Although it received seven Academy Award nominations the 1964 psychological thriller Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte may be more recognisable to recent audiences as part of American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy’s Feud series Bette and Joan which dealt with the making of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Seen by star Bette Davis and director Robert Aldrich as an informal follow up to the psycho-biddy camp cult classic that would reunite them both with Joan Crawford things didn’t go exactly according to plan (for the fantastic full story watch Feud believe me its brilliant!) and Crawford’s role was taken by Olivia de Havilland.
Although different in setting and plot it is easy to see why Aldrich was attracted to the unpublished short story called What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte? also penned by the author of the novel What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was based on. With two strong female leads, murder, menace, psychological manipulation and madness all present it’s no wonder it captured audiences and the Academy.
Released on Blu-ray by Eureka Entertainment as part of The Masters of Cinema Series Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte opens in 1927 at a party where young Southern belle Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis) is set to meet her married lover John Mayhew (The Hateful Eight’s Bruce Dern) and elope before anyone can stop them.
Sadly John is confronted by Charlotte’s father Big Sam Hollis (played by Victor Buono another of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane’s stars) who tells John he will never take his daughter or his home from him. Moments later John has his hand severed and head cut off with a meat cleaver and Charlotte appears in front of the party covered in blood.
Cut to 1964 and Charlotte has become the town’s bogeyman living alone in the huge mansion with only her immense unspent wealth and her grouchy maid Velma (Bewitched TV star Agnes Moorehead) for company. Slandered and gossiped about by the adults and the subject of pranks and superstition from the children she is a shell of her former self haunted by the past and the pain it has caused her.
Worse still the Louisiana Highway Commission have given her an eviction notice and are set to demolish her home to build a new highway something she refuses to accept even though it is inevitable.
Arriving in her hour of need Charlotte’s cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland) rather than stopping the new road tries to get her to leave her home along with local doctor Drew Bayliss (Joseph Cotton best known for Citizen Kane) both claiming they are acting in her best interest.
Determined to stay no matter what and convinced everyone is against her Charlotte digs her heels in but her decision coincides with the appearance of haunting music from her past and disturbing visions of her long dead lover. Is Charlotte losing her mind or is someone pulling the strings?
Expertly directed by Aldrich, who also made The Dirty Dozen as well as the amazing film noir Kiss Me Deadly, the mystery thriller moves along well, retaining a level of high tension throughout and keeping the audience guessing if the scares are supernatural in origin or simply the delusions of a desperate old dame with Aldrich throwing in some gruesome effects along the way many might not expect.
The acting is exceptional with the entire cast on top form. Agnes Moorehead’s crotchety maid gives us some of the more comedic moments while Joseph Cotton serves as a sort of love interest and Cecil Kellaway plays a mysterious English insurance investigator who just happens to show up in town as things become interesting, attempting to discover what really went on all those years ago.
Bette Davis especially gives her all to the role embracing the idiosyncrasies and enthusing them with a sadness that makes her far more likable than she should be. Although we will never know if the movie would have been better with Joan Crawford in the role of Miriam, Olivia de Havilland is excellent playing off Davis and offering a more rational look at the goings on in the barren and morbid mansion.
Dark and twisted Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a must for fans of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? making up as it does a vital part of the crazed cruel rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. That said with its Southern Gothic supernatural slant on the psychological thriller narrative plus some powerhouse performances it’s well worth watching even if you’re not.
HUSH.HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (Masters of Cinema) New & Exclusive HD Trailer