What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. I experienced very few issues through this stellar transfer.
Sharpness consistently looked solid. Virtually no concerns with softness occurred, as the movie always remained tight and well-defined. I noticed no issues with jaggies or moiré effects, and the image appeared to lack edge enhancement. Digital noise reduction failed to cause distractions, as the movie’s grain structure appeared to remain intact; grain was noticeable but not heavy. Print flaws also failed to appear, as the flick remained clean.
For this black and white presentation, contrast appeared strong. Jane demonstrated solid darkness and whites were bright and clean. Except for one “day for night” shot late in the film, shadows looked well-defined but never too dense or dim. This was a really fine visual presentation.
Unfortunately, the movie’s monaural soundtrack seemed less satisfying. Speech was a weak link, as dialogue tended to be awfully sibilant. The lines remained intelligible, but they lacked a natural feel.
Music was better but inconsistent. Much of the score seemed fairly robust, but some distortion occasionally interfered. Effects were similar, as those elements varied between reasonably accurate and moderately rough. This wasn’t a bad track for its age, but it sounded more shrill than I’d like.
How does the Blu-ray compare to the 2006 Special Edition DVD? Visuals demonstrated a nice improvement, especially in terms of print flaws; source defects created the majority of the DVD’s concerns. In addition, the Blu-ray looked better defined and richer.
Unfortunately, I thought audio took a step backwards. The DVD sounded smoother and less distorted; I didn’t note as much of the harshness when I reviewed the 2006 disc. The improved visuals are a treat, but the issues with the audio disappoint.
The Blu-ray duplicates the extras from the 2006 DVD. These open with an audio commentary with drag performers Charles Busch and John “Lypsynka” Epperson. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. I feared the worst from this piece, as I worried that they’d just throw out catty barbs and nothing else. Happily, they take a more subdued approach as they examine the film.
The pair discuss their personal reactions to the movie and also give us some history. They chat about the actors and crew, the movie’s sets and costumes, and elements of its production. We get some decent nuggets about the participants’ histories, though the program lacks the depth that would come from a film historian.
Ultimately, that’s the biggest problem with the commentary. It gives us a moderate amount of background information, but neither Busch nor Epperson seem to know a ton about the production itself. This leaves us with a consistently decent track but not one that proves especially illuminating or rich. It’s sure a lot better than I expected, though.
Next we check out Bette and Joan: Blind Ambition. This 29-minute and 58-second piece features movie snippets, archival materials, and interviews. We discover notes from Busch, Epperson, film historians Ursini and Tom Toth, film critics John Anderson and Paul Clinton, author Boze Hadleigh, biographers Karen Swenson and Charlotte Chandler, author/film historian Rudy Behlmer, USC Hitchcock Professor of American Film Dr. Drew Casper, Crawford’s publicist’s wife June Springer, film writer Glenn Erickson, and actor Carol Kane.
“Ambition” creates a dual examination of the careers of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. It bops from one to the other as it starts early in their work and proceeds through the years. It’s an interesting way to look at the pair, though I’m not sure it works terribly well.
Is there any compelling reason to view the actors in this meshed manner? Not really, especially since they never worked together until Jane. Yes, they remain connected in the public mind, but the way it combines their careers creates an awkward flow, and only 15 minutes or so per actor means we get some nice notes but not a surfeit of detail. I do like the way it discusses their long-time rivalry, though, and it gives us a reasonable pass through Jane itself when it gets there.
For a close look at Davis, we move to the 48-minute and 12-second All About Bette. Created in 1993 and narrated by Jodie Foster, it includes remarks from Davis that appear to span a period of 1971 to 1987. We also get a 1981 chat with son Michael and some 1971 statements from her sister Barbara, director William Wyler, and actors Paul Henreid and Olivia de Havilland.
“About” provides a pretty standard biography of the actor. It starts with her childhood and progresses through her start at Warner Bros. and her move up the movie star ladder. We learn about her various roles and also get glimpses of her turbulent personal life.
The documentary works for a number of reasons. First, using archival clips to let Davis tell her own story provides lots of blunt comments and insights into her thinking. Foster’s narration carries the bulk of the information, but Davis spices up the program on a consistent basis. The show doesn’t shy away from controversies, but it never devolves in tawdry tabloid TV. Add to that some fun rarities like movie outtakes and a commercial for “Awake” plus a slew of good film snippets and this turns into a winning show.
Davis’s co-star comes to the forefront with the 28-minute and 37-second A Film Profile: Joan Crawford. Apparently made around 1967 it features an interview with Crawford conducted by Philip Jenkinson. “Profile” gives us a few notes about Crawford’s early life but mostly deals with her career progression and personal life. However, it mostly chats with Crawford about her movies and other elements. Unlike the more detailed “About”, “Profile” zips through its subject. It focuses on the then-current Crawford interview.
That’s a blessing and a curse. While it’s nice to hear so much from the actor, she doesn’t remotely approach the candor of Davis, and we don’t really learn much about her. She throws out a few mildly interesting remarks about her performances and co-stars, but there’s little depth. I wish the DVD included a look at Crawford similar to “About”, as she also deserves a detailed biographical program. “Profile” isn’t it.
SCTV fans take note: “Profile” includes a clip from 1946’s Humoresque that was the very direct inspiration for a snippet in New York Rhapsody.
A “vintage featurette” called Behind the Scenes with Baby Jane lasts six minutes, 39 seconds. It provides nothing but the most rudimentary of notes about the production and prefers to show film clips. We see a few decent shots from the set, but this one remains boring and promotional most of the time.
After this we get a December 1962 excerpt from The Andy Williams Show with Bette Davis. This two-minute and seven-second clip shows Davis as she croons a terrible pop tune inspired by the movie. She also almost does the Twist. A complete train wreck, fans would want to buy this set just for this amazing piece of footage.
Finally, the disc provides the film’s Trailer as well as a strange music video. This gives us the “Dan-O-Rama Movie Mix” for the song Davis performs on Andy Williams and is decidedly campy. Maybe others will take entertainment from it, but it does nothing for me.
The package also includes a hardcover book. It features production notes, cast/crew bios, trivia, photos and advertisements. Nothing remarkable pops up here, but it’s a nice addition.
History may regard What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? as a camp classic, but I think it deserves a better fate than that. The movie works as a fairly creepy piece of character horror that just happens to boast fun performances from a pair of legendary actresses. The Blu-ray delivers excellent visuals and a nice collection of supplements, but the audio tends to be spotty. Though the inconsistent soundtrack disappoints, the picture quality upgrades make this the Baby Jane to own; it looks so great that I can live with the auditory issues.
To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?