Monday, October 26, 2009

Hush....Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) was directed by Robert Aldrich and stars Bette Davis, Joseph Cotton, Olivia de Havilland, and Agnes Moorehead. The film also features Mary Astor in her final silver screen performance.

The film opens in the 1920s, Charlotte's father Big Sam Hollis (Victor Buono) is arguing with John Mayhew (Bruce Dern) about his adultress affair with Charlotte. Big Sam orders John to break things off at once as John is married.

There is a big party at the Hollis mansion, John breaks his relationship off with Charlotte. Charlotte is heart broken. John is sitting in the summer house crying over Charlotte when a mysterious person enters and murders John with a meat cleaver. Charlotte then enters the ball room with blood all over her dress. Her father Big Sam escorts her out of the room.

The film advances to 1964. Big Sam has long since passed away. Charlotte (Bette Davis) is living alone in the Hollis mansion with her long time housekeeper Velma (Agnes Moorehead). Charlotte lives isolated as a spinster with the occassion visit by long time friend and her now doctor Drew Bayliss (Joseph Cotton).

Charlotte is shunned by her community for the grisly murder some 40 years prior of her intended, John Mayhew. Even though her guilt in the matter was never proven, the townspeople liken her to a modern-day Lizzie Borden. The community even has a little song made up about the murder.

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) and his demolition crew at bay, even shooting at them with a rifle. They finally give up and leave temporarily.

Charlotte writes her cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland), a poor cousin who lived with the family as a girl, to come for a visit and help save the family home.

Miriam arrives and soon renews her relationship with Dr. Drew Bayliss, her high school sweetheart, who jilted her after the murder.

Charlotte's sanity deteriorates with Miriam's arrival. Someone is trying to drive her insane. Her nights haunted by a mysterious piano playing the song Mayhew wrote for her and by the appearance of Mayhew's supposed disembodied hand and head (his hand and head were never found).

The film is full of mystery and suspense.

The first mystery is who is trying to drive Charlotte insane. Velma suspects Miriam and Drew. Miriam suspects Velma. Charlotte believes John's widow Jewel (Mary Astor) is responsible for at least sending her the threatening letters over the years and believes Jewel is behind the Lousiana Highway Commission's plan to take her family home.

The second mystery is who murdered John Mayhew. Velma slips Miriam a note calling her a murderess. Charlotte believes it was her father Big Sam. The community believes it was Charlotte.

Agnes Moorehead gave a memorable performance as Velma, an even earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Bette Davis is incredible as the half mad Charlotte.

Olivia de Havilland gives a memorable performance as the caring cousin with a dark side.

Mary Astor appears in only two scenes as Jewel Mayhew but Mary's talent as an actress shines through.

Joseph Cotton is excellent as the loyal family friend with alterior motives.

All the performances are intense and watching the various characters true sides emerge is incredible.

If you haven't seen this film, I highly recommend it.

To see Bette Davis, Joseph Cotton, Olivia de Havilland, Agnes Moorehead and Mary Astor giving such fine and strong performances in their later years is something to see. Just like fine wine, they only get better with age.

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