The director Walter Hill has struck a deal to remake one of Hollywood’s greatest horror melodramas – in fact, the greatest horror melodrama about Hollywood. A new version of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962), for which Robert Aldrich coaxed indelible performances from arch-enemies Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, will be written and directed by Hill (“Streets of Fire,” “The Long Riders”) and co-produced by him and Adell Aldrich, daughter of the late auteur.
In Aldrich’s Gothic masterpiece, Davis, then 54, played Jane Hudson, a demented has-been actress in her sixties who’s tormented by her memories of childhom stardom. Crawford, 57, played her wheelchair-bound sister, Blanche, whom Jane tortures – with such delicacies as a dead rat for lunch (see video below).
The thought of Hill’s reboot will already be exciting the agents of such actresses as Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Dianne Wiest, Anjelica Huston, Sissy Spacek, and Melissa Leo. What about Susan Sarandon (with her Bette Davis eyes) for Jane and Charlotte Rampling (playing against her malicious persona) as Blanche?
“The two equal leads demand great performers – that is a given,” Hill told the Hollywood Reporter. “The intensity of the gothic storyline makes a reconfiguration of the drama still a potentially searing experience. The idea is to make a modern film without modernizing the period. It needs to resonate the golden age of Hollywood.”
Hill will adapt the movie from the original screenplay by Lukas Heller, which was based on Henry Farrell’s novel. The unexpected success of Aldrich’s film, which was nominated for five Oscars (winning for Best Costume Design), prompted him to team Heller and Farrell on the screenplay for “Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), a slab of Gothic grand guignol, originating in a Farrell story, that was set in the antebellum South.
The plan to reunite Davis and Crawford ran aground when Crawford, who was upstaged by Davis on “Baby Jane” and jealous because her rival had been Oscar-nominated, quit the production after four days, feigning illness. She was replaced at Davis’s suggestion by her friend Olivia de Havilland, and another Davis loyalist, Mary Astor, was also in the cast. Davis indicated that her contempt for Crawford wasn’t feigned when I interviewed her in 1987.
Although “Charlotte” isn’t as critically well regarded as “Baby Jane,” it was also a hit and received seven Oscar nominations, then the most for a horror movie. Davis, playing another woman who goes mad, wasn’t nominated that time, but Agnes Moorehead, cast as the housekeeper, got the nod in the Best Supporting Actress category. Looking back on this bizarre diptych, one may conclude, “Hysteria isn’t what it used to be.”
A tasty morsel for Blanche in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?":