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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Thriller > Hush... Hush Sweet Charlotte

Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte


Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Film: B



The influence of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) is inarguable; it is one of the most influential and imitated films of all time.  That is even with Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) coming out the same year, taking a censorship bullet Hitchcock dodged.  One of the first films to take advantage of the influence was Robert Aldrich’s Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? in 1962.  Another huge surprise hit for a low-budget Horror/Thriller film, a huge cycle of such films ensured, including a great subgenre that brought back some of Classic Hollywood’s greatest stars in roles that were deconstructive of their glamour images.  This included many films that imitated the Jane title, plus little gems like Die! Die! My Darling and Lady In A Cage, reviewed elsewhere on this site.  Aldrich was not going to leave it at one film.


Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte (1965) became the project, cleverly taking on some elements of Henri Georges Clouzot’s original Les Diabolique (1955), as well as elements of a few recent Hollywood classics.  They included Charles Laughton’s Night Of The Hunter (also 1955), Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil (1958) and some sly intertexual references to the past work of the cast members.  Bette Davis is the title character, potentially insane from murdering her lover, or did she?


Her father (Victor Buono) gives her everything, but is not happy with her choice of young man (Bruce Dern) because he will not be happy with any young man.  Too bad having him out of the way ruins her life.  Jump cut to 1964 and the father is long gone and Charlotte is not the old matron owner of the big family house.  Too bad it is in the way of construction of a new highway, to which she pulls out a rifle and starts to open fire on the workers.  Not willing to give up the home easily, she is certain if her cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland, in the role originally intended for Davis’ Baby Jane co-star Joan Crawford before her departure) would show up, she could help stop the raising of the house.


It is then a joyous occasion when Miriam actually shows up!  However, nothing is as it appears and something more sinister is afoot.  Can Charlotte figure out what before she goes more insane, or is the house haunted?  After Baby Jane was such a successful independent production, though distributed by Warner Bros., Aldrich landed this project at 20th Century Fox and it too was a deservedly big hit.  Instead of the raw irony of the first film, we get a lush world as suffocating nightmare and proof that Baby Jane was not just a fluke genre hit in Aldrich’s hands.


Having “hit” written all over it and Davis in the lead, it was easier to draw star power.  The amazing cast also includes Joseph Cotton, Agnes Moorehead (repeating a persona she established in a great Twilight Zone episode called The Invaders and got a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for it), Mary Astor, Cecil Kellaway, Wesley Addy, George Kennedy and Aldrich regular Percy Helton as the funeral director.   This is not just throwing big names at us like the disaster cycle of the 1970s would, this is great casting.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.66 X 1 image is unique in the black and white DVDs we have reviewed to date.  The gray scale is really good and the print used is also in fine shape, but there are many places where the transfer is just too soft, while very sharp and clear in others.  The great Joseph Biroc, A.S.C., shot most of the great Aldrich films since Attack! (1956) and they are one of the most underrated and unanalyzed director/cameraman relationships in cinema.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 is here in its original mono or even better stereo mix, including a score by another long time Aldrich collaborator, Frank DeVol.  DeVol could do upbeat music as well as dark and serious.  It is the latter he excels at in this case.


In both respects, this is a better DVD than Warner issued for Baby Jane, with its softer image and tiny Dolby 1.0 Mono.  In fairness to Warner, that was one of the very earliest DVDs they ever issued, so an HD-DVD should be around the corner.  As for extras here, you get an original theatrical teaser, original theatrical trailer and several effective TV spots, plus a fine audio commentary track by film fan Glenn Erickson that is one of the better tracks you will hear.  He knows film and offers fine observations throughout.  Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte took a while to make it to DVD, but it was worth the wait and is a must see for Horror/Thriller fans.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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