Stream This? is a feature devoted to exploring and reviewing some of the lesser known and often-times weirder films that can be found on various streaming services. Today, Roy Buckingham examines the 1991 TV Movie What Ever Happened To…?
WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the original 1962 film What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? and the 1991 remake What Ever Happened To…
In 1960, a book was released with a sensational plot that caught Hollywood’s attention. Two years later, it was adapted into one of the biggest films in Warner Brothers’ history. That film and book were both titled What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? and the film starred notorious Hollywood rivals Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. This was a huge gamble due to how both actresses were considered has-beens and box office poison at time and the film went on to become a Gothic Horror and camp cult classic because of the feud between Davis and Crawford and their over-the-top performances. In fact, that feud (which was the subject of a 2017 award-winning television miniseries) and the film have become so infamous that the 1991 remake starring real-life actress sisters Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave has been largely forgotten.
Vanessa Redgrave plays the wheelchair-bound ex-actress Blanche and Lynn Redgrave plays crazed former child-star Jane. Set in the late 1980’s, we learn how Jane was a performer in the same vein as Shirley Temple. However, once sister Blanche (who was Jane’s stand-in) got acting lessons, her ship sailed as Jane’s career stalled. Forgotten for years, the advent of the home-video market has allowed Blanche Hudson’s films to be rediscovered by a new generation, driving Jane deeper into alcoholism and insanity.
I had never seen this version of the tale and am a big fan of the original, so I decided to give it a watch on Amazon Prime. While it does not hold a weakly-lit match to the original, at the same time I also didn’t hate it. The grotesque horror aspects of the story are replaced with melodrama, which turns Jane from a crazed, dangerous woman into a character that you honestly feel bad for when she isn’t torturing her sister. This is accomplished not only through Lynn Redgrave’s performance as Jane, but also through how her character is manipulated by a man named Billy (John Glover) who promises to revive Jane’s career after recognizing her when she enters his video store.
What Billy promises her is a career comeback she deserves. What he doesn’t tell her is that he is actually a grifter who also pimps out underage boys to gay porn companies. The “comeback” he stages for her is at a drag club, where he passes her off as part of his campy drag act. This realization sends Jane into a downward spiral that she is unable to recover from and it is just as shocking as it sounds.
The Redgrave sisters have an awkward chemistry with each other, despite being renowned actresses. Strangely, this seems to have deprived the remake of the spark that the original possessed. You can tell that when the director yelled “Cut!” in-between takes here, one sister would ask the other if they were okay and such then go home for tea after a day’s work, instead of trying to sabotage each other.
Despite having to have to work in the shadows of two Hollywood legends, Lynn Redgrave gives a good performance and Vanessa Redgrave has her moments, though I was hoping for a tad more from her. Still, this movie is worth a gander; not only for the insane moment I mentioned earlier, but to see a different take on a classic tale that is honestly not too shabby in its execution. Just don’t expect the fireworks of the original.
What Ever Happened To…? is available for streaming through Amazon Prime.