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Bette Davis: Two Legendary and Unforgettable Thriller Movie Roles

By Edited Nov 13, 2015 1 3

Bette Davis was a silver screen icon who made many memorable movies.  Two of them in particular left a lasting impression with many people.  They are both classics.

In the 1960s, she starred in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane  with Joan Crawford.  It was so successful that the producer and director, Robert Aldrich, wanted to make another film in the same genre and with the same two leading ladies.  

Davis returned to the screen to play Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte.  This movie was made without Crawford.  It was no secret that the two women did not get along, and Crawford refused to ever work with Davis again.  Instead, Olivia de Havilland was cast on the suggestion of Davis.

These two films were made close together.  They also were one of the first to feature an aging, mentally deteriorating woman as the main character of the story. 

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

The movie begins in the early 1900s, when Jane was a young vaudeville sensation.   She's a very difficult child who manipulates her father to get whatever she wants, much to the chagrin of her mother and older sister, Blanche.  Jane is so popular that she's the inspiration for a Baby Jane doll.  

Twenty years later, the fortunes of the two sisters have completely reversed.  Jane's fame turned out to be fleeting.  She's a has been even though she is still relatively young.  Blanche, however, has made many successful films.  Jane takes to drinking out of despair and depression.  She is insanely jealous of Blanche, and makes no effort to hide her feelings. 

One night after heavy drinking a car smashes into the gate of the sister's home.  It's obvious there was an attempt to kill, but who caused the accident remains a mystery until late in the movie. 

Years later, Blanche is confined to a wheelchair due to a spinal injury from the crash.  She's totally dependent on Jane.  Her sister has aged considerably and looks old and haggard.  Jane wears excessive make up in an effort to try to look younger. 

The only friend Blanche now has is the housekeeper Elvira.  She knows Jane is descending into madness and  finds her behavior alarming, but Blanche makes excuses for her sister. 

Jane has delusions of restarting her career, and hires Edwin to help her with this. He is a piano accompanist.  She has Edwin play while she sings one of the songs that made her a star as a young girl.  It's grotesque and outlandish.  Edwin manages to hide his disgust. 

Meanwhile, Jane's emotional abuse towards Blanche continues.  It  escalates into physical beatings.  All her pent-up anger, jealousy and bitterness has come to the surface.  Jane's behavior towards Blanche gets even worse.  By the time Blanche realizes her life is in danger, there isn't much she can do.  This is because she has been cut off from the whole world.  Blanche does not even have a phone she can use.  

As Jane becomes even more mentally ill, innocent people are affected.  It's a very suspenseful thriller that kept me guessing about what the outcome would be. 

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is certainly a dark story, with suspense that keeps you on the edge of your seat/  It is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock films.  Bette Davis got an Academy Award nomination for playing the repulsive, deranged Jane.  It was well deserved, and Crawford did an excellent job playing the victim Blanche. 

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford
Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bette_Davis_and_Joan_Crawford_in_Whatever_Happened_to_Baby_Jane_trailer.jpg

Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Bette Davis once again plays a character who goes insane.  In this case, however, you can't help but feel sorry for poor Charlotte. 

Young Charlotte was having an affair with a married man.  The two of them planned to run off together, much to the anger of Charlotte's father.  He pressures John to break off the affair.  John attends a party at the father's mansion, where he tells Charlotte it is over between them, even though he still has strong feelings for her.

Hours later Charlotte, who has gone back to the room where she last saw John to plead with him to take her back, finds he has been brutally murdered.  She returns to the party, very traumatized and stunned by what she saw.  Her gown is covered with John's blood.  Naturally her father and the guests assume Charlotte has killed him.

Years later, Charlotte is living alone in the mansion.  Her only companion is a very eccentric housekeeper.  Velma really does care about Charlotte's well being.  Other than Velma, Charlotte has no contact with others.  She has lived a recluse all through the years. Everyone in town believes she killed John, and Charlotte has never gotten over his death. 

The mansion is in a terrible state of disrepair, and the state wants to demolish it. They have plans to build a new highway which will go right through the area where the property stands.   Charlotte refuses to leave under any circumstances.  She decides to call her cousin Miriam to help her fight against the local government.  

Charlotte trusts her cousin, but Velma is immediately suspicious.  She believes Miriam has ulterior motives for coming to stay with the wealthy Charlotte.  Velma's fears are well founded.  Not long after Miriam arrives, Charlotte mental state begins to deteriorate.  

Miriam and her boyfriend Drew stage various scenes making Charlotte think John is still alive.  Unbeknownst to Charlotte, they also were drugging her so she would have hallucinations.  Miriam and Drew plot to drive Charlotte completely insane so they can gain possession of all her money.  

Charlotte's father had died believing his daughter had killed John.  Charlotte herself thought her father was responsible for the crime.  Miriam was the one person who knew who the guilty person was, but she hid that from Charlotte all through the years.  

Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte was over the top in many ways, but I found it very entertaining to watch.  It certainly has suspense and great performances by all the principal cast members.  

Things These Two Movies Had in Common

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte had a few things in common, besides  Bette Davis having the starring role in both.

Both films were produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, and they were major box office successes.

The two stories featured housekeepers who were sympathetic to the victims.  They soon learned what was really going on, and were killed to keep them from revealing the abuse that was happening.

Victor Buono appeared in both films.  He played Edwin in Baby Jane, and was Charlotte's father in the second movie.  

These are two gothic horror movies that have become classics.  They revived Bette Davis' career, as roles for older women were quite scarce.  In fact to this day, there aren't many movies made where the leading actor is an older woman.  

I've watched both of these movies several times over the years.  Even with knowing the plot and outcome, they remain interesting to watch, if for no other reason than the performance of Bette Davis and great supporting casts. 

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Special Edition
Amazon Price: $14.96 $6.43 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 13, 2015)
This gets a remarkable 4.7 out of 5 stars from Amazon customers. It includes special features including biographical profiles.
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte
Amazon Price: $14.98 $7.82 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 13, 2015)
de Havilland is great in her supporting role, the sinister cousin who seems so sweet. Agnes Moorehead also did a great job as Charlotte's housekeeper and friend.
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Comments

Dec 22, 2013 1:32pm
TonyBooth
They are two fantastic movies ... but I would also nominate one of her last film roles, as the blind sister with Lillian Gish as the other sister, in The Whales of August, which also starred an aging Vincent Price. The performances were extraordinarily haunting. I have this now on dvd and watch it from time to time, just to remind myself how skillfully true good acting can be.
Dec 22, 2013 1:51pm
WriterJoanne
I did not see that movie, but am sure I would enjoy it. Thanks for stopping by.
Sep 15, 2014 6:00pm
kellapat
I saw both of these movies many years ago. Your review makes me want to order both from Netflix. I would enjoy seeing them after your reminder.
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