In 1962, maverick director, Robert Aldrich pitched an idea to Jack L. Warner about a pair of Hollywood has-beens, sisters in name only, harboring an animosity bordering on the cruel and unusual. It all sounded good to Warner until Aldrich named the two gals he had in mind for the leads: Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. “I wouldn’t give you a dime for those two washed up broads!” was Jack’s reply. Eventually, Aldrich won out, but only if he agreed these former Warner alumni did not return to Jack’s back lot. They didn’t; Aldrich shooting his pet project elsewhere with Jack reluctantly agreeing to preface the picture’s general release with the famous Warner shield. To Warner’s ever-lasting chagrin, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) turned out to be a sleeper hit; not only resuscitating Crawford and Davis’ career as grand dames of grand guignol but also creating something of a cottage industry for likewise ‘washed up’ Hollywood hams, suddenly – fashionably – back in vogue. Davis could not have been happier by this turn of events. By 1962, her career was in the toilet. Nevertheless, she made life unbearable for Crawford on the set. Told by Aldrich to make their scenes as ‘real’ as possible, Davis actually gave Crawford a minor concussion; Crawford returning the favor by acting as dead weight, causing Davis to throw out her back.
Pointedly, there was no ‘lost love’ between these barracudas; each, a colossus of their time and competitive to a fault. There is evidence to suggest Crawford at least tried to be sociable toward Davis, who would have none of it. Judging the gesture as pure affectation, Davis resented la Crawford as even more the bitch in sheep’s clothing. Moreover, she found Crawford’s overt sexuality disgusting. There is some truth - sadly - in the fact Crawford refused to acknowledge the aging process. Well into the 1950’s Crawford was still playing the part of the cutest trick in shoe-leather, in some cases with embarrassingly laughable aplomb; a young woman trapped in a middle-aged body. However, Crawford was to return ‘the favor’ on Oscar night. While Davis was nominated for Best Actress Crawford’s performance had been passed over. So Crawford deviously set about telephoning the other respective nominees politely to suggest if they were unable to attend the annual ceremony she would be more than happy to accept the award on their behalf. When it turned out Ann Bancroft’s performance in The Miracle Worker trumped Davis’ in Baby Jane (with Bancroft unable to attend), Crawford casually strolled past Davis (who took the loss quite personally), adding, “Sorry dear, I have an Oscar to accept.” Catty? You bet. Crawford and Davis made most Hollywood rivalries look like preschool jealousy.
After Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? audiences were clamoring for a ‘reunion’ picture; Robert Aldrich only too happy to oblige and, at least for a time, Crawford and Davis too, who signed to costar in Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). It was not to be - Crawford, a major stockholder in the Pepsi Corporation, appalled to discover Davis had installed a Coca-Cola dispenser on the set, simply to set her off her game. And Davis, who had effectively bribed Aldrich into gaining the upper hand by becoming the picture’s associate producer, now held dominion – not only over the production, but in the reshaping of Crawford’s performance. She also had the crew and the press in her back pocket. It was sincerely more than Crawford could bear and infinitely more than she had agreed to when affixing her signature on the dotted line. We should pause to reconsider Davis’ animosity as a holdover from the golden era when both she and Crawford were box office legends in their respective primes. But Davis’ abject hatred of Crawford was likely magnified after Crawford, thrown under the bus by Louis B. Mayer at MGM, judged ‘Hollywood royalty’ and ‘box office poison’ in tandem, was nevertheless courted by Jack to keep Davis in check. Too bad for Jack, he was to have his creative tussles with Crawford as well. On the whole, she proved more manageable. But Davis, who had reigned with absolute autonomy now considered Crawford the interloper; a suspicion amplified when Crawford took home her only Best Actress Oscar for her first picture at Warner Bros.: Mildred Pierce (1945) – a project Davis had vehemently turned down. It did not help their ‘relationship’ that at precisely this juncture Jack Warner decided Crawford was the gal to bet on and Davis, old news on her way out; Jack’s waning interest in continuing to promote Davis affording Crawford a string of A-list features while Davis’ pictures increasingly took on the flavor of B-grade melodrama.
As far as Bette Davis was concerned, Joan Crawford had stabbed her in the back. Yet, in hindsight, Crawford and Davis ought to have been the best of friends instead of lifelong enemies; for they shared similar character traits, and, with time, would illustrate an uncannily parallel trajectory in their professional and private lives; each, the victim of a daughter’s cruel betrayal in their later years and the subject of a scathing ‘tell all’ to strip away the mask from their vintage and Teflon-coated status as divas, remade as unrepentant gargoyles. Retrospectively, time has proven neither actress as of the ‘little Mary Sunshine’ ilk. Yet, it is for their gumption, their verve – and yes, even their venom, these two galvanic stars are justly remembered today. The cinema firmament is decidedly a little less potent and compelling in the absence of a Joan Crawford or Bette Davis; the powerful, authoritative and self-possessed go-getters who had the wherewithal, the passion and the guts to resist being typecast as glamor-pusses and/or shrinking violets. Davis, in particular, ought to be commended for her almost malevolent desire to ‘play ugly’ in defiance of Hollywood’s then all-pervasive ‘glamor code’ for young starlets, while Crawford’s comment to L.B. Mayer, “I’d play Wally Beery’s mother if the part were right” attests to her formidableness in seeking out roles repeatedly removed from her galvanized ‘shop girl makes good’ image.
Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte should have been made at Warner Bros. Except Jack still had not warmed to the idea of welcoming Davis and Crawford back into his fold. Perhaps their success with Aldrich had been a fluke. Impatient to capitalize on the previous picture’s success, Aldrich ironed out a contract over at 2oth Century-Fox instead; hiring cinematographer, Joseph F. Biroc and composer, Frank De Vol to write the sparse underscore. Meanwhile, Aldrich began assembling a superb supporting cast, including Joseph Cotten as the oily southern aristocrat, Dr. Drew Bayliss, Agnes Moorehead (curmudgeon housekeeper, Velma Cruther) and Bruce Dern, as the married young buck, John Mayhew, desperately in love with Davis’ ingénue, Charlotte Hollis. For inspiration from the early movie, Aldrich also cast Victor Buono, whom he nicknamed ‘the kid’, as Big Sam Hollis - Charlotte’s brutish father. In reality, Dern was two years Buono’s senior; Buono going so far as to shave off his widow’s peak to affect a receding hairline. Interestingly, Aldrich had Buono perform the stunt where John Mayhew’s hand and head are severed with a cleaver; Dern, his real hand tucked up his sleeve, holding a prosthetic soon to be severed at the wrist; the implication of decapitation achieved through some clever tinkering in the editing room. Thanks to Aldrich’s meticulous planning, the sequence went off without a hitch. Alas, the first week’s shoot left Crawford frazzled to the point of tears, admitting to Aldrich about Davis, “I don’t know why she hates me so much” before indefinitely departing due to ‘illness’ brought on by stress.
Officially, Crawford claimed having pneumonia, retiring to Cedar Lebanon Hospital to recuperate. A ploy to disrupt the production or legitimate affliction brought about by the stark shifts in climate from Hollywood to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where the bulk of the exteriors had been photographed? Hmmm. For certain, Crawford’s exit set back production by three weeks – an intolerable eternity. At some point, Aldrich grew impatient, even hiring a pair of P.I.’s to shadow his star in the hopes of catching her in a lie. It never happened. What did occur was Fox’s insurance company threatened to pull the plug unless the shoot was immediately resumed. Aldrich went through a list of A-list actresses; among them Kate Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Loretta Young and Barbara Stanwyck; each, turning him down flat - the latter two, reportedly on Crawford’s say so. In her reply to Aldrich’s offer, Leigh was reported to have said, “I can almost stomach Joan Crawford at six in the morning…I can’t say as much for Bette Davis.” Reasoning Davis might warm to an actress whom she ‘respected’ precisely because she presented no threat to her own supremacy as ‘the star’, and as eager to avoid more backstage hellfire and brimstone, Aldrich picked up the phone and contacted Olivia de Havilland. Davis and de Havilland had appeared together several times throughout their glory years at Warner Bros.; de Havilland always in support of Davis. “She didn’t warm to me right away, or perhaps at all back then,” de Havilland would later recall, “But after time, I think she could see I wasn’t the competition. You see, the tabloids were always trying to concoct a rivalry, something juicy to print about so-and-so…but Bette eventually came to appreciate – maybe even like me, and we became good friends later in life.”
For certain, the atmosphere on the set experienced a badly needed boost of professionalism with de Havilland’s arrival. And in reviewing Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte today, it seems impossible to imagine Joan Crawford playing the part of the gentile yet conspiring Miriam Deering; de Havilland trading on an affected Southern graciousness she had cultivated to perfection as another renown belle – Melanie Hamilton, all the way back in 1939’s colossus, Gone With the Wind. Aldrich actually flew to Switzerland to coax de Havilland into accepting the role. As a good deal of the picture’s budget had already been squandered on the now unusable Baton Rouge locations with Crawford, virtually all of the exteriors of the Hollis’ manor were recreated on the Fox backlot; occasionally, with transparent results. As there was equally little time and budget for designer, Norma Koch to reimagine a wardrobe for de Havilland the actress brought along and wore mostly her own clothes. Yet, de Havilland’s greatest contribution to the picture remained her lithe charm, increasingly tinged with an air of perverse venom for the cameras. Indeed, there is a moment in which the tormented Charlotte Hollis is brutally slapped into submission by de Havilland’s Miriam; her face suddenly turned to granite, eyes piercing and full of hatred. But behind the scenes, de Havilland and Davis were to rekindle their former friendship; a mutual respect to stem the tension that had pervaded and plagued the production while Crawford was present.
As with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Robert Aldrich opens Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte with an extended prologue set in 1927. Big Jim Hollis confronts John Mayhew in the study of his vast and imposing Southern Gothic plantation. The married Mayhew has only just made his romantic intentions known to the imposing Hollis who is menacing and dead set against Mayhew’s elopement with Charlotte, not the least because of its obvious seediness and scandal surely to result once the whole town finds out. John does not care who knows. But he is sincerely stumped when Hollis suggests Mayhew’s wife, Jewel (Mary Astor) has already been to see him. Thanks to an unknown informant, Jewel already knows about her husband’s affair despite the fact both the teenage Charlotte and twenty-something John have been exceptionally discrete. Hollis’ claim on Charlotte hints at family incest. Yet, Hollis seems more invested at preventing Mayhew from getting his hands on the family fortune he alone has built up through a lifetime and Charlotte stands to inherit after he is gone. So, Hollis threatens to expose John’s philandering to the town; a move to ostracize him from this close-knit Baton Rouge community – unless, of course, he is willing to break off his plans during a party Hollis is giving later in the evening.
Aldrich maneuvers the audience through an exhilarating, yet moodily lit party sequence; the band striking up a raucous Charleston only some of the extras seem adept at performing. Out on the veranda near the kitchen, a servant boy is chastised for attempting to uncrate the champagne using a rather imposing meat cleaver. Meanwhile, in the adjacent summer house, Charlotte is gently given the news by Mayhew their brief romance and daydreams of a life together are at an end. Devastated, a tearful Charlotte flees into the night. Aldrich peppers the remainder of this sequence in red herrings; inverted shots of Jim Hollis in search of his daughter and Charlotte stumbling about in the night; Mayhew pining with regret inside the summer house; surprised by an unknown assailant who lops off his right hand at the wrist with the stolen meat cleaver before severing his head at the neck. The band’s drumroll inside the main house and the sound of guests clapping their hands in unison drowns out Mayhew’s cries. However, only moments later, Charlotte is seen backing into the ballroom; the guests drawn into a vacuum of hushed shock and disgust at the sight of her pretty white party dress, blood-stained from the waist down. Has Charlotte killed John? It would certainly seem so. And over the course of the next thirty years, the general consensus will endure Charlotte Hollis is a murderess who escaped prosecution due to Big Jim’s local connections with the law.
We flash ahead to 1964; Charlotte, asleep in a chair in her living room, stirred from slumber by a prepubescent neighbor boy (John Megna) taunted by a group of his peers waiting outside to break into the Hollis home and steal a souvenir. As the boys flee into the night they provoke Charlotte with a sadistic chant (actually a song written by Frank De Vol and Mack David, and later to be reprised as a pop ballad sung by Al Martino, who had a modest hit from it). Charlotte Hollis is a wounded soul, alone and haunted by the past. Big Jim, so it seems, died not long after the murderous night in question, leaving Charlotte to manage the Hollis plantation with only a single servant, Velma Cruther at her side. By dawn’s early light, Charlotte is awakened by another unpleasant ruckus; the sound of Bobcats and workman invading her property. It seems Hollis House is to be leveled to make room for a new freeway. Full of rage against the establishment, Charlotte takes a few potshots at the project foreman (George Kennedy), who vows to return with the Sheriff, Luke Standish (Wesley Addy). Velma encourages Charlotte to refrain from any more confrontations, promising to look after the situation in her own good time. Meanwhile, insurance inspector, Harry Willis (Cecil Kellaway) arrives in Hollisport for the express reason of investigating Jewel Mayhew’s never filed claim after her husband’s murder. Standish agrees to go along with Willis’ ruse; that he is just another journalist in search of a new angle on an old unsolved mystery.
Standish is called upon to engage Charlotte at the plantation. But his kindly nature is repeatedly rebuked, first by Velma, then Charlotte, who reminds Luke he would not even have a job in law enforcement if not for her father’s pull and connections. Charlotte threatens she has sent for her cousin, Miriam Deering who is in public relations. Exactly how Miriam will be able to intervene on her behalf remains open for speculation. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s physician, Dr. Drew Baylis suggests Charlotte to be reasonable. It will do her no good to repeatedly work herself into a tizzy. Hollis House is slated for the wrecking ball and no amount of screeching will undo the municipal plans for the freeway. Despite never having answered Charlotte’s letter, Miriam does come home to Hollis House, shocked to discover it virtually unchanged since Big Jim’s time. It has been more than forty years since Miriam last laid eyes on Charlotte; the shock of their reunion somewhat softened by Miriam’s overt kindness. Alas, this truce is short lived. At supper, Charlotte is appalled to discover Miriam has come – not to stave off the destruction of the Hollis family home – but rather, to aid Charlotte in her moving out. Charlotte accuses Miriam of being a poor relation only interested in what she can take from Hollis House; also, perhaps, enterprising enough to seek out a more devious way of gaining control over Big Jim’s fortunes – said, still, to be sizable; virtually all of it gone to Charlotte after her father’s death.
To add insult to injury, Charlotte reveals the particulars of Drew and Miriam’s long ago romantic split; also, a secret: Miriam having told Jewel Mayhew about Charlotte’s affair with John – the blame for his subsequent murder laid squarely at Miriam’s feet. Miriam feigns remorse and regret, but later informs Drew she thought Charlotte’s assessment of their break-up fairly accurate. Drew was only after Miriam when it looked as though she might inherit at least half of Big Jim’s money. In departing the estate Drew makes a present to Miriam of his tiny revolver; protection against unwanted visitors in the night. Miriam accepts it, although she is quite certain Drew is over-exaggerating. Aldrich peppers Drew’s departure from the estate in some affecting bits of isolation; the echoes of a lonely hound dog howling at the moon, and spooky moonlit glimpses of the weed-infested family plot surrounded by an iron fence where Big Jim’s remains lie. Miriam returns to her room to discover one of her dresses shredded to pieces, its tatters still clinging on the hanger.
The next day, Miriam ventures into Baton Rouge, startled at her first glimpse of Jewel Mayhew, severely aged and ailing. Miriam pretends not to know what Jewel is talking about when she suggests she will not surrender one more thing to her – not even another moment of her time. Exactly what Jewel is referring to, remains a mystery. Returning to the estate, Miriam informs Velma she has managed to hire some local women to help with the packing at Hollis House. Velma is not so easily fooled by Miriam’s high and mightiness. She openly despises Miriam and feels a sense of extreme loyalty to shield Charlotte from Miriam’s influence. Miriam finds Charlotte hysterical once more, accusing Jewel Mayhew of systematically attempting to drive her mad with a series of cryptic letters sent to her from all over the world. When Miriam explains that in her enfeebled condition Jewel is not capable of stalking Charlotte, Charlotte instead produces a stack of letters suspected to be written in Jewel’s hand. Aldrich gives us his first bit of foreshadowing as Velma reaches for one of the discarded pieces of paper with the word ‘murderess’ inscribed, handing it to Miriam, rather than Charlotte. We retreat to another nearby plantation belonging to Jewel Mayhew. In her loneliness she has agreed to entertain a visit from Harry Willis, even prepared him a letter to be opened upon her death. As the two casually discuss the particulars of that long-ago crime and the resultant scandal it generated, Jewel remains cryptic.
That evening Miriam is awakened by the sound of a tinkling piano in the parlor; Charlotte playing the love ballad John wrote for her. The moment is fraught with sadness until a mild summer breeze causes the latch on a set of nearby French doors to unhinge; moonlight flooding in to reveal a meat cleaver stuck into the parquet floor with a severed hand still clutching the bouquet of flowers John brought for Charlotte on the night of the murder, now lying close by. The grotesqueness of this gesture, if indeed it is a trick, is offset by Miriam’s disgust and Charlotte’s shrieking as she flees in despair to her upstairs bedroom, followed by Miriam. Sometime later, Miriam returns to the parlor to discover the hand, bouquet and cleaver gone; the French doors bolted from the inside. The next day, Charlotte can plainly see a chunk of wood flooring lifted from the spot where the cleaver was imbedded the night before, affirming for her she did not imagine the whole thing from some self-pitying madness. Charlotte is surprised by Harry Willis as she lays some freshly cut flowers at the foot of her father’s grave. He is considerate and complimentary and easily wins her heart. She offers to show him the house. But this moment of calmness, as with all others gone before it, is ruined when Charlotte spies one of the women hired to do the packing, manhandling the music box John gave her long ago that also plays his love ballad.
Later that night, a hellish thunderstorm rips through the county. Charlotte is stirred by shadowy visions of a man walking past her front windows and hurries to discover his identity. Miriam is awakened by the sound of breaking glass and hurries downstairs to find Charlotte in the ballroom; wounded wrists, shattering virtually all the mirrors with her battered fists. Velma confronts Miriam about her true intentions. She has no invested interest in Charlotte’s welfare, only in the vast Hollis resources, as yet untapped and awaiting Charlotte’s commitment to the state asylum to be hers. But how to achieve Charlotte’s institutionalization? True – she is prone to fits of what any doctor in the world would classify as rank insanity. Yet, in between are long stretches of lucidity. Hence, might Charlotte’s ‘condition’ be classified as nothing more extraordinary that ‘eccentricity’? Miriam resolves to shorten these periods of soberness and, with Drew’s complicity, stages a sadistic moment where a likeness of John’s severed head tumbles from a box down the spiral staircase, landing at Charlotte’s feet. Drew offers Charlotte a sedative to maintain her silence and Miriam dismisses Velma, accusing her of shredding the dress in her closet when first she came to stay at the mansion; also, hinting Velma has been instrumental at helping Charlotte to succumb to her fitful bouts of uncontrollable rage. Velma leaves in a huff, pleading with Harry Willis to help her help Charlotte. Willis is compassionate, but unable to offer anything except kindness in support.
Velma takes matters into her own hands, sneaking into the plantation. She finds her former employer severely sedated. Velma also discovers a vial of the drug being used to keep Charlotte compliant. Alas, Miriam has found Velma out. Velma suggests she will expose Miriam and Drew for their diabolical plot. But Miriam instead forces Velma to the top of the stairs, striking her in the head with a chair in the front hall. Velma tumbles to her death; her body dragged back to her home by Miriam and Drew and made to look like an accidental fall from a leaky roof Velma was trying to repair on her own hovel. Charlotte is unaware any of this has taken place. But she is stirred just enough from her stupor to reach for the pistol on Miriam’s dresser. Hurrying into the ballroom, Charlotte imagines it is 1927 all over again. John is there. They share a dance. However, when Charlotte looks up at her beloved she finds she is being coddled by a headless corpse, firing several rounds from the pistol. The body collapses to the floor and Miriam appears in the doorway, presumably startled by the noise. However, when the body is rolled over it is revealed to be Drew.
Charlotte is shocked back into reality and, unaware Miriam has substituted blanks for ammunition, assumes she has just murdered Drew in cold blood. Miriam is harsh as she pretends to call the police; Charlotte begging to be understood. Miriam orders Charlotte to help her conceal the body, rolling Drew up in an oriental rug. A knock at the front door momentarily sets Miriam off her game. Browbeating Charlotte to hide in the shadows, Miriam finds Harry Willis patient on the front porch. He offers his condolences over the recent discovery of Velma Cruther’s body found at the base of the little hovel she called home; the coroner ruling it an ‘accidental death’. Charlotte gasps from the shadows. However, only Miriam hears her, hurrying Willis away by suggesting the news has hit her cousin very hard. Afterward, Miriam brutalizes Charlotte both physically and mentally. The pair dumps Drew’s body into a nearby pond. Miriam drives back to the plantation and orders Charlotte inside while she parks the car. Charlotte’s emotional fragility, withered to its lowest point yet, is sent into an almost irreversible tailspin by the sudden appearance of Drew, sopping wet and covered in sludge and plankton from the pond; his death-like grin pushing Charlotte to the edge of reason. She scurries down the stairs like a terrified animal, collapsing at the bottom as Miriam looks on with immense satisfaction.
A short while later, Miriam and Drew celebrate their victory on the veranda. Charlotte has been sedated and put to bed upstairs; Drew preparing the commitment papers to be signed in the morning. Alas, Charlotte has not succumbed to the drugs, but stumbled out onto the upstairs balcony. She overhears Miriam and Drew’s declarations of treachery and realizes they have been responsible for all her mysterious hallucinations as well as Velma’s murder. Moved to avenge herself, Charlotte loosens a weighty cement planter from the upstairs balcony, dropping it on Drew and Miriam below; the treasonous pair instantly killed by its impact. The next morning a crowd of gawkers gathers at the front gate; Luke Standish keeping everyone at bay as he prepares to take Charlotte into custody. Harry Willis arrives in time to learn Jewel Mayhew has died the night before. In the letter she gave to Willis it is revealed Miriam, having found out Jewel actually murdered her philandering husband in the summer house back in 1927, bled the old lady dry of her family’s fortunes to maintain her secret all these many years. Miriam, who helped plant the seed of jealousy in Jewel’s bosom, blackmailing her until the money ran out, now came home to steal Charlotte’s fortunes too. Perhaps for the first time in a long while, realizing she is not crazy, Charlotte waves goodbye to Harry Willis; a sort of bittersweet thank you. For, even as she now realizes she is as sane as the next person, Charlotte will likely still have to atone for the murders of Drew and Miriam.
Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte remains grandly amusing grand guignol. Even so, Bette Davis was not at all pleased with what she regarded as the schlockier bits of business Aldrich had concocted; the severed head sequence, as example, Davis found particularly tasteless. Likely, Aldrich was aware, having plied his audience with mere hints of such vulgarity in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, he was now obliged to up the ante and create more obvious chills and terror to satisfy. And in fairness to Aldrich, the grotesqueness of these more transparent moments of traumatization is offset by Joseph F. Biroc’s moodily well-designed cinematography; also, by the A-list caliber performances given; the entire cast treating the Henry Farrell/Lukas Heller screenplay with the utmost reverence. Hence, what emerges from the exercise is far more Grade-A tragedy with a few campy ‘William Castle-esque’ moments thrown in. Despite its rather lengthy 133 minutes, the picture has the emotional texture and content of a 90 minute Warner Bros. programmer. Aldrich meanders through his prologue with an almost ‘southern’ pace, but builds up impressive steam thereafter; the plot moving along with succinct vignettes that, while initially appearing as disjointed and occasionally perplexing, in retrospect, reveal themselves as the missing pieces of a forty year old puzzle neatly fitted together to explain away the past, freeing our heroine from the pent-up demons that have plagued her for far too long. We must tip our hats to Aldrich for creating another dark and disturbing masterpiece, almost as good as ‘Baby Jane’ or perhaps, more fittingly, as good, though decidedly different in tone and execution.
Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte was made at the tail end of the studio-sanctioned/breakneck, five-and-a-half day work schedule whereupon cast and crew did a full day’s shoot Monday through Friday and worked until noon every Saturday. To lighten this load it was not uncommon for various members of the cast to throw the occasional house party as a way of blowing off steam over cocktails and conversation. Hence, near the end of shoot, Bette Davis elected to play the host, inviting roughly twenty-eight cast members to her home with the command no one should be late for their six o’clock appointment. However, when everyone proved on time they were as perplexed to discover no food or drinks laid out. Instead, a bus with a built-in bar was waiting to whisk everyone off to the famed Yamashiro restaurant in Hollywood California; a perch overlooking the glittery city lights for an as uber-lavish soirée. Davis had bought out the house and planned ahead: an affair with immaculate taste, if not entirely tact, calling out the foibles and faux pas of her fellow guests in a devilishly playful manner. As example: to quell costar, Joseph Cotten’s grumblings over never having ‘won the girl’ in The Third Man (1949), Davis hired three ravishing Ilene Ford models who arrived on cue, with Davis instructing her co-star, “Here, Joe – pick one…and shut up about never getting the girl” to which Cotten informed Davis he had brought along ‘his wife’ as ‘his date’. Unmoved, Davis merely shrugged her shoulders, adding, “Oh well…who knew?” Ultimately, it was all done in jest. By the time the bus returned to Davis’ home several hours later, unanimous consensus was that a good time had been had by all: out-and-out, a real night to remember. “I don’t expect any thanks for this,” Davis added, “I just want you all to understand this is the Hollywood I came to and the one I just wish would go on…but it won’t.” Regrettably, it hasn’t.
There is infinitely better news afoot from this Twilight Time Blu-ray release. It is rather gratifying to see Fox has spent money to remaster this movie in true 1080p. I will simply depart a moment from this review to explain my position: that I have officially decided to boycott all future Kino/Lorber/Fox Blu-ray releases after acquiring a handful of transfers that are so woefully subpar they really have no business being stamped to disc. The culprits are many, but boil down to my recent acquisitions of I Wake Up Screaming (1941), Daddy Long Legs (1955), Road House (1948). We can split the blame: the lion’s share going to the shortsighted executives at Fox who clearly have zero interest in remastering a good deal of their vintage catalog for Blu-ray but have no compunction about sneaking through shoddy old masters culled from the mid to late 1990s, dumping them on the market via third party distributors like Kino. So, it is with considerable trepidation that I purchased Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte from Twilight Time, if for no other reason, than some of TT’s previously acquired Fox catalog suffered from the same ridiculous shortsightedness. Anyone who has purchased TT’s Hawaii, Titus or Demetrius and the Gladiators – for starters – will know exactly what I am talking about.
Not so, here. Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte is properly framed in 1.85:1. Many will recall when Fox first released this movie to DVD via its now defunct ‘Studio Classics’ series, the image was improperly framed with a considerable amount of information lopped off at the top of the frame. Fox later rectified this oversight by reissuing the movie to DVD, adding a barrage of extra features, but jettisoning the original audio commentary from film historian Glenn Erikson (which made absolutely no sense). TT’s Blu-ray represents the first time all of the extra features culled from both DVD presentations have been reassembled for a single disc release. It’s about time! Better still, image quality exhibits the sort of monumental refinements in razor-sharp clarity and gray scale tonality we know Blu-ray is capable of achieving when time, effort and money are spent in the remastering process. So, top marks to Fox and Twilight Time for releasing Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte with a revitalized picture that celebrates all the glories of Joseph F. Biroc’s stunning cinematography: solid contrast, exquisite shadow delineation and indigenous film grain, along with a complete absence of age-related artifacts. Bravo and thank you! There are two distinct audio tracks: both mono – a DTS 2.0 and a DTS 1.0 that just seems to sound more subtly nuanced. Go figure.
Extras are plentiful, starting with TT’s usual commitment to an isolate score. We also get two audio commentaries, the first, the aforementioned reinstatement of Glenn Erickson’s fact-based making of, the second, exclusively produced for TT and featuring historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros. Each is worthy of a listen. We also get the extras originally produced for the second DVD release, including the almost half hour, Hush…Hush, Sweet Joan: The Making of Charlotte featuring recollections from Bruce Dern, Aldrich’s daughter, Adell, historian, Marc Vieria and Bette Davis’ son, Michael Merrill. There is also Bruce Dern Remembers; a brief chat with the actor about his more intimate recollections making the movie. Wizard Work is a promo puff piece released in conjunction with the film’s general release and narrated by Joseph Cotten. The extras are rounded out by trailers and TV spots; capped off with a handsomely produced six page essay by Julie Kirgo. Bottom line: if you have always loved this movie as I do, you will want to snatch up the TT Blu-ray while limited supplies last. This is a reference quality offering well worth your money. Buy today. Treasure forever!
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)