4 of 5 stars to Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, a drama released in 1964 about the eccentricities of a southern woman who has lived in a house for over 50 years, afraid to ever leave the confines of home. Full of macabre, murder, intrigue, over-the-top drama and campy cult phenomena, this movie is a must see for anyone who loves older/classic movies with a bit of fun humor.
Why This Movie?
I began watching “Feud,” the Ryan Murphy TV series depicting the famous rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. In the second to last episode, Crawford and Davis agree to make a follow-up movie to “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?,” but Crawford later drops out due to issues with other people on the set. Olivia de Havilland steps in, at Bette Davis’ request, thus fueling the feud of whether Joan quit or was pushed out due to her antics on the set while in Louisiana. I had to see the actual movie and watched it this last Saturday evening.
I’ve been to the plantation where it was filmed in Louisiana, and it’s a pip! There is a room dedicated to Bette Davis, as well as other famous things from the time period. Plus it’s a very dog-friendly place! Go check it out here.
When the film begins, it’s the mid-1920s at a party in a southern plantation. The audience learns that Charlotte, a 20ish girl, has been having an affair with her neighbor, but he is married. Charlotte’s cousin, Miriam, tells Charlotte’s father about the affair, and he forces the neighbor to end it. As the party comes to an end, we see someone approach the neighbor with a hatchet. And then the neighbor’s hand and head are chopped off. In the next scene, Charlotte enters the party, covered in blood, leaving the audience to assume she is the murderess.
The movie then jumps forward 50 years when Charlotte, now a recluse living in the same house, is being forced to move off the property when the government is trying to take her property to build a highway and a bridge. She asks Miriam, who’s moved away, to come home and help fight the town and sheriff. Charlotte is a bit off-her-rocker, shooting at the workers and cops to get them off her property. Dr. Drew, her friend from childhood, is trying to keep her calm until Miriam returns. Once Miriam does, a week passes by where the 3 of them, plus Velma, Charlotte’s friend and housekeeper, work together to try find a solution. But Charlotte begins to see her former lover’s dead body and head rolling around, thinking he might be alive sometimes, dead at others. She is eventually sedated by Drew, as she’s going quite loony. All the time, the audience questions whether her imagination is running wild or if someone is playing tricks on her. And if someone is, could it be Velma, Drew or Miriam…
Rather than spoil the ending, all I will say is: You find out who murdered the neighbor. You meet the neighbor’s wife, who is still alive. A newspaper man comes snooping around to see if he can figure out who the murderer is. And someone else is killed. It is really very clever and funny.
- MY FAVORITE
- Bette Davis is absolutely the star with her over-the-top performance. You really can’t tell if she’s crazy or playing crazy most of the time. You feel bad for everyone taking advantage of her. You almost want her to shoot the sheriff or workers and get away with it. And when you see her in the ending, there is still a little bit of… “what’s going on here…” momentum. Though she plays a bit of a similar role to others she’s played before, it’s still a really good performance. Her eyes are magnificent.
- Olivia de Havilland is a close runner up to my favorite. She is also adept at playing the fine line between caring cousin or possible snake in the grass. You can’t quite tell until about 2/3 of the way thru when you know who is really behind all the drama, but I don’t want to reveal any spoilers… Olivia was the second actress to play this role. Joan Crawford was originally cast and worked several weeks into the shooting before she left the set. I liked seeing the differences between Olivia in this role and in her role in Gone with the Wind, where she played another cousin, Melanie. And the actress is still alive (2017) living in France.
- Joseph Cotton plays Dr. Drew. I’d never seen him before, but he did a fine job. He has an interesting speaking voice, and I couldn’t quite see a lot of range from him in this role. He seems to be most known for his role in Citizen Kane.
- Agnes Moorehead plays Velma. She was a bit over-the-top, too, but quite amusing. I love her as Endora in Bewitched. She plays a little crazy in her role, but has a wonderful scene where she’s emotionally wrought and trying to get help for Charlotte.
- Cecil Kellaway plays the interested reporter. I know I’ve seen him before, but I can’t be sure where it was. Looked it up, but nothing rings a specific bell. He’s most known for his role in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” which I’ve also not seen.
- Victor Buono plays Charlotte’s father. I saw him in “Baby Jane” and thought he was good. I was very amused at the actor portraying him in Feud. Buono’s role in this movie is relatively small, as he appears in the first 15 minutes in the early scenes before the film hops to what was then current times.
- Mary Astor, of the famous Astor family, plays the neighbor’s wife. She was very good. I enjoyed her sarcasm, wit and portrayal of the disadvantaged wife. She has a great scene with Cecil Kellaway, when she asks him to deliver a letter to someone after her death. I knew there was more to that part of the story, and it comes back in the end when Cecil finally hands the letter to someone.
The Good or The Bad
- Only Agnes Moorehead was nominated for an Oscar, but she didn’t win. No other awards, which is sad… but I haven’t see any of the films that were produced that year… so I can’t quite say if it was a good decision. Will get back to you!
- Bette Davis calls someone a “bitch” in the movie. I didn’t think they said those things back in the ’60s in regular movies. Shocking! But great scene.
- It borders on being campy, which was kinda fun. It was a little too silly with the rolling head, but I totally understand they had limits back then on what they could show and how good productions were. Today, it would be all gore… It was considered a “B” movie at the time.
- Some of the gas-lighting scenes were so silly, I couldn’t hold the laughs in. That’s why I felt it bordered on camp. But it wasn’t as prevalent back then as it is now, so it probably added to the suspense more than looking at it 50 years later.
- The fall down the stairs for the second murder victim was good camera work. But always leaves me wondering… would someone really die immediately from that? It didn’t look like the victim had a neck injury. But drama is drama…
- I tried to picture Joan Crawford in Olivia’s role. I could see it for part of the time, but I’m not sure Joan could have played the full-on subtlety that was needed.
- As far as it being 50+ years old… it kept my attention the entire time. Never any slow parts. Never any unwatchable parts. That makes it top notch in my book.
- The only reason I didn’t give it a 5 was due to the slight campy nature and the over-played scenes when it came to deaths or murders. It’s more of a comedy than a drama to me, but I know Hollywood wouldn’t have called it that in the 1960s.
- If you love old Hollywood or fun intrigue, give it a chance. If you pick things apart too much, avoid it.
- Olivia de Havilland was a surprise for me. I liked her in Gone With the Wind, but now that I’ve seen a second movie with her, with different range, I’m curious… so I plan to look up her filmography and pick something. Any suggestions?
- I hadn’t realized Agnes Moorehead was in films as well as TV Shows. I might take a look at her credits, too.
- It reminded me of Hitchcock… and someone I follow on here published her monthly biography which was focused on Hitchcock. Will probably pick one of them.
- I need to write up a review of Ryan Murphy’s “Feud,” probably later this week.
I’m Jay. I am 40 and live in NYC. By profession, I work in technology. By passion, I work in writing. Each week, I will post a summary of a trip I’ve taken somewhere in the world. I’ll cover the transportation, hotel, restaurants, activities, who, what, when, where and why… and let you decide for yourself if it’s a trip worth taking.
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