Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a 1964 American psychological horror film directed and produced by Robert Aldrich. It stars Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead and Mary Astor in her final film role. It follows a middle-aged Southern woman (Davis), suspected in the unsolved murder of her lover from decades before, who is plagued by bizarre occurrences after summoning her cousin (de Havilland) to help challenge the local government's impending demolition of her home. The screenplay was adapted by Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller, from Farrell's unpublished short story "What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?"
|Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Aldrich|
|Produced by||Robert Aldrich|
|Based on||"What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?"|
by Henry Farrell
|Music by||Frank De Vol|
|Edited by||Michael Luciano|
The Associates and Aldrich
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$4 million (rentals)|
Aldrich conceived the project as a followup to his surprise success with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), also based on a Farrell novel and co-starring Davis and Joan Crawford. Originally, Davis and Crawford—who had experienced a turbulent working relationship on the set of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?—were cast as Charlotte and Miriam, respectively, but Crawford ultimately dropped out of the production after shooting began. Principal photography was temporarily postponed until de Havilland was recast in the role of Miriam.
Released in December 1964, the film was a critical success, and was nominated for seven Academy Awards.
In 1927, young Southern belle Charlotte Hollis and her married lover John Mayhew plan to elope during a party at the Hollis family's antebellum mansion in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. Charlotte's father, Sam, confronts John over the affair and intimidates him with the news that John's wife Jewel visited the day before and revealed the affair. John pretends to Charlotte that he no longer loves her and that they must part. Shortly after, John is decapitated in the summerhouse by an assailant with a cleaver. Charlotte finds his body, and returns to the house, traumatized, in a blood-soaked dress.
Thirty-seven years later, Charlotte resides in the home as a wealthy spinster, having inherited her father's estate following his death the year after John died. She is tended to by her loyal housekeeper, Velma. In the intervening years, John's killing has remained an unsolved murder, though it is commonly held that Charlotte was responsible. Despite notice from the Louisiana Highway Commission that she has been evicted from the property to make way for the impending construction of a new interstate, Charlotte is defiant, and threatens the demolition crew with a rifle.
Seeking help in her fight against the Highway Commission, Charlotte calls upon Miriam, a poor cousin who lived with the family as a girl, but has since moved to New York City and become wealthy. Miriam returns and soon renews her relationship with Drew Bayliss, a local doctor who jilted her after John's death. Charlotte's sanity soon deteriorates following 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, an insurance investigator from England who is still fascinated by 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. Velma plans to expose Miriam's exploitation of Charlotte, but Miriam kills her by bludgeoning her with a chair, causing her to fall down the stairs to her death. Drew covers up the murder by declaring Velma's death an accident. One night, a drugged Charlotte runs downstairs in the grip of a hallucination, believing that John has returned to her. Miriam and Drew manipulate the intoxicated Charlotte into shooting Drew with a gun loaded with blanks, and then Miriam helps dispose of his "dead" body in a swamp. Charlotte returns to the house and witnesses the supposedly dead Drew at the top of the stairs, reducing her to insanity.
Believing she has finally shattered Charlotte's mental state, Miriam celebrates with Drew in the garden, where the two discuss their plan to have Charlotte committed to a psychiatric hospital and usurp her fortune. Charlotte overhears the conversation from the balcony, including Miriam's admission that she witnessed Jewel murder John that night in 1927, and has been using this knowledge to blackmail Jewel throughout the years. Enraged, Charlotte pushes a large stone flowerpot off the balcony, striking and killing both Miriam and Drew.
The next day, authorities escort Charlotte from the home, as neighbors, locals and journalists gather around to observe. As she enters the car, Willis hands her an envelope from Jewel Mayhew, who suffered a stroke and died after hearing of the incident the previous night, containing her written confession to John's death. As the authorities drive Charlotte away, she looks back at her beloved plantation.
- Bette Davis as Charlotte Hollis
- Olivia de Havilland as Miriam Deering
- Joseph Cotten as Doctor 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 Sheriff Luke Standish
- William Campbell as Paul Merchand
- Bruce Dern as John Mayhew
- Frank Ferguson as editor
- George Kennedy as the foreman
- Percy Helton as funeral director
- Carol Delay as Geraldine
- Idell James as Ginny Mae
- Robert Adler as Mr. Howard
- Ellen Corby, Marianne Stewart and Helen Kleeb as the town gossips
- Lillian Randolph, Geraldine West and Maye Henderson as the cleaning women
Development and castingEdit
Following the unexpected box-office success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), director Robert Aldrich wanted to make a film with 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 Aldrich envisioned as a suitable 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. Aldrich's frequent collaborator, Lukas Heller, wrote a draft of the screenplay, but was replaced by Farrell in late 1963.
In early 1964, prior to shooting, Davis became 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.
The cast also included Mary Astor, a friend of Davis' since their days at Warner Bros. and after filming Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Astor retired from acting and died in 1987. Recalling her casting, she said:
My agent called: 'There's this cameo in a movie with Bette Davis. It's a hell of a part; it could put you right up there again.' I read the script. The opening shot described a severed head rolling down the stairs, and each page contained more blood and gore and hysterics and cracked mirrors and everybody being awful to everybody else. I skipped to my few pages–a little old lady sitting on her veranda waiting to die. There was a small kicker to it inasmuch as it was she who was the murderess in her youth and had started all the trouble. And then in the story, she died. Good! Now, I'd really be dead! And it was with Bette–which seemed sentimentally fitting.
Principal photography of Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte began in mid-1964, with the on-location shooting commencing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. However, the shoot was temporarily suspended on several occasions early on. Initially, it was halted after a third-party lawsuit was brought against Davis by Paramount Pictures over a commitment to complete additional filming on Where Love Has Gone (1964). When this was resolved and filming recommenced, Davis began asking crew members whether they had allegiance 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, admitted herself to hospital and announced she was sick—at first a ploy to get changes made to the script, but then she actually convinced herself that she was sick.
The production was postponed to allow Crawford to recover, though Aldrich hired a private investigator to track her and determine whether or not she was actually ill. By August 4, 1964, the production had been suspended indefinitely, and the studio's insurance company insisted that Crawford be fired and replaced, or else the film would have to be cancelled entirely.
Aldrich sought several actresses to replace Crawford, including Barbara Stanwyck, Loretta Young, and Vivien Leigh, but they were each either unable or unwilling to take the role. Aldrich ultimately sought Olivia de Havilland for the part, and flew to her home in Switzerland to attempt to convince her to take the role. De Havilland had long wanted to work with Davis, and agreed to take the part; she subsequently flew to Los Angeles to begin filming. In later interviews, de Havilland expressed displeasure with the film: "I wasn't thrilled with the script, and I definitely didn't like my part. I was reverse-typecast, being asked to be an unsympathetic villain. It wasn't what people expected of me. It wasn't really what I wanted to do. Bette wanted it so much, so I did it. I can't say I regretted it, because working with her was special, but I can't say it was a picture I am proud to put on my resume. Given the choice, I wouldn't have deprived Joan Crawford of the honor." According to Crawford, she only learned of her firing from a news radio broadcast. 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).
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 of $1,050,000. In France, the film sold a total of 79,168 tickets.
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."
A later review for 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." The film maintains a rating of 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 20 reviews.
|Academy Awards||1965||Best Supporting Actress||Agnes Moorehead||Nominated|
|Best Art Direction – Black-and-White||William Glasgow and Raphaël Bretton||Nominated|
|Best Cinematography – Black-and-White||Joseph Biroc||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design – Black-and-White||Norma Koch||Nominated|
|Best Film Editing||Michael Luciano||Nominated|
|Best Music Score – Substantially Original||Frank De Vol||Nominated|
|Best Song||"Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" – Frank De Vol and Mack David||Nominated|
|Edgar Awards||1965||Best Motion Picture Screenplay||Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller||Won|
|Golden Globe Awards||1965||Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture||Agnes Moorehead||Won|
|Laurel Awards||1965||Top Female Dramatic Performance||Bette Davis||Won|
|Top Female Supporting Performance||Agnes Moorehead||Nominated|
|Top Song||"Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" – Frank De Vol and Mack David||Nominated|
The film 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, It was released onto high-definition Blu-ray by Twilight Time as a 3,000-print limited edition.
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- "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (Blu-ray)". Twilight Time Movies. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
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