What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite a mix of strengths, a few negatives caused issues.
Sharpness wasn’t one of the problems. Despite an occasional slightly soft wide shot, the majority of the flick looked good. It usually came across as nicely distinctive and concise. I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement was minimal.
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.
Jane lost points due to source defects. Throughout the flick, I noticed examples of specks, marks and blotches. These varied in intensity, and some parts of the movie were much cleaner than others. Nonetheless, I saw a fair number of them and they created distractions. The flaws knocked down my grade to a “B-“, which was a shame since a cleaner presentation might have ventured into “A” territory.
At least the monaural soundtrack of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? seemed quite satisfying for its age. Speech was consistently crisp and distinctive, and I detected no signs of edginess or other problems. Effects sounded clean and accurate. Those elements featured decent range as well. Music was especially lively. The score appeared bright and dynamic throughout the film. Overall, the audio proved solid.
We find a nice mix of extras in this two-DVD set. On Disc One, we get the film’s trailer as well as 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 seems 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.
Moving to DVD Two, we mostly find documentaries and featurettes. First we check out Bette and Joan: Blind Ambition. This 29-minute and 44-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 five-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 33-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 scene in New York Rhapsody.
A “vintage featurette” called Behind the Scenes with Baby Jane lasts six minutes, 35 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.
Finally, we get a December 1962 excerpt from The Andy Williams Show with Bette Davis. This two-minute and three-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.
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 DVD gives us decent picture and audio along with a mix of fine extras. The lackluster movie presentation means this isn’t a killer DVD, but it’s a pretty good package overall and fans will enjoy it.