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Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte(1964)


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When he successfully teamed fading film goddesses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), director Robert Aldrich kicked off a cinema cycle waggishly referred to as "Grand Dame Guignol," wherein aging leading ladies reclaimed the box-office clout of their youth by headlining shock films that were modestly budgeted and, by the prevailing standards of the day, surprisingly lurid. First to capitalize was Aldrich himself, who sought to reunite Davis and Crawford for another adaptation from the oeuvre of Baby Jane author Henry Farrell. Crawford would bolt in mid-production, and Olivia de Havilland hurriedly signed as a replacement. Still, the finished product, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1963), stands as one of the better examples of the genre, and as evidenced by its recent release to DVD courtesy of Fox Home Video, has worn very well over time.

The story's prologue opens in 1927 on the Louisiana plantation of Big Sam Hollis (Victor Buono), as he browbeats the married physician John Mayhew (Bruce Dern) out of his plans to elope with Sam's teenage daughter Charlotte. In the course of the soiree that Big Sam throws that evening, Mayhew takes Charlotte aside in order to break off the affair, and the devastated girl flees the room. Within minutes, Mayhew is attacked and butchered by an unseen assailant; the throng is shortly thereafter stunned by the appearance of the blood-spattered, semi-coherent Charlotte.

Thirty-seven years later, the Hollis homestead has been condemned to make way for a highway project, and the delicate Charlotte (Davis), a recluse regarded as an infamous boogie woman by the locals, is adamantly rejecting the kindly entreaties of the local sheriff (Wesley Addy) to vacate. Certain that this governmental persecution is just the latest manifestation of the lifelong enmity held by Jewel Mayhew (Mary Astor), John's widow, Charlotte reaches out for support to her cousin, the elegant Miriam Deering (de Havilland). Miriam's presence attracts her onetime beau, the local doctor Drew Bayliss (Joseph Cotton), and they ostensibly try to make Charlotte grasp her current reality. However, Charlotte begins to be tormented by increasingly bizarre visions that threaten to shatter her already precarious grasp on her sanity.

Aldrich lays this all out at a stately pace, with a surfeit of exposition, and some gaps in internal logic; still, the narrative remains compelling from opening to fade-out, thanks to the unexpectedly violent rendering of the payoff sequences and the skill of his lead performers. Davis gives expectedly bravura work as the long-suffering Charlotte skirts complete collapse, and de Havilland is meticulous in keeping Miriam's private agenda cloaked throughout. The aforementioned supporting players are uniformly fine, as are Agnes Moorehead as Charlotte's addled harridan of a housekeeper, and Cecil Kellaway as a gentlemanly British crime reporter with a long-standing fascination in the affair du Hollis.

The visual presentation in the original 1:66.1 aspect ratio is nicely mastered, and neither audio track (mono, stereo 2.0) leaves any room for complaint. The highlight of the supplemental materials provided in Fox's release is the thoughtful full-length audio commentary, courtesy of Internet film & DVD aficionado Glenn Erickson. Over the course of the film's 133 minutes, Erickson keeps it lively, addressing at length the careers of Davis, de Havilland and Aldrich, as well as the entirety of the "hag horror" phenomenon that followed in Baby Jane's wake. He further provides plenty of fascinating scuttlebutt as to how the Davis/Crawford rivalry was actually very muted during the lensing of Baby Jane, and how much it ramped up in post-production to the point that Crawford walked away from Charlotte. The extras also include a theatrical teaser, a theatrical trailer, and a trio of TV spots.

For more information about Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, go to go to TCM Shopping.

by Jay S. Steinberg