Baby Jane’s Empty Frame

Whenever I go to a screening of a movie, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, I leave with a new level of appreciation for that movie. I don’t know if it’s from watching it in a distraction-free environment or because I’m watching it on such a big screen, but I always notice a lot of things I don’t see when I watch it at home. They’re not usually major things, typically some small detail like a gesture or an expression. This weekend, I went to a screening of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and it was no exception to that rule. In this case, it wasn’t a gesture or an expression, but set decor.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is one of my favorite movies, I’ve seen it plenty of times before. So I was sitting there in the theater watching the movie and it got to the part where Edwin comes over to meet Jane to discuss the job she wants to hire him for. In the background of the living room, I noticed that there were some framed old pictures of Jane (really old stills of Bette Davis). Nothing really noteworthy there, but what really got my attention was an empty picture frame mixed in with the old pictures.  (It’s definitely not a mirror, there’s never any reflection in it.)

It’s like that frame at one time held a picture of Blanche, but Jane had gotten rid of it.  Not only does it look like she took the picture out, it looks like she ripped it out and the corner got stuck in the frame.  This is a really small detail that I just love because it is so believable that Jane Hudson would do that. George Sawley, the movie’s set decorator, could have very easily had the room full of just Jane’s old pictures and it would have been perfectly fine.  But having that empty frame there is so brilliantly consistent with her character.   Actually, let’s take a closer look at that picture frame:

See how the frame is just a little bit bigger and appears to be more ornate than the rest of the frames around it?  It’s like the bigger star of the two sisters would have gotten to be in the fanciest frame on the mantle.  It gives the impression that A:  Jane was never able to be live up to live up to her sister’s success and B: it represents what Jane’s life has been like since her movie career failed — empty and surrounded by her former glory.

It’s amazing how much an empty picture frame can say.  Excellent touch by George Sawley!


One comment

  1. Wonderful analysis of some brilliant production design. I’ve always loved the way the rooms in this film look; there’s just so much to see and pick up on. I’ve never noticed the empty frame before, but I think you’re definitely right about its implications. Good eye!

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