Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 84% (Critics) / 82% (Audience)
Directed By: Robert Aldrich
Written By: Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller
Starring: Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Agnes Moorehead, Victor Buono, Mary Astor and Joseph Cotten
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Synopsis: Charlotte Hollis, an aging, eccentric, wealthy recluse is haunted by a years old terrifying family secret that threatens to not only be exposed when a long lost relative returns to town but to also drive Charlotte mad with guilt and remorse in this classic from 1964.
This movie is all about the performances and the performers, most specifically Bette Davis, Olivia de Havillans and Joseph Cotton. These three make up the nucleus of the terrible secret that hangs over Charlotte and they each have a distinct chemistry with the other that really clicks. Davis, in full on vanity be damned mode, gives the audience another mentally damaged woman similar to what she did with her WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? role. The only difference is that her Charlotte is a bit more fragile and innocent than Jane was. That doesn’t mean she can’t be formidable though. The dinner scene on Miriam’s (de Havilland)first day back at the mansion is brilliantly high camp. Davis’ uttering of the line “You’re a vile sorry little bitch!” is classic.And as she is being gaslit her descent into madness is both engrossing and sad to watch.
Olivia de Havilland is no slouch either and her Miriam gives as good as she gets especially once she drops the genteel facade and shows her true colors. Mary Astor (in her last role) was brilliant in the small but pivotal role of Jewel Mayhew. And Joseph Cotton was a slippery snake oil salesman…all southern charm and silver tongue.
I also loved the way the movie was shot. The use of light and shadows was masterful and really popped in black-and-white.
As much as I loved the majority of the performances I have to single out Agnes Moorehead for her mind boggling acting choices. When you make Bette Davis at her deranged best look like the poster child for restraint then you need to reel it in a bit, Endora! Moorehead was so distracting with every acting choice she made and that is saying something in a film like this.
I did not enjoy that ending. It felt rushed and left me a bit unsatisfied. I was hoping for a major confrontation scene between the three principal characters but instead things were wrapped up too abruptly for my tastes.
Final Verdict: HUSH…HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE is grand guignol storytelling at it’s over the top best (and a fitting unofficial sister to WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?). A decadently gory (especially for the times) and campy riot that features major stars having a blast as they devour the scenery like this was their first meal in years. Despite the less than satisfying ending the overall film is more than enjoyable and makes for a perfect repeat viewing experience. B+