Made in a wide-screen format so that bickering costars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford could both be shown on-screen at the same time, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was shot in the wrong shape for the TV screen. When the move was released on videocassette a few years ago, technicians ”squeezed” the image electronically, keeping both actresses visible but making them unrealistically gaunt — like the cast of a moving El Greco painting. This new laserdisc edition restores them to their full-faced, haggard glory by ”letterboxing” the film’s rectangular image between black bands above and below the picture. The disc also has a subtler, creepier palette o grays and blacks in place of the tape’s harsh, high-contrast sepia tones. It looks every bit as ghastly as it should.
Davis abandons all dignity as the demented, pasty-faced ”Baby” Jane Hudson, a former vaudeville child star who grudgingly cared for her crippled ex-movie-queen sister, Blanche (the eerily masochistic Crawford). Each does her best to seem the more pathetic as the story line, as tedious length, takes turn ripping off Psycho, Sunset Boulevard, and A Streetcar Named Desire. Still, there’s no suspense and little horror here — just the spectacle of two grotesque harridans, showcased with pitiless clarity. C+