Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte Reviews
In 1927, Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis), a wealthy Southern belle, has an affair with the married John Mayhew (Bruce Dern), and after a long-courtship, he leaves his wife. On the eve of their wedding, John his mysteriously ax-murdered, and all fingers point to Charlotte, thanks to a huge bloodstain on her dress. But with no evidence against her, Charlotte avoids jail-time.
Jump to 1964: Charlotte is now a recluse still living in the mansion of her father (Victor Buono), with her maid, Velma (Agnes Moorehead), as her only friend. Because Charlotte was so traumatized by the incident almost forty-years earlier, she has moments where her sanity is tested. Things come to a head when it's decided to tear down her crumbling mansion. Charlotte calls over her apparently good-natured cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland) to help her battle the men eager to pluck her from her home. Just as Miriam arrives, Charlotte's sanity begins to slip dramatically ... but is this only a coincidence?
"Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte" is more famous today in part due to the tumultuous off-set relationship between Davis and Joan Crawford. Originally, Crawford was slated to play Miriam, but for "Hush," Davis was a producer. She used this power to make Crawford's life a living hell, with no questions asked. After just a few days on set, Crawford became "ill" and decided that she could no longer take part in the film. That's when Davis suggested her good friend, de Havilland, to take over. And thus, "Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte" was made.
It's not an imitation of "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?", first and foremost. Aldrich was a director with huge talent, and "Hush" shows him using the aging actors involved (nearly all of them were superstars in the 1940s) as a metaphor for characters who are either all washed-up or taking ahold of opportunity whether or not it's the right thing to do. It's a sublime ensemble (especially Moorehead, who is the perfect foil for the classy and stylish de Havilland) that includes some of the most wicked characters ever to come to the screen.
In spite of all of the acting power and black comedy delight, "Hush" is eye-catching and often artistic. The cinematography is soaked with shadows and film noir touches. Had the film not been photographed in black-and-white, its spookiness would not be the same. Color would hide the dark corners and decrease the sense of dread that oozes with every shot. With so much nuttiness on par, the black-and-white levels it down to psychological mayhem that sticks with you long after the film ends.
"Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte" isn't as good as "Baby Jane," but it's so entertaining that it won't leave you comparing. Davis is lots of fun; de Havilland is even better.
They both embody the same type of gothic horror, and both depict two middle-aged women in a battle royale. In "Baby Jane," Davis starred opposite Joan Crawford. (Davis won her 11th and final Oscar nomination for her work in "Jane.") Here it's Olivia de Havilland up against Davis.
Both films also have a campy aspect, making them very popular with middle-aged gay men. But the campiness is not extreme. Straight men fear not: "Jane" and "Charlotte" are serious works of psychological horror that shouldn't be missed. Remember that Aldrich mostly made "guy movies," including "Kiss Me Deadly" (1955), "The Dirty Dozen" (1967), and "The Longest Yard" (1974). Aldrich is no Douglas Sirk.
Charlotte, played by Davis, is a woman who has spent most of her adult life as a recluse, after a gruesome murder occurs when she is about 20. She was having an affair with a married man (a very young Bruce Dern), outraging many people, including her father (Victor Buono, who was also in "Baby Jane") and the man's wife (played beautifully by Mary Astor).
When the man dumps her, Charlotte goes into a tailspin of rage and despair, exclaiming, "I could just kill you!" Ten minutes later, the man is attacked by a maniac with a meat cleaver. The big mystery is, Who killed him? The whole state of Louisiana thinks it was Charlotte, and she is shunned by just about everyone. But the case goes unsolved.
This all happens in the first five minutes, in a very quick overture. The vast majority of the film takes place 40 years after the tragedy. Charlotte, who has barely ever left her gloomy mansion in four decades, struggles to keep her home as the state tries to demolish it to make way for a modern highway. Charlotte's only companion is a maid named Velma (brilliantly played by Agnes Moorehead, who should have gotten a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her work here).
The semi-educated Charlotte asks her big-city cousin (de Havilland) to come back to the old plantation and help save it. Meanwhile, Charlotte is having more frequent delusions, hearing the voice of her long-departed lover in the spooky, gothic mansion at night. Is someone trying to scare her to death or drive her insane? Or is there something supernatural going on in the house? Or is Charlotte just suffering from a guilty conscience?
All I'll say is that the truth is uncovered, and it's startling. "Charlotte" keeps you guessing to the very end and keeps you on the edge of your seat through some rather macabre goings-on. "Charlotte" has a significant body count and many colorful characters.
Davis's performance is at times over-the-top but alway magnetic. Her Charlotte is like a tornado, destroying everything in her path. Like Davis herself, Charlotte is a force of nature. But is she a victim struggling mightily against those trying to torment and kill her, or is she a cold-blooded maniac getting her just comeuppance? And who's going to end up dead?