John Mayhew was the only man that Charlotte Hollis every loved; the problem was, he was already married to another woman, Jewel Mayhew, and when Charlotte’s daddy found out he flew into one of his rages and confronted Mayhew and said harsh things, that Mayhew would never have his daughter or inherit his fortune.
It broke Charlotte’s heart, it did, when Mayhew told her that night at the party that they couldn’t be together no more. All those fine people, the party guests dressed in their best clothes and dancing and drinking, they all saw Charlotte when she walked back in through the French doors, her dead lover’s blood all down her white dress.
They found his body, but they never did find his head or his hand. Charlotte was never tried for the murder, but she was duly convicted in the only court that matters in a small southern town of gossiping women, the court of public opinion.
Her friends left her, her daddy died a year later, and she became a recluse, half mad with loneliness in Hollis House, that old mansion, her only friend her housekeeper Velma, until thirty-seven years later, in the summer of 1964, it all came knocking on Charlotte’s door…
Originally released in December 1964 and now available on Blu-ray as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema range, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a beauty filmed character study, a melodrama of resentment and revenge simmering in the southern heat which occasionally steps into full horror mode performed by an ensemble cast of genuine Hollywood legends whose offscreen drama is as famous as the film.
Directed by Robert Aldrich from Henry Farrell’s unpublished story What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?, Aldrich had previously adapted Farrell’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? to great success in 1962 and had hoped to recreate that by reuniting his stars of that film, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
The ongoing feud between those two performers in the aftermath of that production spilled over into Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, as covered in great detail in Kat Ellinger’s commentary on this edition, Crawford being replaced after location filming in Louisiana had moved to Hollywood studios for the interiors by Davis’ friend Olivia de Havilland.
The exterior of the Hollis House reconstructed for restaging some scenes already shot, the interior sets are vast and encompassing, magnificently shot by Joseph Biroc, the backdrop for the power games between the volatile Charlotte (Davis) and her visiting childhood friend cousin Miriam (de Havilland) who left town when her sweetheart Drew Bayliss broke up with her shortly after the murder of Mayhew, Miriam’s return grating with Charlotte’s acerbic maid Velma (Agnes Moorehead, stealing every scene).
Ellinger’s commentary focusing on the female stars, this is complemented by a second commentary by Glenn Erickson who offers background on the production and the male co-stars, among them Joseph Cotton as Doctor Bayliss and an extremely young Bruce Dern as the ill-fated John Mayhew, Dern also intereviewed about his working relationship with Davis and “Miss de Havilland,” whom he recalls as “a delight.”
Inevitably, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte exists in the shadow of Baby Jane and also Les Diaboliques which it echoes, and the formidable Ms Davis would continue to play reclusive and possibly dangerous eccentrics in troubling circumstances in The Nanny, Burnt Offerings and The Watcher in the Woods, but it stands proudly as an elegant and sometimes subtle but always engaging minor masterpiece of the period.