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
The Associates and Aldrich
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • December 15, 1964 (1964-12-15)
Running time
133 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2,235,000[1]
Box office $4,000,000 (US/Canada) (rentals)[2]
79,168 admissions (France)[3]

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, and Agnes Moorehead, as well as Mary Astor in her final film.[4]

The movie was adapted for the screen by Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller, from Farrell's unpublished short story, "What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?"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 summary[edit]

In 1927, young 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. However, after Charlotte's father intimidates him, telling him that John's wife had visited the day before and revealed the affair, John pretends he no longer loves Charlotte and tells her they must part.

John is then brutally murdered and decapitated in the summerhouse with a cleaver, with one hand severed. Charlotte discovers the body. She returns traumatized to the party in a bloodied dress, leading most to presume that she is the murderer.

The story jumps to 1964. Charlotte is now a wealthy spinster, still living on the Ascension Parish plantation that has been in her family for generations. Charlotte's father died the year after Mayhew's murder, believing his daughter guilty. Charlotte has believed all these years that her father killed Mayhew, but everyone else assumes that Charlotte, the crazy recluse, decapitated her long-dead lover.

The Louisiana Highway Commission intends to demolish her house and build a new highway through the property. Charlotte is vehemently against this and ignores the eviction notice, refusing to leave. 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 with her housekeeper, Velma (Agnes Moorehead), in the Hollis mansion. 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. Miriam 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 Mayhew wrote for her and by the appearance of Mayhew's disembodied hand and head. 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 case 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 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 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 John has returned to her. Miriam and Drew decide to trick Charlotte into shooting Drew with a gun loaded with blanks, after which 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's been using this knowledge to blackmail Jewel for all these years, while plotting to gain possession of Charlotte's wealth.

Charlotte overhears all. She moves toward a huge stone urn on the ledge of the balcony, almost directly over the lovers' heads. Miriam embraces Drew, then the two look up and into Charlotte's knowing eyes. They are paralyzed by the sight as Charlotte tips the stone urn off the ledge, crushing both to death.

The next morning, the authorities take Charlotte away, presumably to an an insane asylum. Many neighbors and locals gather at the Hollis home to watch the proceedings, believing that crazy Charlotte has murdered again. Willis hands her 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. As the authorities drive Charlotte away, she looks back at her beloved plantation.

Principal cast[edit]


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. After Crawford worked a week in Baton Rouge and only four days in Hollywood, she quit the film, claiming she was ill.[5] 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.[5] Aldrich offered Crawford's role, Miriam Deering, to Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Loretta Young, and Barbara Stanwyck, but they all declined. Leigh 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."[this quote needs a citation] Olivia de Havilland, a friend of Davis's, was then hired for the role, after Davis suggested her to Aldrich.

One other cast member from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? did appear in Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte: Victor Buono. The cast also included Mary Astor, a friend and former co-worker of Davis' during her time at Warner Bros.[5]

Scenes outside the Hollis mansion were shot on location at Houmas House plantation in Louisiana.[6][7] The inside scenes were shot on a soundstage in Hollywood.

Critical reception[edit]

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."[8]

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."[9]

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."[10]

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."


Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte received Academy Award nominations for the following:

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]


  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. ^ French box office results for Robert Aldrich films at Box Office Story (French)
  4. ^ Erickson, Hal. "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte". Allmovie. Retrieved August 27, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) – Overview". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  6. ^ "Houmas House Plantation – 40136 Highway 942, Burnside, Louisiana, USA". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 4, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Movies Filmed Here". Houmas House Plantation and Gardens. Retrieved March 4, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Movie Review – Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte – New Movie at Capitol Echoes Baby Jane". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  9. ^ Variety staff. "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte". Variety. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  10. ^ "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte". Time Out London. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  11. ^ "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-25. 

External links[edit]