Movie Reviews 318 – Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

I’ve been looking forward to watching Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte ever since reviewing Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? which is probably my favorite Bette Davis movie. So successful was Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? that it inspired an entire subgenre of so called ‘psycho-biddy’ films of which  Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte is probably the most well known besides the progenitor.

The movie begins with a young Charlotte (Davis) having her plans of eloping with a married man (Bruce Dern) shattered on the eve of a lavish ball hosted by her wealthy father (Victor Buono). Her father did not approve of the romance and earlier in the evening coerced and bribed the young man to end the affair. Soon after Charlotte’s heart is broken she dazedly stumbles into the house full of celebrating guests and shocks everyone wearing a bloody dress and raving.

Presumed guilty but managing to evade prosecution on a technicality (and some southern hand greasing) Charlotte, now a spinster thirty years later, clings to the last legacy of her wealthy upbringing, the quickly deteriorating mansion. Alone except for the company of her wretched servant Velma (Agnes Moorehead) Charlotte maintains a low profile until a demolition crew comes to raze the homestead to make room for a bridge. This entices Charlotte to call upon her one last remaining relative, Miriam (Olivia de Havilland) to help her out of the predicament.

Miriam is shocked by Charlotte’s dire state and enlists the help of the local country physician Drew (Joseph Cotten), a former beau of Miriam’s, to tend to Charlotte’s physical and mental well being. But Charlotte begins to be haunted by the events of that dreadful night so long ago. She knows that everyone believes she killed her lover although she herself does not seem sure.

Suspicions of the murder vary between Charlotte, her angry father, the man’s widowed wife (Mary Astor), Velma  and a few other possibilities. But identifying the guilty party is just part of the intrigue here as we chip away at her present descent into madness and discover an even ghastlier surprise. This double mystery, one from the past and one in the present and how both are interconnected elevates the film thrill factor far beyond any mundane thriller.

No slouch herself under normal circumstance, de Havilland pales under the stellar Davis who makes magnificent use of those legendary eyes in numerous scenes. Perhaps understandably so given that de Havilland was a last minute substitute for Joan Crawford, the original choice for the role and who began the shoot until succumbing to Davis in their legendary offscreen war. The rest of the cast are all also in top form here, Buono (ironically playing Davis’ father here after playing her younger suitor in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) and Moorehead in particular. Another surprise inclusion is the use of some fairly graphic gore in a few select scenes, but at the same time not quite gratuitous and genuinely adding to the suspense.

While this wasn’t nearly as savory as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? it certainly merits a viewing. Now I’m tempted to seek out more of those other psycho-biddy movies. I need to know Who Slew Auntie Roo? Don’t you?

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