“Why wouldn’t I tell him that his pure, darling little girl was having a dirty little affair with a married man?” says Miriam Deering. Charlotte Hollis replies, “You’re a vile, sorry little bitch!”
Bette Davis had an interesting year in 1964. She appeared opposite Susan Hayward in Edward Dmytryk’s Where Love Has Gone, opposite herself in Paul Henreid’s Dead Ringer, and opposite Olivia De Havilland in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (which reunited Davis with her What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? director Robert Aldrich). While Davis played strong, almost malicious characters in Where Love Has Gone and Dead Ringer, her character in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte would be the complete opposite. I first saw Aldrich’s Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte on the big screen at the Chelsea Cinemas in New York City a few years ago as part of their Chelsea Classics program that’s hosted by the hilarious drag queen Hedda Lettuce, and it was a very enjoyable experience. I recently got to see it on the big screen for a second time, this time in a beautiful DCP presentation, and I found the film to be even more chilling the second time around. This review of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte is my entry in the Olivia De Havilland Centenary Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood & Phyllis Loves Classic Movies.
1964’s Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte follows an aging, reclusive, wealthy spinster who is presumed to have killed her married lover 37 years earlier. The arrival of her cousin sends her mental state into chaos as she becomes haunted by memories of her lover and the song that he had written for her years before. Aldrich gathered an impressive ensemble that included Bette Davis (as Charlotte Hollis), Olivia De Havilland (as Miriam Deering), Joseph Cotten (as Dr. Drew Bayliss), Agnes Moorehead (as Velma Cruther), Cecil Kellaway (as Harry Willis), Mary Astor (as Jewel Mayhew), Victor Buono (as Big Sam Hollis), Wesley Addy (as the Sheriff), Bruce Dern (as John Mayhew), George Kennedy (as the foreman), and William Campbell (as Paul Merchand). Davis is sympathetic as the traumatized Charlotte, who is haunted by the memories of her married lover and her overprotective father (both of whom have been deceased for over 30 years). De Havilland is restrained yet commanding as the cousin who comes to help Charlotte prepare to leave the plantation but has much more in mind (she easily makes cold and calculating look almost warm and friendly). Cotten shines as Charlotte’s long-time physician. Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Moorehead is a scene-stealer as Charlotte’s loyal housekeeper, who is much smarter than she looks.
The screenplay by Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller adapts Farrell’s unpublished short story What Ever Happened To Cousin Charlotte? into a tense, psychological thriller. Joseph F. Biroc’s Oscar-nominated black-and-white cinematography gives the plantation interiors an eerie vibe, reflecting the tone of the film (a creative use of shadows is on display in the 1927 prologue, hiding Charlotte’s face). The Oscar-nominated production design by William Glasgow and Raphael Bretton creates an entire world out of the plantation (the music room was my favorite set). Norma Koch’s Oscar-nominated costume designs look gorgeous, and Michael Luciano’s Oscar-nominated editing moves the film along at a good pace (it never gets boring despite its over two hour running time). Frank De Vol delivers an Oscar-nominated score that reflects the mystery and eerieness of the plantation, especially the secret that still haunts it. The Oscar-nominated title song by De Vol and Mack David is also a memorable, haunting tune. Aldrich’s Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte is an excellent Gothic horror thriller that serves as a nice companion piece to his previous film What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? and features one of the greatest injustices done to a character in film history.