With its sparkling divas and muscled he-men, Hollywood in its heyday was a barely closeted champion of queer culture. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Robert Aldrich’s tale of two showbiz siblings washed-up and acting out their bitter rivalry as macabre horror, took the movies’ congenital campness that one stage further.
Joan Crawford plays Blanche, wheelchair-bound former starlet and prisoner of Bette Davis’ younger and less successful Baby Jane. Delusional, alcoholic Jane tries to rejig her career by enlisting mummy’s boy Edwin (a flouncing Victor Buono) as accompanist to her creepy signature tune I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy. She serves Blanche a rat for dinner and takes out the maid with a hammer, all with the aim of stymying her sister’s plans to sell their house. Blanche spirals obligingly into despair, literally spinning maniacally in her chair after the rodent incident. Art imitates life as kooky legends Crawford and Davis furiously try to out-act each other, making burlesque film history as they go. [Helen Wright]