I know I’ve mentioned Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) in passing, but I don’t believe I’ve written a full post on the movie. I watched my DVD of it Memorial Day. I don’t like war movies, and that was all TCM showed all weekend. Yes, I KNOW it was in tribute to our fallen soldiers. I can’t help what kind of movies I like.
I guess you could call Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (I can’t shorten it to Hush because of a rather hideous movie of that name made many years later) a Gothic horror. There’s an ill-lit Southern mansion, well past its prime, and a Southern belle in similar condition. That’s Bette Davis, tearing into her part with gusto. I love Bette Davis.
It’s kind of a contradiction in Davis’ character. She was vain enough to insist that she play her younger self in the flash back, but she eschews all glamour in the “present day” scenes (don’t know if I really need the quotation marks; it was the present day at the time). Maybe not such a contradiction. She was rightfully proud of her acting ability, and uglying oneself up for a part is a time-honored way to show one’s acting chops. To this day it’s what glamour girls do do prove they can so act.
Charlotte (see there, I can short the title) is as interesting for its background as for the movie itself. It was kind of a follow-up to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and was to have again paired Davis with Joan Crawford. Baby Jane famously re-ignited both actress’ careers. I have to admire Oscar winners who don’t scruple to do cheesy horror movies just to keep working.
I’m not sure, though, I would call Charlotte cheesy. For one thing, there are no cheesy special effects. There is no need for them: the horror comes from what the characters do to each other, not ghosts or monsters (ooh, I could do a whole blog post on how people are the most horrible monsters) (preview of coming attractions). The atmosphere is excellent, a brooding threat and air of mystery hangs over the whole. We slowly find out what’s going on, but all is not fully revealed till the end.
At least, I guess some astute viewers guessed the big reveal ahead of time. I almost never do, which is perfectly fine with me. How much fun is a horror movie where you can see everything coming? (Ooh, another future blog post: suspense vs. surprise. Discuss amongst yourselves.) (Oh, and I just heard another amongst you sniff, “What fun is ANY movie where you can see everything coming?” Read the sentence again without “horror.” It doesn’t sound as good.)
The movie boasts an excellent cast, especially Agnes Moorehead as Davis’ faithful servant. Speaking of eschewing glamour, it’s a far cry from her Endora on Bewitched. Olivia deHavilland, Joseph Cotton, Cecil Kellaway and Mary Astor round out the cast.
I realize I have not said much about the plot of Hush.. Hush Sweet Charlotte. I think this is a movie best enjoyed when you let it unfold before you. I recommend it. Would I say if you liked Whatever Happened to Baby Jane you’ll like Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte? I guess I wouldn’t, because I never really liked Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? And that might be a subject for a whole other blog post.
By the way, I got all my information about the movie’s background from a wonderful book called Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine (E.P. Dutton, New York, 1989). Highly recommend that, too.
I absolutely love this old showcase for gorgon actresses! We sang the nursery rhyme (the “chop chop version”) from the movie while riding our bikes when I was a boy. You must realize that before “Baby Jane”, no legitimate stars had EVER tried rejuvenating their careers by doing a horror movie. It was an enormous gamble at the time, and its critical and box-office success created the whole “psycho biddy” genre that so many aging actors and actresses have followed since. Sure, “Charlotte” is cheesy and camp. That’s exactly why it’s entertaining. You get to see how completely a once-celebrated star will be willing to debase themselves, over-act and do offensive things for one more hit of the limelight. I also think Agnes Moorehead steals every scene she’s in.
Yes, “Baby Jane” was a huge gamble that paid off splendidly for all involved. I have a lot of respect for these aging actresses willing to do anything to keep working. I do enjoy the cheese and camp qualities of “Charlotte,” one of the best representatives of the “psycho biddy” genre (great expression, by the way, did you make that up?). Oh, and totally agree about Agnes Moorehead. She was awesome. Thanks for commenting.
It is a good term for the genre. I picked it up from the comment under this article a few years ago:
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