Friday, July 12, 2013

Classic Film Reviews: Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte

This Monday's whodunnit film weaves a tale of murder and insanity. New York Times movie critic Bosley Crowther wasn't too fond of the film back in 1965, as you'll read below. However, the critics weren't unanimous on this one. Classic portrayals by some of the era's most famous stars with enough suspense and horror to keep you on the edge of your seat meant that audiences loved the movie. Many found it to be quite reminiscent of Robert Aldrich's creepy classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. In fact, Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte received a whopping seven Academy Award nominations.

Head to the park on Monday to be thoroughly spooked at the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival presented by Bank of America. Want more history and inside info? After you scope your spot on the lawn, leave your blanket and plan to attend Reel Talks at 7pm. Film experts Scott Adlerberg and Foster Hirsch talk behind-the-scenes facts and highlight interesting angles on the film's themes. Equally interesting for both film buffs and casual viewers.

Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1965)
New Movie at Capitol Echoes 'Baby Jane'

Published: March 4, 1965

ANOTHER of those looneybin households of the sort he conjured up for the habitation of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" has been fabricated by Robert Aldrich for just Miss Davis this time in another of his grotesque melodramas, "Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte," which came to the Capitol and other theaters yesterday.

That is to say, Miss Davis plays the looniest character in the place, which is an old porticoed plantation mansion set off in the Louisiana fields. But there are other mildly mad and murderous characters drifting in and out this house of horrors, so it is safe and fair to describe it as a comparable looney bin.

But so calculated and coldly carpentered is the tale of murder, mayhem and deceit that Mr. Aldrich stages in this mansion that it soon appears grossly contrived, purposely sadistic and brutally sickening. So, instead of coming out funny, as did "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", it comes out grisly, pretentious, disgusting and profoundly annoying.

It begins with a debutante party in this elaborately overdressed place. The time is 1927, but it seems like antebellum days. Miss Davis, or a shadowy stand-in for her, has been ordered by her dictatorial dad, played by Victor Buono, to stay away from a certain married man. The daughter has a quarrel with the fellow and, on the fateful night of the dance, somebody takes a meat ax to him and chops off his hand and then his head.

That's right. We see the cleaver come down and the hand and the head come off. Thereafter we see these two members—or reasonable facsimiles of them—a couple of times, as tangible reminders of what Miss Davis presumably saw that night.

Anyhow, the point that's made is that Miss Davis, unable to get over that horrible night, is a wildly demented old woman when the contemporary drama begins, about to be evicted from her mansion so it may be torn down to make way for a road, and unable to defend herself against plotters who attempt to drive her still further mad. She is evidently rich and these plotters want to steal her money from her.

By the unwritten rule of criticism, I won't tell you who these plotters are — nor, indeed, will I try to tell you the details of the plot. That is mainly because it is so fuzzy and full of ridiculous holes, which apparently has not bothered Mr. Aldrich in his grim bent to generate shock. But the fact that it is so fuzzy is only another reason to resent the darkly-lit, crudely-gimmicked horror he has tried to perpetrate.

Resentable, too, is the acting—the style of acting—done in this film. It is weirdly exaggerated for sensational effects and nothing more. Miss Davis, made up to look like Hydra, with heavy eyebrows and lines in her face, is plainly directed to accomplish a straight melodramatic tour de force. And Agnes Moorehead as her weird and crone-like servant is allowed to get away with some of the broadest mugging and snarling ever done by a respectable actress on the screen. If she gets an Academy award for this performance—which is possible, because she's been nominated for it—the Academy should close up shop!

Olivia de Havilland is closer to normal as a relative of the demented woman who comes to be with her, but Joseph Gotten overdoes and over-accents the seamy role of the family physician. Mary Astor and Cecil Kellaway mumble and fumble lesser roles.

For some unaccountable reason—maybe simply because "Baby Jane" was popular and successful as a sort of Grand Guignolish thing—Mr. Aldrich is being touted as a brilliant director in Hollywood. His achievements to date, as I see them, are a couple of second-rate freaks.

HUSH . . . HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE, screenplay by Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller from a story by Mr. Farrell. Directed and produced by Robert Aldrich for 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation. At the Loew's Capitol and other theaters. Running time: 133 minutes.
Charlotte . . . . . Bette Davis
Miriam . . . . . Olivia de Havilland
Drew . . . . . Joseph Cotten
Velma . . . . . Agnes Moorhead
Harry . . . . . Cecil Kellaway
Big Sam . . . . . Victor Buono
Jewel Mayhew . . . . . Mary Astor
Sheriff . . . . . Wesley Addy
Paul Marchand . . . . . William Campbell
John Mayhew . . . . . Bruce Dern
Editor . . . . . Frank Ferguson
Foreman . . . . . George Kennedy

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