Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte is one of those movies that I used to see from time to time on the late, late after midnight warp your brain early a.m. movie, back when broadcast networks were still real and showed movies chopped up into several dozen cheesy commercials. Those old blear-eyed viewings had a charm of their own that suited classic 50s and 60s trash showing the wrinkled and gelled talents of fading stars paying for their retirement.
This Bette Davis tour-de-force is one of the very best of them, a masterpiece of its genre.
I hadn't seen this movie in a very long time but found it suddenly On My Mind, so I bought a DVD of it and relived the past and probably watched it more closely than ever before because it wasn't 3 a.m. and I was sober. I'm happy to report that Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte is even better than I remembered.
Bette Davis's Charlotte is splendid, perhaps her best filmed performance ever, right up there with Margo, Jezebel and Baby Jane.
The plot is excellently played out and directed. The actors are a dream. Bette, of course, at her most subtly insane, culminating in a riveting scene on the stair case when she very effectively becomes a gibbering chimpanzee having a nervous breakdown. And her opening confrontation with Olivia de Havilland's vile Cousin Miriam, at the dinner table, must be watched carefully to catch a slew of unique Davis faces.
Agnes Moorhead is poor old Velma, the loyal old retainer who sees to Miss Charlotte. She gets most of the best lines and she delivers them in a dry drawl that is hilarious, on top of which the script is often extremely funny, but not unintentionally so, well, not always.
There are known faces in the background as well. Bruce Dern, a very young and sexy Bruce Dern plays Johnnie, Charlotte's dead lover, the guy with no right hand and no head, the cause of all the trouble. You'll also spot Gramma Walton (Ellen Corby) gossiping at the end of it all. And George Kennedy playing one of his earliest assumptions of the Stupid Lug of a Nice Guy. And there is a nice feature performance at the beginning from the ever oily Victor Buono who plays Charlotte's papa.
Finally there is the great Mary Astor in one of her last outings on the big screen. She plays Jewell Mayhew, the dead Johnnie's wife (45 years later; the film starts in a flashback to the roaring 20s). Beyond that flashback this is a very basic and logical murder mystery Hitchcock might have been proud to have made, but with Bernard Hermann's musical score instead of Music by DeVol which is what we have here.
As it is, the music is hilarious but well-crafted, potted horror stuff with lots of weird harpsichord tinklings. The sound effects add their moments of merriment as well. For instance, near the end, after Bette has gibbered off to bed and Olivia and Joseph are celebrating on the veranda, there is a particularly Looney Tunes cork popping sound that explodes off the screen and caused me to hit pause so I could laugh. And there's a particularly noisome blue jay in one scene that almost drowns out the dialogue, ditto an exceedingly violent thunder storm.
But that's what great kitsch is all about.
The gore is laughable; hands and heads chopped off and NO BLOOD, but that was the way it was in the early 60s... NO BLOOD (no sex, nothing deeply unpleasant, the ground-breaking Night of the Living Dead wasn't made until 4 years after this).
But the ice was forever after broken in regards to Bad Language as Bette spits out the word 'bitch' like no one else could and it may have been the first time that word was ever heard on the silver screen with the possible exception of White Fang or The Lady and the Tramp.
Joseph Cotten is suitably baggy faced and pasty complected as the aging old beau. He plays his drunken role very believably. Olivia de Havilland would seem like an unlikely villain but she is excellent, becoming like something out of the Snake Pit once again as the plot reaches its climax. Things go a bit over the top near the end but Bette makes you Believe.
All Bette Davis fans will have this movie already, as will many fans of classic kitsch, but for those of you on the fence, who just like Bette Davis and only know her from All About Eve and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, you may become more appreciative of that great actress's talents after seeing her poor Miss Charlotte.
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