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Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Promotional Poster for Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by Robert Aldrich
Written by Henry Farrell (story & screenplay),
Lukas Heller (screenplay)
Starring Bette Davis,
Olivia de Havilland,
Joseph Cotten,
Agnes Moorehead,
Cecil Kellaway,
Mary Astor
Music by Frank De Vol
Cinematography Joseph F. Biroc
Editing by Michael Luciano
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) December 15, 1964
Running time 133 min
Country USA
Language English

Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (also known as What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?) is a 1964 American horror film directed by Robert Aldrich, and starring Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, and Agnes Moorehead.


Plot synopsis

The film begins in 1927 when Charlotte Hollis' married lover, John Mayhew, is brutally murdered with a cleaver in the summerhouse during a party at the Hollis mansion. Charlotte and John had planned to elope, but John rejects her, according to the wishes of her father. We see John Mayhew murdered, his hand and head cut off with a cleaver. The murderer is never seen, but Charlotte returns to the party with blood running down her dress. (The film shows the hand cut off and Mayhew's arm without a hand, but doesn't show the act itself.)

Then it is 1964, and Charlotte Hollis (Davis) is a middle-aged, wealthy spinster who lives in the Louisiana plantation in Ascension Parish that has been in her family for generations. The Louisiana Highway Commission intends to demolish her home and build a new highway through the property. This decision meets with opposition from Charlotte, who ignores the eviction notice and refuses to leave. She keeps the foreman (George Kennedy), his demolition crew, and the bulldozer away by shooting at them with a rifle. They finally give up and leave temporarily.

Charlotte has become a recluse, living with her housekeeper, Velma (Agnes Moorehead), in the deteriorating Hollis mansion. Now she seeks help in her fight against the Highway Commission, so she calls upon Miriam (de Havilland), a poor cousin who lived with the family as a girl, to help her in her fight to keep the house. Upon returning, Miriam renews her relationship with Drew Bayliss (Cotten), the local doctor who jilted her after the murder.

Charlotte's sanity deteriorates with Miriam's arrival, her nights haunted by a mysterious piano playing the song Mayhew wrote for her and by the appearance of Mayhew's disembodied hand and head. Velma, suspecting that Miriam and Drew are after Charlotte's money, seeks help from Mr. Willis (Cecil Kellaway), a Lloyd's of London insurance investigator who is still interested in the Mayhew case and who has visited Mayhew's ailing widow, Jewel (Mary Astor). Miriam fires Velma, but Velma later returnes to rescue Charlotte from Miriam. Miriam discovers the housekeeper trying to take Charlotte out of the house, and the two argue at the top of the stairs. Velma tries to escape from the house with a drug that Drew had been injecting Charlotte with, but Miriam smashes a chair over her head and Velma falls down the stairs to her death.

One night, Miriam and Drew wake Charlotte, pretending to be John. Charlotte runs downstairs, but finds that John is not there, and has a hallucination. Miriam and Drew trick Charlotte into shooting Drew with a gun loaded with blanks, and Miriam helps Charlotte dispose of the body in a swamp. When Charlotte returns to the house she sees the supposedly dead Drew at the top of the stairs, which reduces Charlotte to whimpering insanity. Believing Charlotte completely mad and secure in her room, Miriam and Drew go into the garden to discuss their plan: to drive Charlotte insane in order to get her money.

Charlotte walks out onto the balcony and hears their plan. Miriam embraces Drew and when she looks up, she sees Charlotte - who has overheard them - push a huge stone urn from the balcony above, crushing them to death. The next morning, Charlotte is taken away by the authorities. Willis hands her an envelope from the now-dead Jewel Mayhew who has had a stroke after hearing of the incident the previous night. This contains Jewel's confession to the murder of her husband. As the authorities drive Charlotte away, she smiles and waves to the crowds of people before sitting back, as the car drives away from the mansion.

Directed and produced by Robert Aldrich, it was adapted for the screen by Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller, from Farrell's short story What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?.


The movie reunited two of the stars from Aldrich's 1962 film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Davis and Victor Buono. Joan Crawford, also from the earlier film, was cast to play the de Havilland role, but dropped out (see: "Production notes" below).

Scenes inside and outside the Hollis mansion were shot on location at Houmas House, Burnside, LA.

Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Agnes Moorehead); Best Art Direction (Black-and-White) (William Glasgow Art Direction, Raphael Bretton Set Decoration); Best Black-and-White Cinematography (Joseph Biroc); Best Costume Design Black-and-White (Norma Koch); Best Film Editing (Michael Luciano); Best Original Score (Frank DeVol); and Best Song ("Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte" Frank DeVol (Music), Mack David (Lyrics).[1] Farrell and Heller won a 1965 Edgar Award, from the Mystery Writers of America, for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. The song became a hit for Patti Page, who took it to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte received more Oscar nominations (7) than any other horror movie ever up until that time. The record was surpassed by The Exorcist in 1973 which received 10 nominations.

Production notes

Following the unexpected box-office success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), director Robert Aldrich wanted to reunite stars Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. After Crawford worked only four days, she quit the film, claiming she was ill.[2] On set Crawford was being treated terribly by the cast and crew of the film, especially Bette Davis and Agnes Moorehead. However, Crawford can be seen in the film. There is a long shot in the beginning of the movie, when Miriam gets out of the taxi upon her arrival at the Hollis plantation, that actually shows the back of Joan Crawford's head and not de Havilland's. "When the taxi pulls up with cousin Miriam inside and stops at the foot of the steps, if you look closely before Miriam gets out you can just for a split moment see it is fact Joan Crawford in the back and not Olivia de Havilland. You can't see Crawford's face but you can tell it's her by the black dress and dark sunglasses that she is wearing. When de Havilland as Miriam is seen in the taxi before she arrives she is wearing a white hat and her clothing is light colored."

Alain Silver and James Ursini wrote in their book Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, "Reputedly, Crawford was still incensed by Davis' attitude on Baby Jane and did not want to be upstaged again, as Davis' nomination for Best Actress convinced her she had been. Because Crawford had told others that she was feigning illness to get out of the movie entirely, Aldrich was in an even worse position"...Desperate to resolve the situation, "Aldrich hired a private detective to record her [Crawford's] movements." When shooting was suspended indefinitely, the production insurance company insisted that either Crawford be replaced or the production cancelled.[2].

Davis suggested her friend Olivia de Havilland to Aldrich as a replacement for Crawford after Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Loretta Young and Barbara Stanwyck turned the role down. Leigh famously said "I can just about stand to look at Joan Crawford at six in the morning, but not Bette Davis." The cast also included Mary Astor, another friend and former co-worker of Davis' during her time at Warner Bros.[2]

The film received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Supporting Actress for Agnes Moorehead, her fourth in the category.

Principal cast

Critical reception

Aldrich had a another hit with this film, it opened to good reviews, yet others did not like the approach Aldrich made to horror. In his review in The New York Times, Bosley Crowther observed, "So calculated and coldly carpentered is the tale of murder, mayhem and deceit that Mr. Aldrich stages in this mansion that it soon appears grossly contrived, purposely sadistic and brutally sickening. So, instead of coming out funny, as did Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, it comes out grisly, pretentious, disgusting and profoundly annoying."[3]

Variety says, "Davis' portrayal is reminiscent of Jane in its emotional overtones, in her style of characterization of the near-crazed former Southern belle, aided by haggard makeup and outlandish attire. It is an outgoing performance, and she plays it to the limit. De Havilland, on the other hand, is far more restrained but none the less effective dramatically in her offbeat role."[4]

Time Out London says, "Over the top, of course, and not a lot to it, but it's efficiently directed, beautifully shot, and contains enough scary sequences amid the brooding, tense atmosphere. Splendid performances from Davis and Moorehead, too."[5]

Judith Crist said about the film, "The guignol is about as grand as it gets".


DVD releases

Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte was first released on DVD on August 9, 2005. It was re-released on April 8, 2008 as part of The Bette Davis Centenary Celebration Collection 5-DVD box-set.

See also


External links



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