HUSH … HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (director: Robert Aldrich; screenwriters: Henry Farrell/Lukas Heller/based on the novel Hush Now…Sweet Charlotte by Henry Farrell; cinematographer: Joseph F. Biroc; editor: Michael Luciano; music: Frank De Vol; cast: Bette Davis (Charlotte Hollis), Olivia de Havilland (Miriam Deering), Joseph Cotten (Dr. Drew Bayliss), Agnes Moorehead (Velma Cruther), Cecil Kellaway (Harry Willis), Victor Buono (Sam Hollis), Bruce Dern (John Mayhew), Wesley Addy (Sheriff Luke Standish); Runtime: 133; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Robert Aldrich/Walter Blake; Twentieth Century–Fox; 1964)
“Davis’ near-crazed performance being over-the-top but satisfying in a campy way.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Spoilers: throughout review.
Director Robert Aldrich’s (“Kiss Me Deadly”) follow-up to his surprising commercial hit Grand Guignol loony classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane ? (1962). It didn’t do the same box office without Joan Crawford but collected a lot of Oscar nominations. Joan didn’t seem too anxious to make another film with the difficult to work with Bette Davis and bowed out because of an unverified illness. Olivia de Havilland, an old friend of Bette’s, was recruited for Joan’s part when it was turned down by every other acceptable to Fox actress that was asked. This film, based on the novel Hush Now…Sweet Charlotte by Henry Farrell, is even nuttier than the other one. The book’s title was changed so it would not appear to be a sequel; the title was suggested by Ms. Davis from a lullaby specially written for the film.
Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis) dwells as a recluse in an old Louisiana plantation mansion (shot on location at the Houmas House Plantation in Burnside, Louisiana). Some thirty-five years earlier Charlotte’s married lover John Mayhew (Bruce Dern) was murdered (chopped up by a meat ax at a dance) and Charlotte always thought her father (Victor Buono) did it because he warned her to stay away from the married man. Her dad committed suicide after the murder. Charlotte has kept her thoughts secret all this time so as not to soil daddy’s name, though the locals have always suspected her to be the killer and gossip about it. Charlotte has lived alone in the rundown mansion with her loyal housekeeper Velma (Agnes Moorehead) all these years. The problem Charlotte now faces is that the Louisiana Highway Commission plans to build a road through her property and she resists by holding them off with a shotgun. The ‘not altogether there’ Charlotte, who frequently mistakes the present for the past, relies on her poor cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland) to fight back against the Highway Commission. Miriam, who once lived with Charlotte, has moved back again after living in another southern town. She bolted when her lover Dr. Drew Bayliss (Joseph Cotten) jilted her after the murder. Miriam renews her affair with the Doc. Meanwhile the sheriff (Wesley Addy) confers with Bayliss about having Charlotte placed in a loony bin.
Charlotte is getting crazier by the minute, hearing voices from the dead. Velma is suspicious that Miriam and Bayliss are behind the voices in order to drive Charlotte completely off her rocker and take over her estate. Velma confides this to Harry Willis (Cecil Kellaway), an insurance investigator who is looking into the Mayhew case after opening it again. Before Velma gets some evidence, she falls to her death. Convinced by Miriam that Bayliss is a bad guy, Charlotte plugs him with a gun given her by Miriam. But the gun only had a blank and Bayliss appears as a ghost to haunt Charlotte.
Later Charlotte learns that Miriam admitted blackmailing Jewel Mayhew (Mary Astor), John’s wife, after seeing her kill her husband. When Charlotte overhears Miriam and Bayliss discussing how they plan to divide up her assets she overturns a large stone urn from her balcony, which crushes them to death as they sit below. The next day Charlotte is taken to an asylum by the law, whereby the insurance investigator handing her a confession Jewel wrote before she died.
The acting by de Havilland and Moorehead is good, with Davis’ near-crazed performance being over-the-top but satisfying in a campy way.
REVIEWED ON 10/12/2006 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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