Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte

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Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte
Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte Poster.JPG
Promotional Poster for Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by Robert Aldrich
Written by Henry Farrell
Lukas Heller
Starring Bette Davis,
Olivia de Havilland,
Joseph Cotten,
Agnes Moorehead,
Cecil Kellaway,
Mary Astor
Music by Frank De Vol
Cinematography Joseph F. Biroc
Edited by Michael Luciano
Production
company
The Associates and Aldrich
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • December 15, 1964 (1964-12-15)
Running time 133 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2,235,000[1]
Box office $4,000,000 (rentals)[2]

Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a 1964 American thriller film directed and produced by Robert Aldrich, and starring Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, and Agnes Moorehead, as well as Mary Astor in her final film.[3]

The movie was adapted for the screen by Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller, from Farrell's unpublished short story, "What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?" It received seven Academy Award nominations.

Plot[edit]

In 1927 southern belle Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis) and lover John Mayhew (Bruce Dern) plan to elope during a party at the Hollis family's antebellum mansion in Ascension Parish, Louisiana; however, it is revealed that John is married to another woman. Charlotte's father detests the affair and to end it he intimidates John by telling John that his wife had visited the day before and he told her about John's affair with his daughter. To end the affair and return to his wife John feigns to Charlotte that he no longer loves her and is ending the relationship.

Sometime in the evening John is brutally murdered. In the mansion's summerhouse he is decapitated with a meat cleaver and his hand severed. Charlotte discovers John's mutilated body and is traumatized. She walks to where the party is taking place, her white dress covered with John's blood. People assume Charlotte is the murderer.

The story jumps to 1964. Charlotte is now an elderly, wealthy spinster, still living in the family's now decrepit plantation mansion. Also living in the mansion is Velma (Agnes Moorehead), Charlotte's housekeeper.

Charlotte's father died the year following John Mayhew's murder. He died believing his daughter murdered Mayhew. Charlotte believed her father killed Mayhew. The community assumed Charlotte murdered her lover, in a fit of rage after John called off their plans to elope and ending the relationship.

The Louisiana Highway Commission is making preparations to demolish the mansion to build a new highway through the property. Charlotte is vehemently against the state's plan. She ignores an eviction notice and refuses to vacate the property. 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.

Seeking help in her fight against the Highway Commission, Charlotte calls upon Miriam (Olivia de Havilland), a poor cousin who in childhood lived with the Hollis family at the mansion. Separately, Miriam renews her relationship with Drew Bayliss (Joseph Cotten), a local doctor who, after the Mayhew murder, broke off his relationship with Miriam.

With Miriam's arrival at the mansion Charlotte's sanity mysteriously starts to deteriorate. Charlotte's nights are haunted by hearing a harpsichord playing a melody Mayhew wrote for her, and by the appearance of Mayhew's disembodied hand and head. Housekeeper Velma, suspecting that Miriam and Drew are after Charlotte's money, seeks help from Mr. Willis (Cecil Kellaway), an insurance investigator who is still interested in the Mayhew murder, and who has visited Mayhew's ailing widow, Jewel (Mary Astor).

Miriam fires Velma, who later returns and discovers that Charlotte is being drugged. Miriam catches Velma trying to help Charlotte escape the house. The two argue at the top of the stairs. Velma tries to leave but Miriam smashes a chair over her head causing Velma to tumble down the stairs to her death.

One night, a drugged Charlotte runs downstairs in the grip of a hallucination, believing John has returned to her. To drive Charlotte completely insane, Miriam and Drew trick Charlotte into shooting Drew with a gun loaded with blanks. Miriam helps Charlotte dispose of the supposedly dead Drew into a swamp. Charlotte returns to the mansion only to see the deceased Drew at the top of the stairs. This reduces Charlotte to whimpering madness.

Now believing Charlotte completely insane and having locked her in her bedroom, Miriam and Drew walk into the garden to discuss their plan: to drive Charlotte insane so they can steal her money. Miriam also tells Drew that back in 1927 she witnessed Mayhew's wife Jewel murder her husband. She's been using this information to blackmail Jewel for all these years, while also plotting to gain possession of Charlotte's wealth.

Charlotte overhears the entire conversation between Miriam and Drew. Charlotte moves toward a huge stone urn on the ledge of the balcony, almost directly over the plotting lovers' heads, and pushes it over towards Miriam and Drew. As Miriam embraces Drew she notices the urn being tipped and coming down on her and Drew, and also discovers Charlotte glaring at them. The look in Charlotte's eyes tells Miriam the entire conversation was overheard. As she stands stunned at the sight of Charlotte, the massive stone urn crushes the two dead.

The next morning the authorities drive Charlotte away, presumably to an insane asylum. Many neighbors and locals gather at the Hollis home to watch the spectacle, believing that crazy Charlotte has murdered again.

In the car, insurance investigator Willis hands Charlotte an envelope from the now-dead Jewel Mayhew, who has had a stroke after hearing of the incident the previous night. The note contains Jewel's confession to the murder of her husband, John Mayhew. As the authorities drive Charlotte away, she looks back at her beloved plantation, apparently for the last time.

Principal cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Following the unexpected box-office success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), director Robert Aldrich wanted to reunite stars Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. After Crawford worked a week in Baton Rouge and only four days in Hollywood, she quit the film, claiming she was ill.[4]

Alain Silver and James Ursini wrote in their book Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, "Reputedly, Crawford was still incensed by Davis's attitude on Baby Jane and did not want to be upstaged again, as Davis's nomination for Best Actress convinced her she had been. Because Crawford had told others that she was feigning illness to get out of the movie entirely, Aldrich was in an even worse position..." Desperate to resolve the situation, "Aldrich hired a private detective to record her [Crawford's] movements." When shooting was suspended indefinitely, the production insurance company insisted that either Crawford be replaced or the production cancelled.[4]

Davis suggested her friend Olivia de Havilland to Aldrich as a replacement for Crawford after Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Loretta Young and Barbara Stanwyck turned the role down. Leigh famously said "I can just about stand to look at Joan Crawford at six in the morning on a southern plantation, but I couldn't possibly look at Bette Davis." Although the Davis-Crawford partnership failed to be repeated, Victor Buono from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was reunited with Davis for Hush. The cast also included Mary Astor, a friend and former co-worker of Davis' during her time at Warner Bros.[4]

Scenes outside the Hollis mansion were shot on location at Houmas House plantation in Louisiana.[5][6] The inside scenes were shot on a soundstage in Hollywood.

Critical reception[edit]

Aldrich had another hit with this film, which opened to generally good 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."[7]

Variety says, "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 none the less effective dramatically in her offbeat role."[8]

Time Out London says, "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."[9]

Judith Crist said 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."

Accolades[edit]

Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Agnes Moorehead); Best Art Direction (Black-and-White) (William Glasgow Art Direction, Raphael Bretton Set Decoration); Best Black-and-White Cinematography (Joseph Biroc); Best Costume Design Black-and-White (Norma Koch); Best Film Editing (Michael Luciano); Best Original Score (Frank De Vol); and Best Song ("Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte") Frank De Vol (Music), Mack David (Lyrics).[10] Moorehead was also nominated for a 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 song became a hit for Patti Page, who took it to #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.

DVD releases[edit]

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.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p254
  2. ^ This figure consists of anticipated rentals accruing distributors in North America. See "Big Rental Pictures of 1965", Variety, 5 January 1966 p 6 and Solomon p 229. Please note figures are rentals, not total gross.
  3. ^ Erickson, Hal. "Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte". Allmovie. Retrieved August 27, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte at Turner Classic Movies
  5. ^ "Houmas House Plantation - 40136 Highway 942, Burnside, Louisiana, USA". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 4, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Movies Filmed Here". Houmas House Plantation and Gardens. Retrieved March 4, 2012. 
  7. ^ New York Times review
  8. ^ Variety review
  9. ^ Time Out London review
  10. ^ "NY Times: Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-25. 

External links[edit]