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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Baby Jane!
Baby Jane!
Ariztical Entertainment // Unrated // September 20, 2011
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Rich Rosell | posted October 29, 2011 | E-mail the Author
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The 1962 Robert Aldrich-directed Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? is one of those spot-on perfect films, a dark, campy and sad story built around the blackhole of fame. It's the saga of the slowly rotting lives of former child star Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis), her wheel-chair bound/one-time film star sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) and the mad web of jealousy and spotlights that has ruined their lives. If you haven't seen this beautifully weird film, you need to do so immediately, and considering that it rejuvenated the careers of Davis and Crawford, both of whom deliver broad ham-tastic caricatures that straddle that high camp fence without falling off the wrong way into the bramblebushes of shrill parody.

That brings us to this Billy Clift-directed remake/homage/parody/comedy entitled Baby Jane!, which has the unique qualifier of featuring male actors in drag in all the key roles. Given the original source material the idea is not nearly as absurd as it sounds, and I suppose that requires looking at this film from different perspectives: as an homage and as a sendup. It seems that Clift wants it to be both, but that's a difficult task, to be sure. The story doesn't veer off from Aldrich's film all that much, so as a remake Clift plays within the thematic lines well enough, even presenting the film in black-and-white to give it all a neat retro texture. There have been other attempts at reinventing Whatever Happened To... - including a dreadful television remake with Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave in the early 1990s - that have gone nowhere, and I attribute that to the masterful way Davis and Crawford dialed it way up without somehow going over.

The curious part is that I had no issues whatsoever with novelty of the drag performances, with Matthew Martin effortlessly transforming Baby Jane into a frightening and hilarious control freak while J. Conrad Frank completely nails Joan Crawford's tormented Blanche. They're both reason enough to check this one out, even if the overall package seems to try a little too hard; Martin and Frank play it pretty close to the vest with regard to the original characterizations, adding their own subtle flourishes. Which leaves the many big-wigged supporting players to give this its additional intended campiness. But it's almost too much, and perhaps if Martin and Frank were the only in-drag actors this may have had a more off-balance feel.

Maybe it's my love of the way Davis and Crawford BECAME Baby Jane and Blanche, to the point where those roles cannot and should not ever be played by someone else. I'm sure you have a film or two you hold in high regard, where the notion of a remake seems unnecessary and frivolous. I was intrigued by Clift's concept, and I enjoyed the two leads, but the rest of Baby Jane! seemed to dilute the camp factor, as impossible as that may sound considering it's a drag production. I wanted to like this more than I did - I tried, really - and in the end I realized I would just rather watch Davis and Crawford go toe-to-wheel again.

THE DVD
Video
The widescreen transfer renders Billy Clift's black-and-white drag homage fairly well, given this film's minimal budget. Some of the early flashback sequences have an intentional period haze and softness, making these moments appear properly vintage. The remainder of much of the film is a largely well-balanced mixture, with pleasant contrast levels.

Audio
Audio on the screener copy I had for review was 2.0 stereo, a rather ordinary presentation that delivered dialogue clearly throughout. No complaints overall, as this is generally quite suitable, but it is extremely plain jane (near titular reference).

Extras
Ariztical Entertainment provided a barebones screener for review, which contained no extras of any kind. Your mileage may vary.

Final Thoughts
I love high camp, but this drag parody of the Bette Davis/Joan Crawford 1962 classic (perfectly campy in its own right) is ultimately rather pointless.

Skip it.
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