1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was a huge success, reinvigorating the careers of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Davis was even Oscar-nominated for it. Today is seems to be regarded largely as camp, but I think it is an amazing film which I enjoy without any ironic regard.
Two years later, the director of that film, Robert Aldrich, tried to capture lightning in a bottle again. Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte has the same writer and many of the same stars, mostly notably Bette Davis. Much of the movie was shot with Joan Crawford before she was replaced with Olivia de Havilland, so we almost had a reunion of the stars of Baby Jane.
I would far prefer to see a movie about the Davis/Crawford feud on the set of Charlotte than I would care to see this picture again. I basically had the exact opposite opinion of this than I do of the previous film.
Which greatly disappointed me, especially as it starts out strong. We begin in 1927, where Bruce Dern’s efforts to elope with a young Davis are thwarted by her wealthy father. It was Dern’s current wife who tipped off the father—WHOOPS!
Dern breaks things off at a cotillion. Shortly after the young woman playing Davis of 1927 runs off in tears, he is killed with a cleaver. This is a deeply shocking scene, even for today. He gets decapitated. We see his right hand severed and Dern waving the bloody stump. In what had to be morbid humor, there’s a jump cut from this straight to partygoers giving the band a big hand, with their clapping hands clearly the focus of the shot.
Cut to 1964. A touch I liked is a different, period-appropriate font was used for 1927 and 1964. Anywho, in what was at that time the present, a group of young boys egg one of their own on to go into the “haunted” house that is the mansion where Davis still lives. Davis startles the boy, who runs off, leaving her crying in a long static shot under the opening credits.
I’m afraid that things started going downhill immediately after that credit sequence. Davis opens fire on a demolition crew preparing for a new road to be run through her yard. The house had already been seized by eminent domain, so I’m not sure why Davis and her housekeeper (Agnes Moorehead) are still there, let alone given a week to vacate the premises.
She hopes a miracle will happen within the week. Not sure how anything could reverse the seizure of her land, but she believes a cousin from England will finally visit and somehow save the day. Never mind Davis has been sending letters to her for years without getting any replies.
Olivia de Havilland is that cousin, replacing Crawford at some point in the production. Not to knock de Havilland, but she’s not Crawford and that weird rapport/animosity with Davis is sorely missing. Without Crawford, this movie is already less than half the experience it could have been. The same would be true if it was Crawford without Davis. These two may have been bitter rivals, but they definitely had a fascinating chemistry together–even if the product of the chemistry may have been poison gas.
The plot of this overlong picture boils down to whether Davis is losing her mind, or if the past is coming back to haunt her. No prizes for those who guess correctly.
All the performances in this are pretty bad. Davis chews the scenery without anybody trying to reign her in. Moorehead seems to be in competition with her to see who can go more over-the-top. Joseph Cotton has a horrible “Suh-thuhn” accent which waxes and wanes. Hard to believe he and Moorehead were in Citizen Kane.
Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I was disappointed by Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. This is a tacky and tawdry movie, but I couldn’t even enjoy it as camp. Unlike Baby Jane, something seems a bit arrogant about this affair, though it goes over-the-top as if in an appeal to those who thought the earlier film was too restrained.
Dir: Robert Aldrich
Starring Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten
Watched on Eureka UK blu-ray (region B)