wonder, actually, now that we’re mentioning it. I think it’s funny, actually, that there’s just an era before we really cared that kids were good at movies, I think. I mean, I I grew up with some great child performances. It feels like there was a moment when Hollywood seemed to understand that children could that people learn how to work with children or I don’t know what it was, but I just have all these reaction gifts in my head from years of shows like Dance Moms, et cetera. And this is what she reminds me of, just like the pageant culture that’s full of the most motivated but not the most talented people that they teach.
S4: And maybe that’s exactly what she’s supposed to be. And maybe my heart in the matter. But it seems to me like she’s sure a good child would give this story a whole different feeling, because you would feel like the pass that Betty Davis’s character is reaching back for was a moment of actually connecting with an audience and being a successful performer.
S5: Right. And I think that that is more interesting that they were both on top genuinely in the moment of their respective heights, that we do have this whole history of Blanche being an incredible actress. We keep hearing about it. And of course, you have the adult Joan Crawford performances to look at. But it’s true that it doesn’t really match up. And I think some of the irony of Baby Jane being forgotten by people would be stronger and more powerful if you’d seen an extraordinary performer on that stage. So much of this is fundamentally about believing in like you believe that Joan Crawford is playing a woman who is a spectacular actress. Not hard for her to do because she really was one.
S4: But Lillian, when you see that boiling bitterness in the Blanch kid at the beginning says, don’t worry, mother, I won’t forget. And that’s the last thing you hear her say.
S7: You’re the lucky one. Someday it’s going to be you. It’s getting all the attention. When that happens, I. I want you to try to be kinder to Jane and your fathers than they already, you know. You know what I mean? I hope the Chinese remember that.
S4: You bet I won’t forget. It’s something we’ve talked about before, I think on Flashback, which is that I almost always had this problem when there’s a child and then especially in famous adult, that that child is supposed to be for them to to map onto each other. You know, and there’s a part of my mind that’s always trying to solve that problem and say, do I believe that this kid would become that person? And in the case of Blanch, I actually do.
S5: Yeah, we should actually get into that because I really stick with that line that it’s just the sense of how the future looks for the two of them from that moment to when they’re older. And the accident happened to when they’re older than that and they’re together, then they have it’s hey or whatever you would want to call it of Blanche. By that point, it is sort of like a shocking arc. And it takes me the entire movie to understand all of it.
S4: Yeah, well, the way the last thing I would want to say before we get into the movie itself and dying, Joan, you know, even that stuff with the studio is great. That’s incredibly well done. Watching the clips and the two executives in that long take, walking down a studio, fake street, talking about them. But of course, the thing that the movie can’t do is show us, Jonah, Betty, as young women as characters. Right. Can only show them onscreen. And so the way the accident itself is staged is just it’s just so, so cleverly done.
S5: Everyone makes fun of the aging. But if they had had that, isn’t it? I’ve seen Betty Davis on that stage as a child and also when we get to the cutting of the accident. I mean, I think it’s all the more exciting, actually, that you just get these cuts of, you know, the hand, the foot, the glamour of the gowns.
S4: Yeah. The gorgeous shoes that she’s stepping on the gas.
S5: Right. Like you cut to those things and those all heightened what’s really going on? I think also it’s worth remembering just the nature of actors and studio contracts during the period that the movie’s about, because I think, yeah, for a modern audience, it’s probably hard to wrap your mind around the idea that you’d have an actor say, my sister has to pee in everything, like just imagining, like, I don’t know Ben Affleck saying that about Casey Affleck. I mean, they were in a lot of thing. They haven’t in a lot of things together. But the idea of an actor getting to say that is something kind of foreign to us. But yeah, the actors have these relationships with studios. It wasn’t movie by movie and they weren’t independent actors in a way. And so, yeah. The quandary at the beginning of this is really sort of a quantity for the studio to be stuck with an actor that they don’t want in order to keep the actor that they value is really quite something that feels like a fake problem now. But it’s got its eye on some of the things that are weird about the Hollywood studio system in a way that I actually really value even more. The more I learn about the system, more they learn about movies and that’s it.
S4: That’s why it seems like it was a short lived period where you get the sense that they were just maybe two or three bad movies that Jane made. And then the accident happened in both of them stopped making movies forever. Forever. So let’s get to where we first come across the two sisters in their household, because the entrance of Joan Crawford’s character, Blanche, as Joan Crawford is, is so beautifully done, I think, because it’s this shared viewing that’s happening. This goes back to what you’re saying about TV, kind of bringing back this era for people and being this new way to watch in your home. So you see the next door family, the Bates, who interestingly seemed it seems to be just a mother and daughter. Right. I love just the absolute absence of men from this world. Now, we sort of have to assume in this era that there were some, you know, Mad Men type guy holding up that household with his income, but we’d never meet.
S6: Where is he? Everyone’s got daddy issues in this movie. It’s the thing, right?
S4: So the beats are sitting there at home watching Blanche Hudson in one of her old movies. It’s actually the 1934 movie Sady Mickey, the Joan Crawford film. And then we just get this smooth cut to Joan herself watching. And I just love that suddenly we see her face watching herself. That scene is it’s a beautiful transition from the introductory world of this movie to the claustrophobic mansion world.
S6: And it’s also just, you know, just these single shots of Joan Crawford with this look of I mean, depending on what your impression of Joan Crawford is, I mean, for me, she was someone who always got described in these grotesque terms.
S8: But when I actually watch her things, I found her to be an incredibly sensitive and wide-ranging actor. But I’m always sort of surprised by her face in this because. I don’t know, I guess I’m overwhelmed by the extent to which she is like the good sister to an extreme degree too, like an a naive degree, like the openness of her face as she’s watching herself on TV. Really, the only time you see her happy? I know movie. The movie doesn’t let it last. Then we get back to the like the Joan that I’m a bit more familiar with, but just incredible watching her watch herself and sort of, you know, navigate her space. But the movie doesn’t do this whole thing where you build up to the fact of them having a very damaged relationship are already there. It’s already as though they’ve got the TV now. She’s watching herself on TV. And here comes Betty Davis into ruin, the fun in big, scary makeup. And I want to know what you make of Patty Davis performance in this, because what is so extraordinary about it for me is that Patty Davis is very much one of those stars who kind of like any of the stars that we have now, like Meryl Streep or George Clooney or Brad Pitt. People like I’ve seen them so much. I know their lexicon of gestures or, you know, no matter their wide ranging characters, they play. I know them. I just know how they emote. I know how they do things. But Betty Davis d familiarise herself in a way here that just always really gets me. It’s like she knows the ways that she’s been rendered grotesque or camp throughout her career. Even performances like All About Eve, like the drunken party scene. She’s like leaning into that, Betty. But with this makeup on, that is just completely just who are you looking at?
S4: Yeah, it’s it’s your performance. I mean, it’s you know, you could argue that they’re both trying to out act each other and that there’s a ton of overacting. But then we get into it like the world of what is camp and what is deliberate. And I mean, I’m sure we’ll be talking about that throughout this conversation. But just to start off, I mean, I would just say that Betty Davis is performance. I completely understand. And I’m sorry, memory of Joan. I’m looking up to heaven to apologize, but I see why Betty Davis got the Oscar nomination and Joan Crawford didn’t. I mean, it’s just it’s so much a showier role and it’s kind of a visionary performance. I mean, it’s goes beyond lack of vanity. Yes. Dee glamorised, et cetera. But I mean, come on. Betty Davis just takes it down such a crazy road that it’s like avant garde. It’s clown makeup. And the way she got knocked about her makeup at the time, her vision of the makeup, which she designed herself like it was not the makeup artist that decided to make it not know way. Yeah. She was insisted on. I don’t know if she literally applied it herself, but she looks like it envisioned it. And her backstory to the makeup is that she said, I imagine Jane Hudson as being someone who never washes her face. She just puts another layer of makeup on it. She’s so gross.
S9: So. Exactly. Right.
S4: And apparently, when Barbara Merill, her daughter, who plays the neighbor, saw her in her character makeup, she said, mother, you’ve gone too far. This.
S8: Oh, my gosh. I do think that the academy should have just nominate them both, please.
S9: Like when you can end a war, you know, just out of sheer luck. Why not? You know, diplomacy. Yeah.
S8: I mean, they both are playing with ideas of themselves. But Betty is the one who’s letting it just. I mean, kind of literally hang loose in a way. And I think part of what’s really extraordinary is that there are things where if it hadn’t been these two stars with the relationship to each other that they have and with the relationship to Hollywood history that they have, like does a movie like this. It might be fun, but does it tingle as much as strange or Metta or whatever with different actors in it? For me, it is. And it kind of needs these two people and it needs someone like Betty Davis. But also, Jonah is doing the same thing in the opposite direction, just being completely aware of who she is onscreen to us. I mean, I can see that through line from all about Eve. That woman, that actor to this actor, it’s a 12 year gap. But I can imagine the things that happened in those 12 years like I can imagine how she got particularly again at the height of a party scene and all About Eve and also that movie being again about in many ways insecurities, the one upmanship within the industry, et cetera. There’s just something about the consistency between earlier Betty Davis and the role she played on screen and this woman, while also being so grotesque that it just feels like deep end. But I mean, just the way that they interact in that opening scene, you know, like the rhythm through this movie of bringing her meals. And also, I got to say, I’m with Baby Jane on this one.
S9: That buzzer is frickin sound. Design is fantastic. Okay.
S4: I mean, it sounds as if it’s recorded in some different kind of stereo scope or something so grating, right?
S10: It is so grating. It is the thing that does not justify baby Jane’s behavior. Blanche, you just you gotta push it like once or twice. And they heard they heard you and they’re coming.
S4: Well, something that that buzzer scene establishes in the moment when she’s watching TV and then her sister has to come upstairs. Is the geography of the house which is incredibly important? Yes. Right. And it’s going to become almost like a stage that is cinematic, the way that the camera moves through it and treats it. But we have to know it as well as, you know, the set of a stage and those few rooms and how the staircase is positioned and how it’s going to be so hard to get down the steps later for the paraplegic blanch and all that stuff is established with that initial interaction that they have.
S6: No, that that’s so true. And that’s something that I feel like doesn’t get talked about enough is the way that a film Orient shoe in a space. We’ve done a few films at this point that have made a lot of stairways and just view. You know, I’m thinking of The Magnificent Ambersons. I’m thinking of Gas Lay, just like these films that do really good jobs of orienting you in a space such that just a shot looking up the stairs toward a room, knowing what room that is.
S3: Is powerful or psycho. You think of the right, the roll the stairs play. Absolutely. Psycho made right around the same time as this actual which is so strange right to think about.
S6: But yeah, you’re oriented in the space in a very particular way. And we’ll get to this later. The movie surprises you by then showing you that downstairs where Baby Jane sort of has the world to herself, the mirror. The stage lights. The things that I’m not really aware of yet in the movie that prove shocking to me when I see them. This is a space that I come to understand very well, not the repeated shots or repeated angles and just a very keen sense of how to design the house and how to move us through it. But also, it saves some surprises for us in terms of that house and the ways that Jane in particular has inhabited it and the spaces that Blanche can’t access. Right.
S4: Because they each have their own floor, basically. I mean, this movie could double as a kind of plea for disability rights. I mean, it really does. Bet if they had just had an accessible house, none of his plot would have had to happen.
S6: Really does. I just for watch the film. Witness for the prosecution. And if you’ve seen it, there’s a kind of running gag in in that film where a lawyer who’s ill. His butlers and his staff install this stair contraption to help him get up and down the stairs. And he makes a big fuss of it. But it’s a radical thing to do in a movie that this movie goes out of its way to show that Baby Jane wouldn’t have done anyway. But you really think about it, man. It’s like, damn. So you’re just stuck upstairs for your entire life.
S4: Right. Yeah. You know, if to ask yourself, what were the previous 40 years of their life? Right. Yes. I mean, presumably things get worse in this part. So they had more social context beforehand. Slow speaking of social context, we need to establish the character of Elvira, who really becomes the only other person who significantly interacts with them in the house. I mean, we do get the accompanist way later in the movie. But so Elvira, the housekeeper who’s played by maybe Norman, seems to be the main social contact that Blanche has with the world. And they get that early on scene where Elvira comes for her usual visit and is going around blanches room opening the shades, et cetera, sort of chatting with her about how things are going. And you get the sense that she is really the only person in the movie and in their world who has her eye on. Jane has, you know, a limited sense. She doesn’t know how bad it’s going to get, but she has some sense that there’s a bad power relationship going on.
S5: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, she’s the only person until the piano instructor, right?
S6: Until Victor Bornholm. She’s the only person who even sets foot in the house. Right. She’s the only person that’s given any kind of access. And I believe it’s as early as her first scene that she whips out that on Balo full of fan mail and says, look, perhaps your sister has first of all, in opening your mail, scannable, not been giving it to you. But third of all, this is how you sort of find out what exactly this TV kind of revitalization has done. Like we get it in the form of this is like a new wave of popularity for you. In a way. You have new fans now and you have someone downstairs opening your mail and preventing you from knowing. Gosh, I mean, imagine being someone who’s at the height of their career and that ends. And you’re a Hollywood star. You live on an image. Is the actual image of you, your actual body, your actual self is, you know, in the second floor of this house, never able to go outside again. It’s like the TV thing actually is a big deal. Those letters are kind of a big deal and they’re mixed in with the back story that we don’t know yet. But we’re about to find out about Blanche wanting to sell the house and move it all combines into this sort of Jane is never justified. But I see how this all comes to a head at the same time.
S9: You love Jane. I can tell you.
S6: Jane, Jane, you know, I feel for Jane a bit. I do. I mean, I don’t. Until the end of the movie. And then it changes everything. Right. And she’s the one that my mom went around quoting. So I guess.
S8: Does identifier with family in a way?
S4: So at what point is it established that the house is being sold? Is that something that Jane found out from reading the mail?
S6: Well, she’s hyper aware of, I think the call that Blanche place to sort of get this done, because Betty was very careful not to have anything in writing, but I believe it was established maybe four weeks prior. And although Jane doesn’t say anything, she’s known the entire time by the time they finally talk about it. Right. Because she tries to do a whole thing where she says their business partner said their accounts were running low, that they had to sell the house a step of ground. But of course, Jane knows better because she’s been signing the checks because she copied her sister’s signature. So they’re either playing a game, right? It’s a cat and mouse thing. They are holding secret from each other. They’re not revealing that they know each other’s secrets. And Plant is really trying to prepare for what would really be this really big rift if she. Because what would Jane do if she sold the house and doesn’t want change to come with her?
S4: Well, I think that Jane is not wrong in her paranoid supposition that they want to put her in some kind of home. No, she’s not wrong, even though nobody ever comes out and says it. I think her idea would be that she would go someplace else.
S5: Yeah, which is complicated, because this is also the era in which it was like really easy to just. This was recently on my mind, but I’ve been learning a lot more about just mid-century America and how easy it was, just like Kallman and crazy and have her sent away or done like shock treatments on like I didn’t realize how common that was. But it’s kind of dark. That’s kind of loaded. I mean, she has issues, but her fears real. But also a virus is also right to say she’s crazy. Please, we’ve got to get out of here.
S4: Yeah. I mean, Elvira has that position that the person in the horror movie has. Who is the one person who knows? Right. If had they had been listened to at the beginning, all the trouble could have been avoided.
S5: And is the only person who stands up to Jean really in the movie. This is part of the reason that the movie was popular in my household because my mom and my grand mom, because I think that’s it was a significant role even for the role like within the horror context that she plays with a person who knows it’s a more fleshed out character to me, not in terms of her personal life, but her interactions with Jane.
S6: Like there’s more of Elvira in this movie than I think certainly any black audience member would have expected of a movie in 1962. And I think because she she’s standing up to, you know, the crazy white lady, it’s just the amount my mom and my grandmother, it’s like a classic a classic text of just like a black character in the 60s talking back. And that’s like quite of transgressive thing. Like you’d have to get it in a movie like this. That’s a little bit more trashy. You’d have to get it here where you get the black character saying, no, you’re you’re frickin crazy.
S4: Well, and then in a sort of invisible way, it’s like the existence of black family and community that gets them caught. Right. Because it’s the cousin of Elvira who we never meet, who sends out the missing persons bulletin and eventually starts kind of investigating the case. And they figure it all out from there. Do we ever know what happens? This is skipping way ahead. But since we’re flashing back, let spoil whatever happens to Elvira’s body. And she takes her in the wheelchair and sort of hides her behind the car and has that interaction with the lady from next door who doesn’t find out that there’s a body there. But then we never really know. It just seems very unlikely that someone is kind of out of it and frail as Jane could manage to dispose of a body.
S6: It’s true. Jane is not a born criminal. She’s very clumsy about all of this. So I don’t think that she left the body anywhere discreet. She’s also not really thinking about the idea of the ongoing police investigation into something like this. She really seems to be someone who forgets about the police until they show up again because she’s childlike. She wants to leave in certain fantasies of herself and her sister. And this is where the movie, I think gets really interesting, those moments where she’s actually kind of vulnerable even as her sister is tied up.
S8: This is getting way ahead. But I guess if I wonder where she took the body, I’d wonder where would a child take the body? I don’t even need to see her drag it there. It’s just what is the least mature. Right. You know, option here.
S4: I think the next story. But we should get to and it takes place over quite a while. There’s other stuff happening in between. But it’s the starvation thread and the way that, you know, that Jane starts to get power over blanched by just withholding food or serving her scary things, which all begins, of course, with the pet parakeet escaping. The minute you see that pet parakeet in a cage and see Joan tenderly smiling at it, you know that, you know, end up somewhere good, you know.
S6: And you even have reason that early in the movie to think that she’d be that diabolical that early. But it’s immediate, right? It’s she comes back and the bird is gone and a virus says, you know what she did with that bird.
S4: Right. But I think Elvira’s suspected the final fate of the bird right at that point. We think that it would that she just let it fly away. But no, instead, it becomes the next main course that she serves to her sister. And that to me is where the movie takes a turn. I mean, you know what? I use the term Grand Guignol before I write the kind of like niqaab puppet theater quality of this movie. And it really kicks in, I think, with that theme of the silver domed meal that’s gonna have some scary thing underneath.
S5: I mean, this is it really affected things. But this movie, I think, Ray, is that it’s so psychological that the way that it plays out for us is, well, I find myself considering the question of, you know, meal to meal 3, am I going to dare?
S4: Oh, there’s at least one meal that I think she never eats. Right. And we don’t even learn what’s underneath the dome. Yeah, he doesn’t pick it up.
S6: Right. There’s that one. There’s the one where she doesn’t eat. And then actually that was the time that she did have food. But then she gets it taken away because. Because she didn’t dare. And then there’s the red, of course. And then there’s the red. It’s disgusting. I wonder what it must have been like to be in the audience, particularly the rat, because birds. You know, it’s gross, but we don’t know what your pet. Come on.
S5: I mean, no, no, it’s totally gross. It’s totally an emotional. But rats to me are a whole other category of gross. Blake, I wonder what it must have been like to be in the audience. 1962, huge screen and it’s a rat getting out.
S3: Yeah. Get the hell out.
S4: This is what I mean. When I started off our covers, his decision saying this is maybe the sickest movie we’ve talked about. You know, there’s a kind of cruel sadism in the humor that I think both the actresses completely get. But Robert Aldridge gets it, too.
S5: Yeah. And that’s what I like. And I wanted to talk to you about this because, you know, I mean, the terminus on Wikipedia. Which I didn’t know was a term, but is cracking me up, even thinking about it is that this belongs to the psycho bidi.
S3: So I learned that term, too.
S6: I don’t even a mugger gonna dig down the rabbit hole at how recent that term is or how real it is. But there’s something to be said, I think, for like. Does it matter that the actors are in on this? Because I think some people could rightly read it is as just bad stereotypes. It’s her passes that to me by being camp in this way, by being so knowing. But, you know, I mentioned to a friend that this is the movie we’re doing. And she said, yeah. I’ve always really wanted to like that movie, but it’s just two women being bitchy at each other. And I said, I don’t have a counter argument to that. Really, it is two sisters being bitchy, more than bitchy. It’s more complicated than that. But the pleasure of it is seeing these two stars go at each other’s necks in ways that help us, because their real life sort of tensions were public. You know, it just does that thing where you see through the movie toward the actors themselves and they’re being mean to each other in a way that’s sort of the pleasure you’re seeing, something that is play acting at something that feels real between them. But yeah, problematic as we’d say today. I don’t know.
S4: I mean, I think that you could say in that a lot of the horror. In fact, one of the most horrifying scenes, Jeff, maybe we should talk about next that we see is the moment that Betty Davis’s character sees herself in the mirror and there’s a moment that she actually kind of processes what she looks like. Right. And that we also I think there’s almost like a jump cut. Like, yeah, the camera cuts to a closer view of her looking in the mirror at her full on baby Jane makeup. And certainly an argument could be made that, you know, the humor slash horror and that shock comes from misogyny, comes from the idea that, you know, an older female body is this ridiculous, horrible thing. The fact is, though, that I think that the movie critiques that notion. Right. I mean, in that the person who holds that notion the most strongly is Jane. You know, the person Grayling’s the most strongly to. The idea that women must be feminine and pretty is the most destroyed and messed up person in the film.
S5: Yeah. And I think there’s something to the fact that Betty Davis’s makeup is so exaggerated, where again, the first shot we get of Joan Crawford is of her looking at herself onscreen, youthful.
S6: And you. Yes. See the age difference. But she still looks fresh and alive in a way that I think the movie is very careful to point out that it’s not like some automatic deterioration. But also, Jane is rotting from the inside as a person, and also that Jane has these other psychological subtexts that complicate, I think, the idea of this just being about exactly what you’re saying. And also, it’s something about Betty Davis putting on her own makeup and giving stars the chance to make movies like this about Hollywood, where they do get discarded, I think is important, actually. And interesting, like I’m exactly with you. I think that the movie why is it being about these things and just showbiz lives and how ephemeral they are? You know, this movie rejuvenated both of their careers in a way, in a real way.
S4: It also started, as you said, that this psycho bidi subgenre. Did he ever reach these heights again? But there’s almost kind of a sequel to this movie, Hush, hush, Sweet Charlotte. Not a sequel in the sense that they’re the same characters. But, you know, it’s a similar sort of Gothic horror about women being horrible to each other inside claustrophobic spaces. And it was initially supposed to start. Betty and Joan, but Joan dropped out of the project early on and was eventually replaced by Olivia de Havilland and there was a whatever happened to Aunt Alice? I think it was called me. This was sort of the day before franchises. But just I think we were talking about this recently. And instead of having a franchise with the same characters, et cetera, you would just simply make a similar movie to try to capture that same audience.
S5: What is it that you think sets this one apart?
S4: I mean, it’s Betty and Joan. Really? Yes. And also, just like it only happens once, it’s one of those lightning in a bottle things, you know, like how many movies that start a franchise or a series of imitators really have imitators that ever reach that those heights again.
S5: Yeah. And I think that back to what we were saying about like the space itself, I think ALTERS is good at bringing the right amount of Goths ism to this. It’s not so gothic that it slips into a kind of unreality.
S6: I mean, just because I mentioned Magnificent Ambersons early in this conversation, it’s not like that where the interiors of the house spook me so much that it just feels like the entire psychological maps of the characters are just in the shadows of this movie. It’s not that kind of movie, but it is the kind of movie where. Yeah. Like The Creep and the Creek of Betty Davis. So coming up to her sister’s room in the way that she listens a little bit before she enters the ritualistic Nisse of bringing her that meals and the sense of like how Jonas cut off from the rest of everything that goes in the house of being trapped. She doesn’t know Welles’s even coming to the house or anything like that. There is this madwoman in the attic type thing going on, but it it is realistic enough or not realistic. But you know, Hollywood realistic enough that it doesn’t feel like just sort of empty offices. And I think that Aldrich finds the right balance. He also doesn’t overly Hitchcock it because like that even the title sequence could be even more Hitchcock. But he doesn’t do that. He makes it his own movie and it’s very familiar.
S8: You know, he lets the actors overdo it. And he under does other things.
S4: I think, yeah, you’re right. It’s not a super highly directed movie. It’s not like a ton of moments that you remember what the camera is doing, although it generally is is taking you down whatever road it creepily wants to take you to.
S5: For me, the most memorable shots are the ones that are kind of low angle shots. But you know, there with Joan Crawford in her bedroom and just moments of seeing her wheel around, like perform her emotions through the ways that she’s moving through her space. And there’s at one moment she just starts spinning in circles.
S4: What am I going to do? That’s fantastic. The way the wheelchair expresses her, her indecision and her.
S5: Yeah. But then it’s like it becomes a part of her physical performance in a real way.
S6: And he does find the right angles to get her face and the setting and the wheelchair all happening at once in a way that also feels like the threat of Betty Davis walking in is always there because she could just walk in at any time. And we don’t see her bedroom, do we?
S4: I don’t think so, unless maybe that’s the place where she’s looking at the scrapbooks and drinking scotch late in the movie. I’m not sure what that space is now, but she seems to be next to a piano. So I think that’s the living room.
S5: Oh, that’s all the living room, which I don’t think we even do even really understand that that’s a living room, really, until she’s doing the performance and the mirror and sees herself like I feel like I don’t really understand.
S4: That’s her space. That’s almost her stage right there in Victor Buono, the accompanist comes in. That’s where she has him practice with her. It’s the big floor-length mirror. And there’s the poster, the poster that we see at the very beginning of the movie, the baby Hudson poster that hangs there. It’s her space, right? She’s turned it down to her colony and the doll, it isn’t haunted.
S5: I just I keep expecting the dog like pop to life.
S4: The doll is insane. And if you think about the fact that the movie starts off with that other doll, the very first thing we see possibly, I think, is that crying Jack in the box is the creepiest thing of all.
S5: I forgot to say that I remembered this as a horror horror movie. I remember it being as funny or winking or just suspense. I remember this being like an outright horror movie and I’m remembering the things that made me feel that way. I think it’s partially the doll. Like it’s scary.
S4: I think E-Class, this is a straight up horror film, not just a sort of psychological horror film. I mean, even if you think about the killing of Elvira and how that happens, I mean, that’s almost Hitchcockian or even a slasher movie and in a modern sense, right. The way that she’s dispatched with and quite sad and really sad, it is awful to see her go.
S5: I mean, I really love her. She’s a wonderful character, a good friend. Checking up on you, man. Pre Facebook.
S9: What can I say?
S4: Well, I think maybe also we should get into the Edwin Flagg character, who’s the only other character who enters into in Blanches space. The accompanist that Jane hires for her imagined comeback, which becomes this whole thread right after she immobilizes her sister. There’s a period where a pretty long period where Blanche is sort of out of the story, except for that moment, the great scene for Joan Crawford, where she makes herself go down the stairs despite her fear and tries to make the phone call. But there’s a long period when she’s kind of locked away and the story becomes Jane trying to restart her career by picking up these costumes at the West. Costume company. And by hiring an accompanist who turns out to be this very weird character, I mean, just one of those people whose individual perversity is so clear that you don’t even need to write his character that much. And Victor Oneno, who plays him, just brings a ton to this twisted accompanist, Edwin Flagg.
S5: The person that I think of when I’m watching him in this particular is Peter Ustinov, someone who I’m watching them on screen. And I’m asking myself, are they British or is this an American putting on this syrupy, overly Kate inst. overly melodramatic voice for the sake of seeming like a kind of snob? It’s just the question that I immediately ask of him. And also seeing him interact with his mom got to love when a movie just takes a moment to let a guy interact with his mom. And somehow all the psychological stuff about this man could sort of put on his relationship with his mother. And in this case, his mom is played by Marjorie Bennett and are this odd couple. Right. But like I don’t really understand the relationship until later when after he’s been working with Jane and the mom tells him these things that she knows about her and about how, you know, after the accident she was found in some motel room, some guy. Do you remember that moment when he says that his mom like something like, why would that bother you? Is that how I was born? That suddenly, like, that was so insane?
S4: It was almost like it was an improv or something. Right. I mean, I’m some even sicker universe.
S6: Totally. But it opened something up in this movie where it’s like, okay, so there’s a moment where he and Jane are playing the piano and she goes into the the song about daddy. And then she starts talking about how daddy used to be our accompanist. And I think that’s the moment that flag starts to realize. What role am I feeling here exactly for this woman? And then, you know, she stands him up on a date and he’s mean to his mom. It’s just all of this. Daddy, mommy stuff packed into one movie, the back end of one.
S4: Right. Well, you know, also the suggestion I mean, maybe it’s because Bono himself was closeted in real life and was one of the many sort of gay eccentrics on the fringes and character roles. Right. But that all seems built into the character of me as well, that there’s this kind of on her side, romance or flirtation. There’s the sense that she has to be coy and girlish around him and that they almost have, you know, this relationship together and then him playing that to make sure that he gets his hundred dollars a week for her. Right. But him also being kind of needy like you when he’s stood up, he’s he’s sort of sad about it.
S3: And he goes off and gets drunk.
S4: But, you know, is just fantastic in that role. I mean, the funny thing is, say used to not the person I was thinking of a Sydney Greenstreet, who is another, you know, big fat villain, character actor who always had this sense of excessive seediness. It was almost like you just imagined him walking off whatever scene he was in and just going to do some incredibly depraved thing and, you know, opium den or something like that.
S5: But the thing about a lot of these actors, I think they all have in common is also just that the they’re good at playing. I mean, you can call it conniving in some roles, but this is a guy who for a guy who doesn’t seem to have it figured out in terms of, you know, profession or whatever. I love just the sense of being able to see the moment the wheels start turning in his head when he starts calculating things in his first meetings with Jane, when he’s like, okay, looking at this ithis house, she’s kind of batty. I think I could get away with some money here. Like, I think I can make this work like just, you know, flirt in the right way, like appease her in the right way. And this is someone that I can take advantage of and that can be my career. And then he goes home to his mom and it’s like, wow, your relationship with women and all these things. It’s just like he’s a weirdly complicated guy.
S4: Well, he seems to be also a serious musician or at least takes himself seriously. Right. So he’s always making these references to, well, my real life as a composer. Right. And so that also evokes this entire fringe Los Angeles world where you live in a small apartment with your mom. But you’re this aspiring great composer, but you’re getting by by playing piano for a psycho bitties. It’s crazy.
S6: And one thing that I like about movies like this is also how they point out if we take just the three of these characters, there’s Blanche, who is the real star. And then there’s Jane, who’s not very good. And then there’s this guy who, you know, whether or not being, as you say, musician is important to him, I take it to be very important to him. I don’t actually know if he’s good, because part of what this movie taps into for me is a thing that a lot of movies about Hollywood or L.A. tap into, which is the whole mass of people who are just good, who might not really get a career beyond helping the lady Jane’s over the world whose role is going to be as an accompanist, who are going to hopefully I mean, you know, the idea is that Baby Jane is another extreme where she’s for falls on the deep end. But most people are in the middle. Probably. It’s interesting that like Blanch is stuck upstairs on the one hand, but she has the higher ground, but everyone she’s the only one who’s talented. No, I mean, when she lives in the past and watches herself on TV, it’s poignant. And when everyone else does it, it’s got this sense of desperation to it. And this guy, it’s just like, you know, he can sight read music and perform that on the spot. But it’s not Mozart. He so he can get by. But is he good? Would he actually have a career? I don’t know. But that’s my impression of this guy. I really think that he needs odds and in job like this. And he’s trying to he’s moving from a place of I was going to be a somebody, but I’m looking around. I’m still living with my mom. So that’s not working out quite the same way. So I’m putting out personal ads to work with this random older woman with money. You know, if that’s where he is, I think the movie’s giving us a sense of like what Hollywood is like for most people, which is that they are just good, which is hard.
S4: And there are many movies about that. No, I have a question about it. Flagg’s behavior after he discovers that Blanche Hudson is, you know, manacled to the ceiling. Yes. Dying, as he himself says. He says she’s dying. Many scenes before she actually seems to think that she’s dying. Right. And then he’s this awful, cowardly guy who runs away. And then is it implied that he does anything about it? Or did he does he go? He doesn’t seem to be the person who went to the cops and gave the report. Right. Because that would have not given them as much time to get away. Anyway, that’s the last we hear of him, I believe. And my impression was that he flees and doesn’t tell anyone what he saw. Because we never see him go to the cops and we don’t hear that he was the person who tipped them off.
S6: Well, he’s the one who drunkenly sees Blanche tied up in the room. By the way, I crawl. I just said about how Aldrich’s an overly Gotha size this. These are the shots of her tied up. You know, it’s the shadow on either side of her in the way that she sort of spotlight in just the right way that just make her seem so contain and damage. And like really looks like it’s a lot of pain that she’s in and she looks so frail.
S4: It made me wonder whether they shot the scenes in order so that Joan Crawford could lose weight for i millimeter. Or maybe it’s just made. But she she seems so reduced. And you just so believe that she’s dehydrated and starving. It’s really hard to see.
S5: It is really hard to see. But he he stumbles away. See, what doesn’t happen, by the way, is I kind of expected Jane to push him down the stairs or something. Speaking of Psycho, what are the stairs, therefore? I mean, what are the stairs there for there? Right there. But he goes in and he stumbles out and he calls the authorities, I think great.
S4: I guess you see him go into a phone booth. You never know what call he may.
S5: Jean freaks because he leaves and he knows that she has her sister tied up. And that’s why she again, we get the covered up body in a wheelchair being wheeled away with the same framing where you see from the outside through the windows.
S4: Right. It’s quiet. One thing I was going to mention about the goodbye to Edwin Flagg, the last time you see him, he’s making that mysterious phone call in the phone booth. But I just love the framing that there’s a big billboard right behind him about an undertaker, which I have to wonder, did they find that spot? Because it was a great location with the billboard. Obviously, it was intentional. Or did they actually paint the billboard about go, go do our this particular undertaker and his name? It’s so good. I have to tell you, the whole phrase on the billboard is for undertaking utter. McKinley understands.
S8: My God, that’s classy. What’s that there?
S4: I don’t know. I mean, the locations that Aldridge does find when he takes the movie out of the claustrophobic house are all pretty incredible. I have to assume that, you know, that they were all deliberate locations. And if you think about Kiss me deadly, I mean, to me, the other big film I associate with Robin Aldridge, that Mickey Spillane. Yeah. Noir crime movie. It also uses real L.A. locations in this very specific way. Right. In fact, apparently the stretch of beach that we’re gonna get to soon, where the two sisters end their story is the same stretch of beach that if you remember the scene of the explosion at that kiss me deadly and it scene from a view on the beach is that same spot that he, I guess, liked to return to.
S5: Oh, good to know. Interesting. I don’t ever watch Casspi that day. He’s an interesting director of Good Poppy.
S4: Stuff like this. And a real journeyman. Like he made westerns. He made a biblical epic, you know. But they all have a very specific flavor that I if I wanted to say what they all have in common. It’s this kind of, you know, just like a force of like popping a sort of pulpy and proud.
S5: You know, he’s quite something. And he makes he’s not someone who is like moving the camera in these radical ways or showing off in certain ways. He knows how to frame things in the right way and with the right editing rhythm, make them just stand out psychologically as these key psychological pinpoints like, for example, the one that really stands out is when we talked about, which is the moment we get the reverse shot of Jane looking in the mirror at herself.
S6: It’s just like perfect framing, perfect reaction and just perfect way to introduce us to the idea of that about her. He’s really good at all of that. And yeah. And to your point, by the time you get to the beach, by the time they escape. The amount of time he spends on the beach, letting Jane sort of run wild, but always sort of letting us be aware of that black speck that is black.
S4: Yeah. Yeah, well, the camera finally starts to move out. I mentioned earlier when I was saying there are many individual shots, framings that I remember. One that I do comes in very near the end in that long period when, you know, Jane’s kind of freaking out, wandering the beach and poor blanches just lying there in her dark blanket, just basically dying. Right. And we don’t know whether she’s dead in the leg.
S5: It’s like something out of her Zolan novel. She’s just she’s just decaying right there.
S4: But there’s a very high shot, almost like it’s from a grain, you know, or even from a B, from a drone nowadays or something where you see the whole structure of the beach and you see the surf coming in and you see this little figure dressed in white. That’s Jane kind of wandering down the beach. This isn’t at the very end when the cops are after her, but just a moment when she’s kind of frolicking alone on the beach. And it’s a it’s a big jolt because everything has been so tightly tied into these sisters faces and close ups and inside their house. And to suddenly get this perspective, it gives you even more of a sense of how well how doomed this this attempt to escape is going to be, how completely open they are to public display and also just sort of how lonely and lost they are.
S5: I’m glad you said that, because it’s like how lonely and lost they are. I do think about the two of them. It’s weird like this, the point at which despite all the things have been happening for the last however long in the film, it’s really around the time that Jane first gets a little scared about the potential of the police coming. And she you realize weeks into it, she depends on Blanche in a way that by the time you get out to the beach, I feel sad for both of them.
S4: I can feel one of the things Blitt says on the beaches, if I die, you’ll be alone, right? It doesn’t seem to sink in. I don’t think Jane has really grasped the idea at this point. She’s really far gone, right. Like she really is in her fantasy world. Yeah. Because earlier in the movie, she’s been able to sort of get with it enough to go to Western costume and pick up her costumes and sort of function as a normal person.
S5: And to ask everyone. I don’t know if you know me, but I’m baby J.
S4: Maybe like she’s detached from reality, but she is in some ways a functional adult. But at the end, she really seems to have regressed totally to childhood. Right. With the ice cream cones, et cetera. I mean, to such a degree that it really is pushing like the pathos buttons really, really hard. And it really, I think is only because Betty and Joan at this point have so won me over that I’m not at all rolling my eyes at the end. I’m totally legitimately moved by their plight.
S5: Yeah, me too. It’s weird, right? But this is one of the things that I really love about, you know, I’m a firm believer in the ability of kind of genre trash or things that aren’t trying to be totally respectable classical narratives, their ability to get at these feelings better than many attempts at the more classical, you know, respectable Hollywood version of these things, because I really think it’s because of how far the movie goes that when we land on that beach, there’s something with the blaring whiteness of the beach. I get what you’re saying, like in contrast to the darkness within the house. It just puts everything into relief. And I feel like I’m seeing them together in the same space in a really sad way.
S4: Felt like exposed to the elements. Yeah. And they’re all surrounded by these young people. I mean, literally that last shot where they start to gather around. But even just when they’re lying on the beach, there’s just this sense that no one notices them because they’re old. You know, they’re not worth noticing. They’re invisible to all these. Certainly knows the volleyball players surrounding them.
S5: Absolutely. And what’s more, somehow within the space of this scene ordered also, you know, there’s like the black line cook that I have a sense of.
S4: I have the sense of the two cops like, oh, yeah, a little community established at that ice cream stand is amazing.
S5: It’s incredible how much of that stands out in the context of this scene. But then I’m social work my mind around the confession, which was hinted at earlier.
S4: Right. It was. Yes. And I will confess, I’ve not seen this movie. I had not seen it in a longtime probably 20 years. So I had no idea what the twist gotten. And when Bland hints earlier on in the House that there’s a different version of the story, I thought it was gonna be either something about their dad or somebody from the studio. Basically, I thought there was gonna be a man involved who was driving the car.
S5: Well, but the whole I feel like the whole movie sets you up. There’s something with men and dads and whatever in this movie that. Yeah.
S4: You you expect, I think something along those lines also, because with the story just from a sheerly plot point of view, which is kind of something ridiculous to bring to a movie this extreme and melodramatic. But the story which tells makes no sense. Like it makes no sense. You crash the car and paralyzed her spine. Rage. Whatever she did was bad enough that she would never walk again. And yet she somehow got out of the car, dragged herself to where exactly? Like how did she create a credible fake story of what happened?
S5: This is why I asked because I’ve forgotten this part of the movie. But as soon as I got to it, all the questions that I average. We had first few times that I saw it suddenly came back and I’m trying to remember if these were things that I like would have asked my mom, but I think I hated being the kid who’s watching black and white movies with his mom, who’s asking dumb questions of the adult. So I don’t think I ever said it out loud. But my initial read, even as a teen was, oh, she’s just saying that to like calm Jane down. There’s no way that this completely implausible and ridiculous story is true, even though the credit sequence is vague enough in terms of the bodies that it could be true. I guess I don’t know who was driving.
S11: I wouldn’t let you try.
S12: I made you go open the gates. I’ve watched you get out of the car. Being so cruel to me at the party.
S13: Making people laugh. I watched you get out of the car. I wanted to run you down. You saw the car come.
S14: I hit the gates.
S4: My spine and then Jane runs away, goes and holds up with a stranger in a hotel for three days, which is the story.
S3: I wonder where those flashbacks.
S5: Is this all Barnea? You know, just give me that story as well, please.
S4: In the many spin offs, I would like Elvira’s home life for Edwin Flagg’s home life, right?
S5: Absolutely. Yeah, I guess because it feels so far fetched. My read had always been this is the sort of lie you tell someone that you think is mentally unwell because the reality isn’t what they need. Reality is not going to help them. What you want is to help them calm down or to save your life. So you get them to calm down. You tell them whatever they want to hear. Also, you know, there’s that detail from when the studio exacts or talking. They pass by the car and they make a point of saying how big the car is and why do they need to make cars this size. So I guess there’s a part of me that’s thinking, OK, how just from crashing into the huge car. How did you make out? You know, I don’t know. Whatever, you know, physics, biology don’t have to get into it. It’s just a movie. It’s not a neat way to tie this up, but I don’t really need one for this movie. It’s too extreme, too right.
S4: And psychologically, it’s true. Right? I mean, the truth that it reveals is one that we’ve been waiting the whole movie to hear, which is some sign of hostility from Blanche. Right. And she’s the one who said as a child at the very beginning of the movie, I’ll never forget Mother. And yet she’s been this incredibly passive victim the whole time. Yeah. You know something that Joan Crawford is amazing at playing in this kind of sadomasochistic bottom. You know, she has throughout the whole movie. But you’ve been waiting for her to have that moment of rage and hostility. And even when she’s telling the story, she doesn’t have it. She tells the story very lovingly. And knowing that, it’s probably going to be her last words. Yeah. You know, but at least she’s looking back at this one moment where she felt murderous rage and expressed it.
S5: Right now, you realize she’s been kind of atoning this entire time. But God of all the ways to like atone for an error in which no one got hurt. But you, you. So, I mean, Jane says it like we could have been. It’s quite sad. And I think that’s the reason that makes the ending worth it. It’s like Jane taking this in. It hits at something. It allows her to sort of live further into this fantasy. She has the ice cream cone. She’s dancing around because she doesn’t have a sense of guilt anymore.
S4: Is it because she gets the ice cream cones that she’s eventually caught?
S5: Like, I can’t remember what what the chain of events is that leads to the cop seeing her because the cops have been there and maybe they’ve discovered the car as they discovered the car. Right. I think there’s like an APB or something and they hear it. Right.
S4: And then maybe another of those high shots when they chase her down. Right. And this is a moment when for the first time in the movie, really the public becomes important. Right. The whole time the public has been this imagined thing, watching TV somewhere or back in the past watching the ratings. But suddenly for this brief moment, Baby Jane is kind of back on stage. And she was at the beginning. Right. Doing her same sad. Is she doing written a letter to daddy or. No, she’s just sort of humming and singing and spinning and circlet.
S5: Right. Ice cream out, let’s say. Perfectly good, strong guys eating ice cream. Yeah. And that becomes the end of the film.
S4: I mean, that the very last thing we see is that, again, very high, almost crane like shot right where in one area baby Jane is performing for her little ring of admirers or at least onlookers, and that the cops are tending to blanch who we never find out whether she lived or died. What what’s your theory?
S5: I think she definitely lives. I don’t know if she still sells the house, though.
S4: I don’t know that she lives. I mean, I think it’s an annoyance. I really want her to. But at that point, I mean, Victor WALDHOLZ character was saying she was dying like two days prior before her beach dehydration session.
S5: And she really was in a bad way. Well, she’s a TV star now. She’s living on the small screen in a way.
S4: But in a way, it makes sense that she would not survive because the two of them need each other. You know, I mean, now we have to picture that Jane is going not even to jail probably, but to some sort of, I don’t know, mental institution or gang like that. Right.
S5: Because she’s got murder and kidnapping because. Yeah, at this point, I think that the police have figured out that it’s Jane who murdered a virus. So, yeah, it’s all pretty sad, but yeah, it definitely trash. It’s certainly not so. So so psychologically probing that it sort of feels like any kind of real psychological realism. It’s still I like the odds and ends. I like the fact that it’s sort of nonsense because what matters to me is giving these two stars a platform to just extrapolate and just go wild. And that’s what they do. They accomplish that.
S4: Yeah. I think of all the movies we’ve discussed on this show so far, this is the Kampeas. I don’t think that there is another one that probably not only reads it as camp to us now, but landed as camp to a lot of audiences at the time.
S5: Yeah, I would say the only thing that compares for me again. I gotta keep coming back to the kinky photos in Condor. There are camp to me.
S6: I do not think in the moment that’s what they wear. Other than that, I think this is our first sort of. Camp Classic.
S4: And you know, Susan Sontag’s essay Notes on Camp comes out only two years after this. 1962. I cannot imagine that it was not the case that there were already, for example, urban gay audiences that would go see things like this. You know, in part to cry, in part to laugh. And absolutely the huge success of this movie in its own time and that it was this sort of unexpected success that way outstripped its budget was not partly due to people going to it because of its over-the-top absurdity.
S5: Yeah. I mean, you know, in many cases, I would say that I’m glad not to be a gay man in 1962, but this is a case where I would have loved to have seen this at the time. Like I’m I’m just imagining, like the L.A. gays of the era, people who know about Victor Bono, who know all the subtexts, who know the work of these stars. Also, at a time when, you know, for the majority of people’s lives, they weren’t watching older movies on TV. So the stars really are alive for them as theatrical experiences. They’ve been watching people like Betty Davis and Joan Crawford huge and over the years since the silent era. And now it’s come to these two icons, these two queens at each other’s throats in a movie just like they are off screen. It’s like a gift to queer people.
S9: It is so much better than feud. I know we have.
S5: Yeah, I struggle there. I’ll I’ll give the show another chance. But it misses the soul of it all somehow out at a.m.
S4: Yeah. It’s got the biopic problem where no one can play the stars. Yeah. Plus I just to me Ryan Murphy is just actual trash like not interesting dimensional trash.
S5: But yeah I would say except for the O.J. show, that’s how it’s played out for me. This it just I think it’s easy to not really get the dynamics right of this because I mean it was so long ago. This movie is 1962. You can kind of get away with like the mythology of it and make that into a show rather than really digging at beneath the artifice. I think the show maps the artifice too much onto the real lives and it just doesn’t work, which is too bad. But we have a movie, so who cares?
S4: Yeah, we have the movie and the real story is incredible enough. We won’t even get into some of the aftermath stories about this movie. But if you did see this movie and like it, I recommend reading up on the Oscars the following year because there’s some bitchy interplay between Betty and Joan that’s kind of indelible, kind of miss when the academy when this stuff was just all less polite, to be honest.
S5: I don’t need a host for the Oscars. I need drama, keep people competing, gets to the who does like each other, who are fighting, who are stealing people’s husbands, who, you know, give me the whole thing. That’s what I want. And then my movie about it, starring those people literally could not wish for anything better than that.
S4: So knowing that I can’t possibly top the insanity of Baby Jane, I am at least going to skip ahead to decade that I feel like we’ve kind of neglected. We haven’t talked about many 80s movies, right?
S3: We haven’t. We just skip to the 70s. Yeah, we keep on gravitating 60s in the 80s that we ignore. I don’t know.
S4: Well, so I wanted to do two things. I wanted to visit something in the 80s and I wanted to look at something by woman director because we haven’t done that in a while. And obviously, the further back you go in film history, the harder those are to find. Yeah. But a favorite movie from the 80s and I think a seminal high school movie from the 80s is Fast Times at Richemont High. And I’m wondering how you feel about doing that for our next movie.
S5: Perfect. I also have not watched that since I was younger. And gosh, I I’m wondering what it’s going to be. Is it going to be like when we watched John Hughes movies? Now we’re like, wow, why were we laughing at that? I suspect not as a as a heckerling. Like I believe in her. I trust her. I’m sure that this will be a movie that will that will hold up.
S4: I mean, it certainly is a movie that was incredibly influential, right. At the high school movies to come afterward. Unfortunately, not in the sense that it was directed by a woman. Not yet movies, although Valley Girl is an exception.
S5: Martha Coakley and her own, they’re clueless, but it really is fewer.
S4: Yeah. But there was this moment. Right. There was this moment in the 80s where there were some really great movies about young people often focusing on a girl’s story that were directed by women. And in fast times, I think is well, it’s a it’s the easiest to find on streaming. Also, I think, is one that really formed a lot of movies to come. And of course, you get to see baby Sean Penn doing his thing is Jeff Spicoli. And there’s just there’s lots to talk about in fast times.
S5: Yeah, I remember being a very good movie, some friend.
S4: So, yes, we will convene in two weeks. Talk about fast times at Richemont High, directed by Amy Heckerling, and you can find that on Amazon, i-Tunes Hulu. I think you can pretty much find it at any normal streaming platform. So be sure to watch that one. And we will talk to you all in two weeks.
S2: Our producer, as always, is Chow, too. And you can write us, as always at Flashback at Slate.com. If you have any feedback or ideas of movies we should talk about in the future. We always like to have a backlog forecast in Collins of Vanity Fair. I’m Dana Stevens. Thanks so much for being a Slate Plus subscriber and listening flashback. And we’ll talk to you on TV.