Tuesday, October 16, 2012
HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE
(December 1964, U.S.)
For this particular post, I'll start off with an amusing personal story. My father has often told me that just after he and my mother were married in 1964, they went to see HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE. It's my opinion that little-to-no research was done for this film on their part because both of them have always avoided horror or psychological thrillers as a rule. I'm guessing they went to see this film based on its star power and nothing else. As a result, I'm told that the woman who would one day become my mother went running out of the movie theater screaming her head off. Perhaps this should have been the first clue to my father as a sign of what his marriage to her would be like (but that's another matter entirely). So, given this little piece of trivial family history, along with an admitted adiction to Turner Classic Movies, it was inevitable that I would discover this film sooner or later.
Let's talk about the star power here for a moment. One can't help but take notice and wonder how stars like Bette Davis, Olivia deHaviland, Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorehead, who all shined in classic films like GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), CITIZEN KANE (1941) and NOW VOYAGER (1942), would ever consent to being in a film like HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE. Did they all need the money or were they all dying to try something different, something offbeat, and something in the world of the macabre? Who knows. It's clear though that Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960) had a profound effect on films of this type that would clearly be seen for decades to come.
I also can't help but wonder something else: when singer Kim Carnes sang about "Bette Davis Eyes" in 1981, was she perhaps referring the eyes of gentle kindness that we see in films like DARK VICTORY or NOW VOYAGER or was she singing with her dark side and recalling the wide-eyed, sinister, horrific eyes of this film and even WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? Davis' eyes are downright piercing and even horrifying in this film; the kind of eyes that would kill a person standing in front of her. Her entire character of Charlotte Hollis is downright frightening because it's pretty clear from early on that the poor woman is not playing with a full deck. Within the first ten minutes of the film, her young lover John Mayhew of 1927 (played by a young Bruce Dern) is hacked to pieces by an unseen murderer...and for 1962, it's quite a shocking murder that begins with a severed hand and continues with bloodshed (Jesus, Dad, what were you thinking???). So the question throughout the film is a very basic (and very cliche), "Did she or didn't she?" Cut to present day (1964) and Charlotte is a wealthy spinster, seemingly stark, raving mad and refusing to vacate her abandoned family plantation which has been taken over by the Louisiana Highway Commission. Her cousin Miriam (played by Olivia deHaviland) has arrived with intentions to help Charlotte pack up and leave. One with even just a little imagination can guess pretty quickly that she has other sinister ulterior motives up her sleeve. This is a very interesting role for deHaviland because most of the films I've seen her in has featured her as a very kind, giving person. Not here, though. She wants Charlotte's money and she wants Charlotte put away in the nut house. This won't be hard to do given Charlotte's current state of mind, but a little push doesn't hurt either. With the help of accomplice Drew Bayliss (played by Joseph Cotten), they plant terrifying props and create deliberate circumstances in the house that will help drive Charlotte even madder than she already is. Without giving too much away, let me just say that it almost works. Almost means that Charlotte is likely to triumph in the end, but not without busting some heads first (literally!).
HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE can be a bit over the top at times, particularly in Bette Davis' outrageous performance, but it's an effectively directed and beautifully shot black and white film, containing enough scary sequences and jolts amid a very brooding and tense atmosphere.
By the way, I have to say that it's rather amusing to listen to Olivia deHaviland repeatedly say the name Charlotte because it sounds so damn close to SCARLETT. If you've seen GONE WITHT THE WIND, then you know what I'm talking about.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Harry Willis: "You're my favorite living mystery."
Charlotte: "Have you ever solved me?"