BY LISA MARIE BRENNAN
Year released: 1962
How it fared back then: Very well. This unusual thriller dominated the 1963 Academy Awards, winning Best Costume Design and earning four nominations, including Best Actress in a Leading Role for Bette Davis. It also sparked a 1991 remake, starring actress Vanessa Redgrave.
Why it has lasted: There are so many reasons why this black-and-white cinematic masterpiece remains a classic, but I think it all boils down to the cast. Legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, bitter rivals in the film, were true rivals off-stage as well. According to director Robert Aldrich, Davis was known to have said “I wouldn’t piss on Joan Crawford if she was on fire.” The two fought over the same men, tried to one-up each other in their careers and the fact that they disliked each other so much made the film that much more realistic. That flash of vindictiveness in their eyes when both actresses confronted one another was genuine. How often does one find that when watching a thriller?
Classic moments: Bette Davis’s eerie, if not a little sad, scene when she is all dolled up in her horrid make-up and wretched dress, scratchily singing “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy.” One can’t help but feel sorry for her when she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror and breaks down crying, realizing what she’s been reduced to.
Knowing the story behind it, another favourite is when Davis is dragging poor Joan Crawford’s limp body out of the house. Rumour has it that Crawford purposely made herself as heavy as possible, just to piss Davis off, and nearly broke her back in the process. Way to get your revenge, Joan. That’s what she gets for killing your poor innocent pet bird in the early part of the movie.
Does it hold up? Definitely. Who doesn’t like a good thriller, especially one about sibling rivalry at its worst? A story about an insanely jealous sister who has been one-upped by her beautiful, more successful sister her entire life is an age-old theme that audiences will never tire of. The ’90s remake alone is proof enough that this movie could be successful in any generation it was set in.
Lisa Marie Brennan is an Ontario-based writer and editor, with a love for classic movies. Her favourite actress of all time is Marilyn Monroe and believes the misunderstood actress is not quite as ditzy as she was made out to be.