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Robert Aldrich
Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Cecil Kellaway, Victor Buono, Mary Astor, Wesley Addy, William Campbell, Bruce Dern
Writing Credits:
Henry Farrell (novel, "Whatever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?"), Lukas Heller

This is the tale of a wealthy southern spinster Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis) who lives with her eccentric maid (Agnes Moorehead) in a decaying southern mansion, shunned by the townsfolk after the mysterious axe-murder of her late lover. When her jealous cousin (Olivia de Havilland) and her cousin's wily husband (Cotton) arrive for a visit, the two conspire to drive Charlotte insane and have her commited so the two can sell off her estate and pocket the proceeds.

Box Office:
$1.9 million.
Domestic Gross
$7.000 million.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.66:1/16x9
English Stereo
English Monaural

Runtime: 132 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 8/9/2005

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Glenn Erickson
• Trailers
• TV Spots


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte: Fox Studio Classics (1964)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 19, 2005)

For some creepy character-based horror, we head to 1964’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte. The film starts in 1927. Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis) dates married John Mayhew (Bruce Dern) on the side, and the pair plan to run away together. However, her father Sam (Victor Buono) tells him to break off this relationship. He does as he’s told, but this doesn’t sit well with Charlotte. She apparently goes bonkers and hacks up Mayhew.

From there we jump to then-present day of 1964. We quickly learn Sam died the year after the murder, and Charlotte has remained sequestered in the family home for years – so long that she’s become a creepy local legend that scares kids. She remains nutty and apparently thinks Mayhew will return for her. Charlotte lives alone with the assistance of loyal servant Velma Cruther (Agnes Moorehead).

Charlotte’s not helpless, though. When the government tries to plow through the house to build a road, she fights back at them. This elicits the concern of her cousin Miriam Deering (Olivia de Havilland) and of old family friend and physician Dr. Drew Bayliss (Joseph Cotten). Miriam comes from out of town, presumably to help Charlotte.

However, old tensions emerge when Miriam encourages Charlotte to move out of the house. Other issues develop when we learn that Miriam was the one who ratted out her relationship with John all those years ago. In addition, an English insurance agent named Harry Wills (Cecil Kellaway) comes to investigate John’s old unclaimed policy, and that leads him to chat with Mayhew’s widow Jewel (Mary Astor). All of these complications move toward a conclusion that will reveal what really happened back in 1927.

Like any good mystery/thriller, Hush keeps us guessing. Of course, it starts with an opening intended to make us think we know the truth. After all, there doesn’t seem to be any question that Charlotte’s a nut and she killed John. But movie fans know better than to take this kind of material at face value, and Hush hooks us for the ride as it slowly unveils the truth.

That’s probably the best aspect of the film. Hush unravels nicely as we learn more about the sinister backstories and other elements. We can formulate theories along the way but we don’t learn the truth for a while. There remains little question that Charlotte’s a loon, but we’re not sure how crazy she is or whether this means she committed the acts of which she’s accused.

Speaking of which, Hush gives us a surprisingly graphic opening. We see John’s hands chopped off and witness other gruesome elements. No, it doesn’t compete with the graphic nature of the slasher flicks of the Eighties, but the movie depicts more blatant gore than normal for an effort from 1964.

Not that blood and guts are the focus of Hush, though, as the characters remain the most important aspect of the story. The actors largely turn in theatrical turns, which doesn’t come as a surprise given the era in which they cut their teeth. All of the leads started work before the Method revolution, so we expect broader performances.

The levels of broadness vary, though. Moorehead offers easily the wildest turn of the bunch. She really devours the scenery as Velma. I’m not sure it works. While she received an Oscar for her performance and makes Velma memorable, she stands out as too cartoony for my liking. The character needs to be a loose cannon, but not to such an absurd degree.

Oddly, this makes Charlotte – the character with the most questionable sanity – appear almost reasonable by comparison. To be sure, Davis hams it up with a wild-eyed turn as the lead, but she still manages to wring some nuance from the part. Charlotte becomes more than just a one-dimensional nut, and we eventually even feel sympathy for her.

My favorite performance comes from de Havilland. She plays off her good girl persona with a delicious twist and also offers the most understated work in the film. This adds a natural quality to Miriam absent from the others and makes her behavior all the more effective.

All of this adds up to a reasonably effective thriller. At 132 minutes, it seems a little long, and I suspect it could lose 20 minutes and not miss them. Despite the excess, it presents an involving and entertaining tale.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio C/ Bonus B-

Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite many strengths, a few negatives caused issues.

Sharpness was not one of those concerns. The movie displayed consistently good definition. It always came across as nicely distinctive and concise. I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement was minimal.

Contrast appeared terrific. Hush demonstrated solid darkness and whites were bright and clean. Shadows looked well-defined but never too dense or dim. The black and white image always showed fine delineation. A dream sequence late in the film featured severely blown-out, glowing whites, but that effect clearly was intentional.

Hush lost points due to source defects. Throughout the flick, I noticed examples of specks, marks and blotches. These varied in intensity, and the usually were fairly minor, but they popped up often enough to create distractions. So much of the movie looked very good that despite the flaws, it still warranted a “B”.

On the other hand, the stereo soundtrack of Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte seemed more ordinary. Like many of these remixes, this one came across as echoey monaural. The vast majority of the information came from the center. Some light ambience – like chirping birds – emanated from the sides, but usually audio only popped up in the middle.

Sound quality was adequate. The biggest distraction came from the layer of reverb added to speech. The lines displayed a slightly unnatural echo absent from the superior original monaural mix. Both tracks showed sibilance, so though they remained intelligible, they lacked natural tones. Effects were clean and fairly distinctive, with decent depth for the smattering of louder scenes. Music was a little bright but seemed acceptably rich for material of this era. I’ve heard better stereo remixes for Fox DVDs, but I’ve also heard worse.

When we head to the supplements, the main attraction comes from an audio commentary with film historian Glenn Erickson. He provides a running, screen-specific chat. Erickson covers the kind of material typical for this sort of effort. He chats about the participants and gives us biographies for many of them. He also gets into cinematic techniques and styles, interpretation, production details, and story topics.

Erickson fares best when he gets into basic data about those involved. He offers concise and interesting facts about the participants that go beyond mere filmographies. Toward the end, he also gets into a very nice discussion of the production’s history and lots of controversies. The commentary tends to drag a bit during the first two acts, though; a bit too much dead air occurs, and he sometimes does little more than narrate the movie. Stick it out through those parts, though, and you’ll find rewards by the end.

Otherwise, the extras only include ads. We get teaser and theatrical trailers for Charlotte plus three TV spots. In addition, the Fox Flix area presents promos for The Good Son, The Omen, The Snake Pit and The Vanishing.

I think Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte runs a little longer than it should, but it still manages to pack a reasonable punch. The combination of good performances and tight psychological thrills makes it a winner. The DVD presents good picture with average audio and an erratic but ultimately informative audio commentary. A quality movie sold for a very reasonable $15 list price, I definitely recommend Hush.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5454 Stars Number of Votes: 33
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