|Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte|
|Directed by||Robert Aldrich|
|Produced by||Robert Aldrich|
|Screenplay by||Henry Farrell|
|Based on||"What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?" |
by Henry Farrell
Olivia de Havilland
|Music by||Frank De Vol|
|Edited by||Michael Luciano|
The Associates and Aldrich
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$4,000,000 (rentals)|
79,168 admissions (France)
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a 1964 American psychological thriller film directed and produced by Robert Aldrich, and starring Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead and Mary Astor in her final film role.
In 1927, young Southern belle Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis) and her married lover John Mayhew (Bruce Dern) plan to elope during a party at the Hollis family's antebellum mansion in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. Charlotte's father (Victor Buono) confronts John over the affair and intimidates him with the news that John's wife Jewel (Mary Astor) visited the day before and revealed the affair. John pretends to Charlotte that he no longer loves her and that they must part.
John has one hand severed and is then brutally decapitated in the summerhouse with a cleaver, . Charlotte appears traumatized in front of the guests with a bloody dress and her father carefully protects her.
The story jumps to 1964. Charlotte is now a wealthy spinster, still living on the plantation that has been in her family for generations. Charlotte's father died the year after Mayhew's murder, believing that his daughter was guilty. Throughout the years, Charlotte believed that her father killed John Mayhew. Everyone else assumes that Charlotte, the crazy recluse, decapitated her lover.
The Louisiana Highway Commission intends to demolish her house and build a new highway through the plantation. Charlotte refuses to leave and ignores the eviction notice. She keeps the foreman (George Kennedy), his demolition crew, and the bulldozer away by shooting at them with a rifle. They temporarily give up and leave.
Charlotte is living alone as a virtual recluse in the Hollis mansion, tended by Velma (Agnes Moorehead), her housekeeper. Seeking help in her fight against the Highway Commission, she calls upon Miriam (Olivia de Havilland), a poor cousin who lived with the family as a girl, but has since moved to New York City and has become wealthy. Miriam returns and renews her relationship with Drew Bayliss (Joseph Cotten), a local doctor who jilted her after the murder.
Charlotte's sanity deteriorates with Miriam's arrival, her nights haunted by a mysterious harpsichord playing the song that Mayhew wrote for her and by the appearance of Mayhew's disembodied hand and head. Suspecting that Miriam and Drew are after Charlotte's money, Velma seeks help from Mr. Willis (Cecil Kellaway), an insurance investigator from England who is still interested in the Mayhew case and who has visited Mayhew's ailing widow, Jewel, who has given him an envelope only to be opened upon her death.
Miriam fires Velma, who later returns to discover that Charlotte is being drugged. Miriam sees the housekeeper trying to take Charlotte out of the house. The two argue at the top of the stairs. Velma tries to escape, but knowing that Velma has discovered the drugs, Miriam smashes a chair over her head. Velma falls down the stairs to her death.
One night, a drugged Charlotte runs downstairs in the grip of a hallucination, believing that John has returned to her. Miriam and Drew trick Charlotte into shooting Drew with a gun loaded with blanks, and then Miriam helps dispose of the "body" in a swamp. Charlotte returns to the house and sees the supposedly dead Drew at the top of the stairs, reducing her to whimpering insanity.
Now believing Charlotte completely mad and secure in her room, Miriam and Drew go into the garden to discuss their plan to drive Charlotte insane in order to get her money. Miriam also tells Drew that back in 1927 she saw Jewel murder her husband. She has been using this knowledge to blackmail Jewel throughout the years, while plotting to gain possession of Charlotte's wealth.
Charlotte overhears the plan. She moves toward a huge stone flowerpot on the ledge of the balcony directly over the lovers' heads. Miriam embraces Drew, then she looks up and becomes paralyzed by the sight of Charlotte's tipping the stone urn off the ledge, crushing both of them to death.
The next morning the authorities take Charlotte away. Many neighbors and locals gather at the Hollis home to watch the proceedings, believing that crazy Charlotte has murdered again, although some are complimentary and sympathetic toward her. Willis hands her an envelope from the now-dead Jewel Mayhew, who had a stroke after hearing of the incident the previous night. The envelope apparently contains Jewel's confession to the murder of her husband. As the authorities drive Charlotte away, she looks back at her beloved plantation.
Following the unexpected box-office success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), director Robert Aldrich wanted to make a film on similar themes that reunited stars Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. The actresses, whose feud was infamous and legendary, were not initially eager to repeat themselves. Aldrich had originally suggested Ann Sheridan for Miriam, but the producers felt the success they envisioned would not be achieved without Davis and Crawford at the helm.
Writer Henry Farrell, on whose novel the film had been based, had written an unpublished short story called "What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?" that seemed to make an excellent followup. It told a similar story of a woman who manipulates a relative for personal gain, but for this film, Aldrich's idea was that the two actresses would switch the roles from the previous one, with Crawford playing the devious cousin trying to manipulate the innocent Davis into giving up her estate.
However, Davis was incensed when Crawford accepted Anne Bancroft's Oscar for The Miracle Worker on the absent winner's behalf at that year's ceremony, an award for which Davis had been nominated, but not Crawford. She believed Crawford had somehow ensured Bancroft would win so that she could upstage her costar and rival. After asking Aldrich if he had been having a sexual relationship with Crawford (much as Crawford had asked the director the same question about him and Davis before Baby Jane), she agreed to take the role only if she got a producing credit.
Aware of this, Crawford was convinced that Davis was trying to undermine her in retaliation for the Oscar-night humiliation. Her suspicions only increased when no one came to pick her up at the airport in Baton Rouge for the film's principal photography at the location shooting. At that time, Davis was asking crew members to decide whether they were with her or Crawford, and wound up with support from those who had disliked Crawford's imperious behavior on the shoot. On the last day of filming on location, Crawford, who had gone back to her trailer and fallen asleep in case she was needed for anything extra, awoke to find that everyone had left her behind, having gone back to the hotel after wrapping.
Crawford was convinced that Davis had engineered this, and upon returning to Hollywood where production was to continue on set, announced after one day that she was sick--at first a ploy to get changes made to the script, but then she actually convinced herself that she was sick. Production was suspended to allow her to recover, and she returned for a day, but then after two months, during which a private investigator trailed her to see whether she was really sick or not, the producers were told that either Crawford would be replaced or the production would be canceled. After Aldrich spent four days at Olivia de Havilland's home in Switzerland, she agreed to take the part. Crawford later complained that she only learned of her firing during the news on the radio. However, despite being replaced, brief footage of Crawford made it into the film, when she is seen sitting in a taxi in a wide shot (Miriam's arrival).
Three other cast members from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? did appear in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte: Wesley Addy, Dave Willock (as a taxi driver) and Victor Buono. The cast also included Mary Astor, a friend of Davis' since their days at Warner Bros. Astor retired from acting and died in 1987.
According to Fox records, the film needed to earn $3,900,000 in rentals to break even and made $4,950,000, meaning it made a profit.
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte was another hit for Aldrich, opening to positive reviews. A pan, however, came from The New York Times. Bosley Crowther observed, "So calculated and coldly carpentered is the tale of murder, mayhem and deceit that Mr. Aldrich stages in this mansion that it soon appears grossly contrived, purposely sadistic and brutally sickening. So, instead of coming out funny, as did Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, it comes out grisly, pretentious, disgusting and profoundly annoying."
Variety's reviewer wrote: "Davis' portrayal is reminiscent of Jane in its emotional overtones, in her style of characterization of the near-crazed former Southern belle, aided by haggard makeup and outlandish attire. It is an outgoing performance, and she plays it to the limit. De Havilland, on the other hand, is far more restrained but nonetheless effective dramatically in her offbeat role."
Time Out London observed: "Over the top, of course, and not a lot to it, but it's efficiently directed, beautifully shot, and contains enough scary sequences amid the brooding, tense atmosphere. Splendid performances from Davis and Moorehead, too."
Judith Crist wrote about the film, "The guignol is about as grand as it gets."
Kenneth Tynan asserted that "(Davis) has done nothing better since The Little Foxes."
The film maintains a rating of 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 20 reviews.
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte received Academy Award nominations for the following:
Moorehead won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress. Farrell and Heller won a 1965 Edgar Award, from the Mystery Writers of America, for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. The title song became a hit for Patti Page, who took it to no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. The film's seven Oscar nominations were the most for a movie of the horror genre up to that time.
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte was first released on DVD on August 9, 2005. It was re-released on April 8, 2008 as part of The Bette Davis Centenary Celebration Collection 5-DVD box-set.
On October 17, 2016, Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte was released onto high-definition Blu-ray by Twilight Time as a 3,000-print limited edition.