Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

Synopsis:

In 1927, the married lover of a Southern socialite, Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis), is brutally murdered by an unknown assailant. Nearly forty years later, Charlotte is haunted by memories of the still unsolved murder. Meanwhile, Charlotte is on the verge of losing her sprawling mansion to eminent domain. She asks her cousin Velma (Olivia de Havilland, The Heiress) for help, but things go from bad to worse.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“What do you think I asked you here for? Company?”

As the song says, “money makes the world go around.” And money was the prime motivation for producing Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Despite the fact that it was made with the sole purpose of cashing in on Robert Aldrich’s smash hit What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush…Hush is pretty good in its own right.

Comparisons can be odious but sometimes you can’t help it. Baby Jane and Hush…Hush (originally titled What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?) have a lot of things in common — similar crew and actors, the same Grand Guignol genre — but they are also different in some key areas. Baby Jane mixed horror with black humor. Hush…Hush is a thriller filled with tragedy, sadness and melancholia.

Granted, Hush…Hush is an old hat by now. The plot is as easy as instant coffee. The script — written by Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller (Flight of the Phoenix and The Dirty Dozen) — relies too much on silly red-herrings and surprises that are no surprises (the “twist” is pretty obvious from the outset). Sadly, Hush…Hush also resorts to totally unnecessary (and tacky) gore and mayhem.

That being said, Hush…Hush is beautifully constructed, stylishly directed and photographed (Joseph Biroc’s shadowy black and white cinematography is fantastic!). I will admit that it does have some slow spots — the movie tends to drag in places — but I usually enjoy slow-burn thrillers and director Aldrich keeps the momentum going all the way to its expected but satisfying climax.

Bette Davis gives a first-rate performance as Charlotte. She manages to create a real human being, not an easy task by any means considering the plot’s implausibilities. Davis also takes chances when the scene permits it. There is a particularly unforgettable moment near the end of the movie that only an actor of Davis’s caliber could pull off: she crawls on the floor, whimpering and moaning as her character finally loses her mind.

As every movie buff knows, Hush…Hush was meant to reunite Davis with Joan Crawford, but the latter supposedly got sick and left the production. Last-minute replacement Olivia de Havilland does a commendable job as Bette’s chic cousin, but as much as I like her performance, I think Crawford would have been better. Plus, Bette and Joan had the kind of fascinating chemistry that cannot be duplicated.

While Bette and Livvie pull each other’s hair out, the impressive supporting cast keeps us entertained. Joseph Cotten (Shadow of a Doubt) is wonderfully viperish as Dr. Bayliss and Agnes Moorehead (The Magnificent Ambersons) managed to nab an Oscar nomination as Bette’s faithful servant Velma. Cecil Kellaway (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?) plays an inquisitive reporter. Victor Buono (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) has a small role as Bette’s “Big Daddy.” And it was fun to see Bruce Dern (Coming Home) and George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke) in small roles.

Mary Astor (The Great Lie) is the standout in the cast by sheer force of talent. Astor is Jewel Mayhew, the scornful wife of Bette’s lover. In her 1971 memoir, A Life on Film, Astor fondly recalls Davis telling director Aldrich, “Pay attention to this woman (Astor), you may learn something.” Astor has only a couple of scenes but she is terrific! This was Astor’s very last movie — she retired from acting and became a best-selling novelist — there ARE second acts in American lives!

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte wasn’t nearly as successful as its predecessor, yet there is a small but outspoken minority who prefers Hush…Hush over What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? In fact, both director Aldrich and star Davis preferred the former over the latter. In any case, both movies are lots of fun. B&W, 133 minutes, Not Rated.

13 responses to “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

  1. Hey Binford – I feel the same conflicted way way about this one–far inferior to Baby Jane, not the same kind of movie at all, but the performances and production design are really good and it is quite enjoyable when you don’t make comparisons. I agree that Crawford would have added a different element of bitchery and tension, but when I watched it a few weeks ago, I did appreciate deHavilland’s cool, chic villainy more than I remembered. And Agnes Moorehead pulls out all the stops, almost stealing the film from Davis as the slatternly housekeeper!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed. BTW, de Havilland apparently did not like to play bad girls (not sure why), but she was always good — I liked her in My Cousin Rachel and as the evil twin in The Dark Mirror.

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  2. Great review of a classic gothic thriller…agree on casting of course, and the pacing in that era is so different that what we are bombarded with now – still, that’s in a sense what makes it so effective…it has time to develop characters and mood…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know what you are saying. Classics like Exorcist, Jaws and Alien are very slow in comparison to today’s movies. It all started with MTV, I think. Video games have contributed to the problem too. It’s pity. “Observation is a dying art,” Kubrick.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a GREAT quote…yes, music videos started it and video games enhanced it…I had “Armageddon” on my TV once and had to take a call so muted the audio…and noticed that EVERY 2-3 second the shot change…never stopped pummeling me with new images!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You had me at gore and mayhem! Hard to imagine gore in a film starring Davis and DeHavilland, but I’d be interested to see how it’s delivered. I own ‘Baby Jane’, but haven’t watched it yet, so maybe a double feature one weekend night is in order.

    Liked by 1 person

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