By the early 1960s, many of Hollywood’s iconic actresses who were once young and glamorous had aged to the point where starring in romantic melodramas and Noirs were now something from their past. However, thanks to thrillers and horrors, they were able to revive and continue their careers. Movies such as STRAIT-JACKET, BERSERK, TROG, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, THE KILLER BEES and BURNT OFFERINGS were the films where you could still see legendary leading ladies such as Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland still giving great performances. Speaking of which, Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland, who were first paired together in the classic 1942 classic drama IN THIS OUR LIFE, were paired up again for the 1964 psychological thriller, and wonderfully suspenseful HUSH…HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE.
The film begins in 1927 at a party hosted by the Hollis family at their mansion in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, where a young Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis, THE LETTER, THE ANNIVERSARY) is planning to elope with her married lover John Mayhew (Bruce Dern, PSYCH-OUT, THE TRIP). He has some bad news to tell her, that he can’t see her anymore because he told his wife Jewel about the affair. Suddenly, out of nowhere, John is hacked to pieces; first his hand gets chopped off (in a close-up no less) and he is then decapitated (this scene undoubtedly was considered to be pretty shocking for 1964). Young Charlotte is later seen with her bloody dress on and the guests at the party all think she did murdered young John Mayhew.
Now jumping ahead to 1964, Charlotte—who is still living in the mansion—is now fighting to stay there as The Louisiana Highway Commission wants to take the place down so they can build a new highway. She shoots the representatives of the Highway Commission with her shotgun at the demolition crew, which includes the foreman (George Kennedy, DEATH SHIP) to keep them away. Needing help, she contacts her cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland, GONE WITH THE WIND, THE DARK MIRROR) to come to stay with her. When Miriam arrives, bizarre things start happening in the mansion such as reminders of the axe murder nearly 40 years early, including severed heads rolling downstairs, which slowly cause Charlotte to lose her mind. Charlotte’s housekeeper Velma (Agnes Moorehead, FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY, DARK PASSAGE) suspects some sinister doings and discovers Charlotte is being drugged, causing hallucinations, contributing to her insanity. This is where we discover that it is actually Miriam and her lover Drew Bayliss (Joseph Cotton, LADY FRANKENSTEIN, BARON BLOOD) who are plotting to drive Charlotte insane so they can take her money. Their coup de grace to send Charlotte over the top is by having Drew Bayliss pretend to be killed, dumped in the water, only to appear in the mansion soon after. When Charlotte sees Bayliss alive and muddy, she goes completely mad. While outside in the garden discussing their plans to take control of Charlotte’s money, she actually overhears them on the balcony saying that Miriam knew that Jewel was the one who had killed her husband in 1927, and was blackmailing her. Miriam had been planning to take Charlotte’s money for over 30 years. Charlotte, now knowing the truth about her cousin and lover, lowers the boom on them, dropping a huge stone on them from the balcony where she was standing.
HUSH…HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE was nominated for seven Oscars, and deservedly so. This is an outstanding thriller, with great direction by one of the industry’s best, Robert Aldrich. Aldrich, with a great resume of films under his belt such as KISS ME DEADLY and THE DIRTY DOZEN, was in familiar territory directing this film, since he also previously directed another somewhat similar thriller, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? He keeps the film moving in such a pace that the over two-hour running time passes by quickly. There are plenty of shocks and scares to keep you at bay and some graphic gore which was pretty strong for its day, but certainly not in the league of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ films that he was making during the same era.
The cast is incredible starting with Bette Davis, who gives a tremendous performance as Charlotte, giving the character great depth going from aggressive to extremely vulnerable as she is driven mad. Olivia de Havilland is excellent as Cousin Miriam, showing an exuberance of pure evil in her role. The part of Miriam was originally planned for Joan Crawford, as HUSH…HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE was going to reunite the two biggest name actresses who truly despised each other. Scenes were shot with Crawford, who allegedly became ill, quit the film, and was replaced by Olivia de Havilland. Many would say she didn’t want to act with Bette Davis again after the bad experience she had with her during the shooting of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, and on top of that, she didn’t want to be play “second fiddle” to Davis a second time (as mentioned in the commentary). Joseph Cotten, was another terrific legendary actor who endured a long career, appearing in the timeless classics CITIZEN KANE, SHADOW OF A DOUBT and THE THIRD MAN.
In addition to Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland and Joseph Cotton, the film boasts a great ensemble of brilliant actors. Victor Buono (King Tut in the Batman television series from the 1960s), who was also in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, along with Bette Davis, had a marvelous 30-year career in films and television. George Kennedy, who doesn’t get much screen time here, would become a household name in the immensely popular television series DALLAS and THE NAKED GUN trilogy which starred Leslie Nielsen. Another great veteran film presence in this film is Cecil Kellaway. He had a 40-year career in Hollywood, appearing in films such as THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, THE MUMMY’S HAND, and THE SHAGGY DOG. Mary Astor was another great veteran actress with a lot of great classics on her resume including THE MALTESE FALCON and MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (HUSH..HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE was her last film). William Campbell, in his biggest film at the time, had been appearing in low-budget Roger Corman classics such as BLOOD BATH, THE YOUNG RACERS and DEMENTIA 13. Bruce Dern, whose career was just starting to blossom, would later star in various vicious biker films, and psychedelic films from the late 1960s which put him on the map before he became a Hollywood star.
Twilight Time, courtesy of an HD master provided by 20th Century-Fox, presents HUSH…HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE in its original aspect ratio of 1:85:1 in 1080p with an AVC encode and the results are fantastic. Because of the considerably higher resolution the film looks so much better on Blu-ray than the previous DVD releases. The image is extremely sharp and clear, and the black levels look superb. The higher contrast has made this film look the best it’s ever looked on home video. The audio used for this release is English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. No audio drop-offs to report. The dialog and other sounds are all crisp and clear. Optional English subtitles are included. As with most of the Twilight Time releases, it’s limited to 3,000 units.
Most of the extras from the 2008 Cinema Classics Collection DVD release have been ported over for this release, as well the audio commentary with film historian Glenn Erickson which was only found on the earlier 2005 DVD. These supplements include the 20-minute+ “Hush…Hush, Sweet Joan: The Making of Charlotte”, as well as the over ten-minute “Bruce Dern Remembers” featurette, a "Wizard Work" short narrated by Joseph Cotten, trailers and TV Spots. There is, however, a NEW audio commentary with film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros. This is an excellent thorough commentary as they discuss the film, its cast and director Aldrich. They talk about how the film’s title was created, problems with the script and what needed to be reworked. There are the usual great tidbits such as Bette Davis at first being against Victor Buono being in this film, but he read his lines so well that she not only gave him her blessing, they became good friends. They mention some of the other films the actors were in, who originally was cast for this picture and other great factual info. Rounding out the extras is the usual isolated track score and the always welcome 8-page liner notes written by Julie Kirgo. (David Steigman)
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