Hush….Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964): Aldrich’s Oscar Nominated Gothic Horror, Starring Bette Davis and De Havilland

Robert Aldrich’s Gothic horror film is a campy, well-executed follow-up to his 1962 What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? but not as satisfying or enjoyable.

Both films star Bette Davis as a deranged woman in her horror queen era (just before the end of her viable career as a star), and both were big commercial hits at the box-office.

A rather long pre-credits sequence presents the past of the faded Southern belle Charlotte (Bette Davis) and her descent into insanity, after having witnessed the dismemberment murder of her fiance (Bruce Dern) and the suicide of the murderer, her own father (Victor Buono, who was also in “Baby Jane”).

Years later, Charlotte remains a recluse in her decaying southern mansion, zealously guarding the secret of her father’s guilt. She is being cared for by her slatternly housekeeper, Velma (Agnes Moorehead in yet another Oscar-nominated turn).

When her house is targeted for demolition, Charlotte fears that this will uncover her lover’s body parts and thus confirm that her father was a murderer. She desperately summons her seemingly sweet-tempered cousin Miriam (Olivia De Havilland) to help her fight off the house’s destruction.

Miriam brings along the family doctor (Joseph Cotten) to calm down Charlotte’s anxieties. When Charlotte begins to be plagued by horrific visions of the homicide-suicide, it appears that she has gone completely insane.  Gradually, the pieces of the puzzle comes together to reveal who is behind Charlotte’s delusions.

“Hush…. Hush, Sweet Charlotte” was intended by director Robert Aldrich as a follow-up to the successful Joan Crawford/Bette Davis horror piece Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Crawford was originally cast as Miriam, but became seriously ill shortly before filming started.  Davis, who disliked Crawford intensely, suggested that the role of Miriam be cast with her friend, De Havilland.

Aldrich recalled that on the first day of shooting, Davis and De Havilland had a toast with Coca-Cola, making a point not to have Pepsi Cola, as Crawford’s husband was an executive with the Pepsi company

Oscar Nominations: 7

Supporting Actress: Agnes Moorehead

Cinematography (black/white): Joseph Biroc

Art Direction-Set Decoration (black/white): William Glasgow; Raphael Bretton

Costume Design (black/white): Norma Koch

Score: Frank DeVol

Song: Hush …Hush, Sweet Charlotte, music by Frank DeVol, lyrics by Mack David.

Film Editing: Michael Luciano

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Supporting Actress was Lila Kedrova for “Zorba the Greek,” which also won Cinematography (Walter Lassaly) and Art Direction (Vassilis Fotopoulos).

Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman won Best Song, “Chim Chim Cheree,” from “Mary Poppins,” which also received the Score and Editing Awards.

Dorothy Jeakins took the Costume Design Oscar for “The Night of the Iguana.”

 

Credits

Running time: 140 Minutes.

Directed by Robert Aldrich

Screenplay Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller

Released: December 15, 1964

DVD: August 9, 2005

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