Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

Directed by Robert Aldrich

Aged and wealthy Charlotte Hollis has lived alone and as a recluse in the crumbling family plantation mansion in Hollisport, Louisiana since her father Sam Hollis’ death thirty-six years ago. The only people who regularly see her are her hard-as-nails but seemingly loyal housekeeper Velma Crowther, and her longtime friend and physician, Dr. Drew Bayliss. She has lived there the better part of her life except for a short stint in London thirty-seven years ago following the vicious murder of her married lover, John Mayhew, at the plantation’s summer house while Sam was hosting one of his legendary grand balls in the mansion. That evening, she and John were going to run off together, that is before he was bludgeoned to death, his right hand and head which were never found.

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Great film but slightly flawed in the middle

14 January 2005 | by Brandt Sponseller (New York City) – See all my reviews

John Mayhew (Bruce Dern), a married man, is having an affair with Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis). When Charlotte’s father, Sam (Victor Buono), a local bigwig (the town is even named after the family) finds out that John was planning on eloping with Charlotte, he demands that John tells Charlotte during a big party that he’s breaking off their relationship. John ends up dead, and Charlotte is the likely suspect. Thirty-seven years later, Charlotte is still living as a recluse on her family’s plantation, but now she is being forced to move, as a highway is going to be built across her property. Gradually, people come back into her life to ostensibly help her.

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For at least the first 45 minutes to an hour or so into the film, Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a 10 out of 10. Unfortunately, given a 133-minute running time, director Robert Aldrich can’t sustain the intensity for the length of the film, but Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte finishes as an 8 out of 10 for me.

Although there are some thriller and horror elements, both take up relatively little screen time. At that though, these elements are extremely effective. Some parts are surprisingly graphic for 1964–just enough to be a surprise and evoke the appropriate sense of shock. The best horror/thriller material in the film is in the haunted house vein, and for a time, we wonder if Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte is going to end up being a ghost story.

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But the focus here is primarily on Charlotte and Miriam Deering (Olivia de Havilland) and their relationship to one another. Davis and de Havilland are both incredible in the film, and both go through a very wide range of emotions. Oddly, Agnes Moorehead (as Velma Cruther) was more recognized for her performance than the rest of the cast in terms of awards and nominations, with de Havilland receiving neither. Not that Moorehead wasn’t good, but in my view, she wasn’t the standout performance. However, that’s just further fuel for my belief that the Academy Awards have little to do with rewarding the best films, actors and filmmakers.

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There are also broader themes explored as a subtext, including the changing way of life in the southern United States between the early and mid-20th Century.

I subtracted two points because the film lost a bit of its momentum and direction in the middle, but the last half-hour is as exciting as the beginning.

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”Chop, Chop Sweet Charlotte!”

8/10

Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” was, as most people know, intended as a follow up (not a sequel) to the first and most influential “horror hag” film of them all, “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?”. Producer/director Robert Aldrich who had helmed “Jane” wanted to repeat that film’s box office success. He re-teamed Bette Davis (as Charlotte) and Joan Crawford (as her cousin Miriam) but, in events that have become the stuff of Hollywood Legend, Crawford became “ill” and checked into the hospital and wouldn’t come out. She was eventually replaced by Bette’s long-standing friend, Olivia de Havilland, fresh from “Lady in a Cage” (1964).

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Although many find the plot somewhat convoluted, it is basically rather simple. Aging southern belle Charlotte Hollis lives in decayed splendor in the Louisiana mansion where, thirty seven years earlier, a horrible murder took place. The victim was none other than her married lover John Mayhew (Bruce Dern, in an early screen appearance) whom Charlotte fears was killed by her overbearing father (Victor Buono) who was against their affair. Over the years, however, the local townspeople have concluded that Charlotte herself was responsible, but escaped punishment due to her father’s political connections. As it happens, the highway commission is planning on building a bridge where Charlotte’s house stands, and are tirelessly trying to remove her from the property.

Bette-Davis-Cecil-Kellaway-Hush-Hush-Sweet-Charlotte-1964

She is just as doggedly determined to remain, because she fears demolition of the house will reveal proof of her father’s guilt. Charlotte’s only companions are her old, white trash housekeeper, Velma Crother (Agnes Moorehead) and the family doctor, Drew Bayliss (Joseph Cotten). Charlotte’s attempts to hold off the sheriff are finally beginning to weaken, so, in a last attempt to hold onto the old plantation, she sends for her Cousin Miriam Deering, hoping she can help. Miriam does, eventually arrive, but it’s soon obvious that she is there for reasons other than to comfort and aid her cousin.

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The film is well photographed in eminently suitable black and white, and the haunting musical score by an Oscar-nominated Frank DeVol (as well as the beautiful nominated title song) aid it immeasurably. The performances are what makes the movie so much fun. Bette Davis, as usual, goes all out as the tormented cousin, moaning, whining simpering and,especially shrieking her way through her part. In contrast, the still very attractive de Havilland is, at first, a model of restraint. Matching Davis in the histrionics department is Moorehead (who was also Oscar-nominated for her performance) as she carries on, sometimes so hilariously, it’s difficult to understand what she is saying. (Oh well, that’s what DVD subtitles are for!) At the same time, she can be moving as well. Cotten gets to do his own (relatively restrained) scenery-chewing , but the scenes in which Davis, de Havilland and Moorehead scream at each other in very thick southern accents could be right out of the old “Mama’s Family” TV series.

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As Jewel Mayhew, widow of Bette’s lover, Mary Astor gives her usual excellent performance, so subdued and realistic, that she seems to be in a different film. Ditto Cecil Kellaway as a curious insurance investigator. In the end, though, it’s all the overplaying and gaudy scene stealing which makes “Charlotte” so much fun. A remake would be not only redundant, but a mistake. “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” is truly one of a kind. The just-released Fox DVD includes a great widescreen transfer of the film, an audio commentary, and, best of all, a trailer, teaser trailer and three television spots, which emphasize the movie’s lurid aspects–what else could you want? GET IT NOW!

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Southern Discomfort

Author: BaronBl00d (baronbl00d@aol.com) from NC
26 September 2000
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Few films have the ability to show the decay of plantation life in the South better than Hush…Hush sweet Charlotte. The setting is a rural plantation home that in 1927 was the scene of a brutal murder where an unfaithful husband was beheaded and behanded. Next we fast forward to 1964 and see the effects of this crime on Charlotte Hollis..the young girl accused of the crime and bordering on mental instability. Bette Davis plays Charlotte and her performance is a tour-de-force as she plays a woman under stress with a zeal that would make any ham actor proud.

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Davis tops her baby Jane performance by not only creating a character with obvious problems, but also giving this character feeling, compassion, and an air of pity. The plot of the film involves Davis’s descent into madness as she thinks she sees things..or really does. The rest of the cast is first-rate with Joseph Cotten playing the stereotypical Southern doctor with the over-pronounced inflection only Cotten could provide. Olivia De Havilland creates one of her better roles, and makes a superb wicked woman. The real treat to watch is Agnes Moorehead who plays a wise-cracking, crotchetey housekeeper. Rounding out the superb cast are a few nice performances from the ever affable Cecil Kellaway as one of the few humane people in the film, a nice cameo by Mary Astor, Bruce Dern and Victor Buono in flashback sequences. The movie tells a pretty inventive tale…but really is a showcase for great talent, good direction, wonderful atmosphere, and a rather perverse thematic underpinning. To use a well-worn cliche….they just don’t make em like this anymore. Ain’t it a shame!

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A Cast of Class!

8/10
Author: dougandwin from Adelaide Australia
22 September 2004

Following soon after “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane”, I originally thought that “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte” would be a letdown – far from it, in my opinion, much better due a great deal to the cast of great actors and actresses. Bette Davis was in her element in this role of Charlotte, while Olivia de Havilland in the role originally planned for Joan Crawford was superb, and was an inspired piece of accidental casting! Agnes Moorehead deserved her Academy nomination, while Mary Astor was a most welcome sight. Joseph Cotten normally seems very wooden in his parts, but does an excellent job here. The Black and White photography adds a great deal to the mood, and is far better than Colour would have been. The ending was very well planned and carried out, and you feel after the film ends there is something else that happened that the viewer never saw. Get it on Video – it is well worth the experience.

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Great film but slightly flawed in the middle

8/10
Author: Brandt Sponseller from New York City
14 January 2005

John Mayhew (Bruce Dern), a married man, is having an affair with Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis). When Charlotte’s father, Sam (Victor Buono), a local bigwig (the town is even named after the family) finds out that John was planning on eloping with Charlotte, he demands that John tells Charlotte during a big party that he’s breaking off their relationship. John ends up dead, and Charlotte is the likely suspect. Thirty-seven years later, Charlotte is still living as a recluse on her family’s plantation, but now she is being forced to move, as a highway is going to be built across her property. Gradually, people come back into her life to ostensibly help her.

car-scene

For at least the first 45 minutes to an hour or so into the film, Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a 10 out of 10. Unfortunately, given a 133-minute running time, director Robert Aldrich can’t sustain the intensity for the length of the film, but Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte finishes as an 8 out of 10 for me.

Although there are some thriller and horror elements, both take up relatively little screen time. At that though, these elements are extremely effective. Some parts are surprisingly graphic for 1964–just enough to be a surprise and evoke the appropriate sense of shock. The best horror/thriller material in the film is in the haunted house vein, and for a time, we wonder if Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte is going to end up being a ghost story.

Screenshot_7

But the focus here is primarily on Charlotte and Miriam Deering (Olivia de Havilland) and their relationship to one another. Davis and de Havilland are both incredible in the film, and both go through a very wide range of emotions. Oddly, Agnes Moorehead (as Velma Cruther) was more recognized for her performance than the rest of the cast in terms of awards and nominations, with de Havilland receiving neither. Not that Moorehead wasn’t good, but in my view, she wasn’t the standout performance. However, that’s just further fuel for my belief that the Academy Awards have little to do with rewarding the best films, actors and filmmakers.

There are also broader themes explored as a subtext, including the changing way of life in the southern United States between the early and mid-20th Century.

I subtracted two points because the film lost a bit of its momentum and direction in the middle, but the last half-hour is as exciting as the beginning.

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