Ghosts from the past, dead lovers, an unsolved mystery and a house that hides secrets about to be torn down is just in the first opening scenes. A thriller to its core as well as a less enticing murder mystery and strange side plots that come together to create a story in the vain of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? even with the same cast members.
The motto, it seems, in Hollywood, if the formula works, repeat it again and again. This method has served Hollywood well in the past as well as the future. The thought is that the audience will be happy to see the same story again, especially if it has actors with great chemistry. This was sort of the case with Hush Hush…Sweet Charlotte which was director Robert Aldrich’s follow up to Baby Jane. The film was famous for bringing two famously feuding actresses together on screen, revitalising both their careers, Hush Hush…Sweet Charlotte was meant to be Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s follow up. However, Crawford, claiming difficulty on set, blaming Davis, claimed to be sick, halting production for a couple of months. Luckily Olivia de Havilland agreed to take Crawford’s role, resulting in a very different dynamic and film atmosphere. Although Crawford may have played her character very differently, it would still have been difficult to think of her as the suspicious cousin Miriam.
Adapted from the unpublished short story, What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte by Henry Farrell (the author of Baby Jane), the story of a woman, Charlotte is haunted by the death of her lover decades previous, spirals out of control soon after her cousin arrives back in town to offer help. But the question remains whether Charlotte is insane or is being manipulated by someone else. With a small cast and nearly all the action taking place in and around the grand old plantation house which Charlotte has lived alone for years, it’s quite obvious who is to blame. But with a twist or two, the thrills of despair keep a steady story together until near the end where it falters and becomes annoyingly flat. The mystery about who killed Charlotte’s married lover is not centre stage, but instead the focus is on whether Charlotte is really dangerous and capable of killing again. Bette Davis is on top form as the crazed Charlotte who claims to still see her lost love and has stayed in the house as it was what her father would have wanted, but her endless screaming is jarring especially as she doesn’t have anyone to act against. With names such as de Havilland and Joseph Cotton, characters to suit these two stars would have propelled …Sweet Charlotte to box office heights. However, the film did make a profit, receiving critical acclaim and Oscar nominations, including Agnes Moorehead as the scarily loyal servant Velma, to the ailing Charlotte.
With secrets of murder, betrayal, guilt and fair to say, determination bubbling just below the standard thriller surface, Sweet Charlotte is easy to compare to Baby Jane but can’t quite reignite the fire of talent and great storytelling that it could do. It’s a film to be seen by the film noir and thriller fans, but if you’re not fond of seeing endless scenes of Bette Davis screaming and grimacing, this might not be the film you were hoping for.
Dir: Robert Aldrich
Prd: Robert Aldrich
Scr: Henry Farrell, Lukas Heller
Based on: What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte? By Henry Farrell
Cast: Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Cecil Kellaway, Mary Astor
DoP: Joseph Biroc
Music: Michael Luciano
Running time: 133 minutes
Hush Hush…Sweet Charlotte is out of Blu-ray now