Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte  

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Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a 1964 American psychological horror film directed and produced by Robert Aldrich. It stars Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead and Mary Astor in her final film role. It follows a middle-aged Southern woman (Davis), suspected in the unsolved murder of her lover from decades before, who is plagued by bizarre occurrences after summoning her cousin (de Havilland) to help challenge the local government's impending demolition of her home. The screenplay was adapted by Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller, from Farrell's unpublished short story "What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?"

Aldrich conceived the project as a followup to his surprise success with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), also based on a Farrell novel and co-starring Davis and Joan Crawford. Originally, Davis and Crawford—who had experienced a turbulent working relationship on the set of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?—were cast as Charlotte and Miriam, respectively, but Crawford ultimately dropped out of the production after shooting began. Principal photography was temporarily postponed until de Havilland was recast in the role of Miriam.

Released in December 1964, the film was a critical success, and was nominated for seven Academy Awards.



In 1927, young Southern belle Charlotte Hollis and her married lover John Mayhew plan to elope during a party at the Hollis family's antebellum mansion in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. Charlotte's father, Sam, confronts John over the affair and intimidates him with the news that John's wife Jewel visited the day before and revealed the affair. John pretends to Charlotte that he no longer loves her and that they must part. Shortly after, John is decapitated in the summerhouse by an assailant with a cleaver. Charlotte finds his body, and returns to the house, traumatized, in a blood-soaked dress.

Thirty-seven years later, Charlotte resides in the home as a wealthy spinster, having inherited her father's estate following his death the year after John died. She is tended to by her loyal housekeeper, Velma. In the intervening years, John's killing has remained an unsolved murder, though it is commonly held that Charlotte was responsible. Despite notice from the Louisiana Highway Commission that she has been evicted from the property to make way for the impending construction of a new interstate, Charlotte is defiant, and threatens the demolition crew with a rifle.

Seeking help in her fight against the Highway Commission, Charlotte calls upon Miriam, a poor cousin who lived with the family as a girl, but has since moved to New York City and become wealthy. Miriam returns and soon renews her relationship with Drew Bayliss, a local doctor who jilted her after John's death. Charlotte's sanity soon deteriorates following Miriam's arrival, her nights haunted by a mysterious harpsichord playing the song that Mayhew wrote for her and by the appearance of Mayhew's disembodied hand and head. Suspecting that Miriam and Drew are after Charlotte's money, Velma seeks help from Mr. Willis, an insurance investigator from England who is still fascinated by the Mayhew case and who has visited Mayhew's ailing widow, Jewel, who has given him an envelope only to be opened upon her death.

Miriam fires Velma, who later returns to discover that Charlotte is being drugged. Velma plans to expose Miriam's exploitation of Charlotte, but Miriam kills her by bludgeoning her with a chair, causing her to fall down the stairs to her death. Drew covers up the murder by declaring Velma's death an accident. One night, a drugged Charlotte runs downstairs in the grip of a hallucination, believing that John has returned to her. Miriam and Drew manipulate the intoxicated Charlotte into shooting Drew with a gun loaded with blanks, and then Miriam helps dispose of his "dead" body in a swamp. Charlotte returns to the house and witnesses the supposedly dead Drew at the top of the stairs, reducing her to insanity.

Believing she has finally shattered Charlotte's mental state, Miriam celebrates with Drew in the garden, where the two discuss their plan to have Charlotte committed to a psychiatric hospital and usurp her fortune. Charlotte overhears the conversation from the balcony, including Miriam's admission that she witnessed Jewel murder John that night in 1927, and has been using this knowledge to blackmail Jewel throughout the years. Enraged, Charlotte pushes a large stone flowerpot off the balcony, striking and killing both Miriam and Drew.

The next day, authorities escort Charlotte from the home, as neighbors, locals and journalists gather around to observe. As she enters the car, Willis hands her an envelope from Jewel Mayhew, who suffered a stroke and died after hearing of the incident the previous night, containing her written confession to John's death. As the authorities drive Charlotte away, she looks back at her beloved plantation.




Development and casting

Following the unexpected box-office success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), director Robert Aldrich wanted to make a film with similar themes that reunited stars Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. The actresses, whose feud was infamous and legendary, were not initially eager to repeat themselves. Aldrich had originally suggested Ann Sheridan for Miriam, but the producers felt the success they envisioned would not be achieved without Davis and Crawford at the helm.

Writer Henry Farrell, on whose novel the film had been based, had written an unpublished short story called "What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?" that Aldrich envisioned as a suitable followup.Template:Sfn It told a similar story of a woman who manipulates a relative for personal gain, but for this film, Aldrich's idea was that the two actresses would switch the roles from the previous one, with Crawford playing the devious cousin trying to manipulate the innocent Davis into giving up her estate.

Aldrich's frequent collaborator, Lukas Heller, wrote a draft of the screenplay, but was replaced by Farrell in late 1963.

In early 1964, prior to shooting, Davis became incensed when Crawford accepted Anne Bancroft's Oscar for The Miracle Worker on the absent winner's behalf at that year's ceremony, an award for which Davis had been nominated, but not Crawford. She believed Crawford had somehow ensured Bancroft would win so that she could upstage her costar and rival. After asking Aldrich if he had been having a sexual relationship with Crawford (much as Crawford had asked the director the same question about him and Davis before Baby Jane), she agreed to take the role only if she got a producing credit.

Three other cast members from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? were cast in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, including Wesley Addy, Dave Willock and Victor Buono.

The cast also included Mary Astor, a friend of Davis' since their days at Warner Bros. and after filming Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Astor retired from acting and died in 1987. Recalling her casting, she said: {{quote|My agent called: 'There's this cameo in a movie with Bette Davis. It's a hell of a part; it could put you right up there again.' I read the script. The opening shot described a severed head rolling down the stairs, and each page contained more blood and gore and hysterics and cracked mirrors and everybody being awful to everybody else. I skipped to my few pagesTemplate:Ndasha little old lady sitting on her veranda waiting to die. There was a small kicker to it inasmuch as it was she who was the murderess in her youth and had started all the trouble. And then in the story, she died. Good! Now, I'd really be dead! And it was with BetteTemplate:Ndashwhich seemed sentimentally fitting.

The music was by Frank De Vol.

See also

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