Going South: Looking at Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (for Parterre Box)

Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis in Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

Cameron Kelsall:
When we started thinking about a Bette Davis series, David, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte was among the first of her features to make the list. The 1964 Southern Gothic seemed a natural choice especially after the recent passing (at 104!) of co-star Olivia de Havilland, considered by many the last surviving link to Hollywood’s Golden Age. Davis and de Havilland may not be as flashy a pair as Davis and Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?—which we’ll take up in this space next week—but the film finds each actress inhabiting a particular sweet spot, often by playing surprisingly against type. In fact, HHSC (as we’ll call it for brevity’s sake) strikes me as far more subtle and interesting than the campy reputation that precedes it. Surely, there are some howlers and histrionic performances, but I often found myself thinking how the film’s depiction of the burden of the female sex ties in nicely to our past discussions of lost Southern womanhood. In another life, Charlotte Hollis and Miriam Deering could be Tennessee Williams characters, no?

David Fox: I made the Tennessee Williams association instantly, when I watched it. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I don’t think I’d ever seen it through till this week, and now I can understand why. On paper, HHSC should be heaven sent for me, uniquely in my personal sweet spot: marry the key ingredients (well, all but one of them) from Baby Jane to a plot that could be Williams as his most Grand Guignol. And I’d say director Robert Aldrich, his actors and especially cinematographer Joseph Biroc do that with exceptional skill. But to me, this is truly, almost heartbreakingly a whole-less-than-its parts movie. Individual performances and some scenes—especially in the first hour—are mesmerizing. But I think it goes off the rails as it goes along, especially in terms of the screenplay. Somewhere—Wikipedia maybe?—I saw HHSC described as a “psychological thriller.” Well yes… in moments. But also, if only! By the end, we have rolling heads, a lot of screaming, and cheap horror too often overwhelms the better instincts of the screenwriters… who, by the way, are also the same writers as for Baby Jane (Lukas Heller and Henry Farrell)…

Click here to read the full post at Parterre Box.

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