With the surprise box office success of 1962’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? starring Hollywood legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, director Robert Aldrich was hoping lightning would strike twice when he reunited the two stars for Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte in 1964. However, things didn’t quite go as planned, after Crawford bowed out after just ten days of filming (gossip of the day suggested she couldn’t stand working with Davis again) and she was eventually replaced by Davis’ old friend, Olivia de Havilland, who accepted the role of scheming cousin Marion.
Set in 1927, at a party hosted by the Hollis family at their mansion in Ascension Parish, Louisiana young Charlotte Hollis (Davis, 56 at the time, is largely seen in shadows, but the voice is unmistakably hers) is planning to elope with her married lover, John Mayhew (Bruce Dern). However, Charlotte’s domineering father Big Sam Hollis (Victor Buono) orders Mayhew to end his affair with Charlotte and return to his wife, Jewel (Mary Astor, in her last screen appearance). Charlotte doesn’t take the news well, exclaiming to Mayhew, “I could kiiiiill you!” Minutes later, a cleaver-wielding maniac brutally butchers John and when Charlotte returns to the party in her blood-stained dress, naturally, everyone assumes she’s the killer.
Flash forward to 1964. Having escaped prosecution because of her father’s political connections, is still living in the crumbling mansion, but fighting to stay there. The Louisiana Highway Commission wants to tear the place down and build a new highway. Having none of it, Charlotte brandishing a shotgun to ward off the bulldozers. while her devoted housekeeper Velma Cruthers (Agnes Moorehead) attempts to talk some sense into her, Charlotte brings in reinforcements to join her fight: worldly cousin, Miriam Deering (de Havilland) and Dr. Drew Bayliss (Joseph Cotten), an old family friend and Miriam’s former lover.
But as soon as Miriam arrives, strange things start happening. Reminders of John’s murder almost forty years earlier keep popping up around the mansion including severed heads rolling down stairs. Velma suspects Miriam (and Drew) might not have Charlotte’s best interests at heart, but can’t can’t find any concrete evidence to validate her concerns. While Charlotte struggles to maintain what’s left of her sanity, a kindly British investigator (Cecil Kellaway) arrives in town and befriends her. He also interviews the sickly Jewel Mayhew in an attempt to solve the mystery of who killed John and why his insurance policy remains unclaimed.
While the special effects are laughable and Bette Davis is occasionally over-the-top, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a great little thriller. Robert Aldrich knew his way around this kind of movie, having directed Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and the underrated Kiss Me Deadly. Here, he does a good job of balancing suspense, soap opera and black comedy with a surprising amount of poignancy. The dilapidated Hollis mansion ups the creepy factor, while snappy dialogue and unforgettable performances keep viewers fixated on the screen. While Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte doesn’t quite reach the heights of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? it’s a classic entry in the grand guignol catalog.
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.851:1, this 1080p transfer is a significant step up from its DVD counterpart. The image is remarkably sharp and clear throughout, with superior black levels. A light grain increases the eerie feel, while impressive shadow delineation draws attention to Joseph F. Biroc’s Oscar-nominated cinematography. All that, taken with a damage free print, makes for a film that has never looked better.
Both stereo and mono tracks are included, but they’ve been upgraded to DTS-HD Master Audio. Both are free of any age-related issues and offer excellent tone. Atmospherics are excellent, though there is obviously more noticeable separation on the stereo track. The track handles highs and lows quite well, with just the slightest distortion on a couple of occasions. Frank DeVol’s Oscar-nominated score fills the soundfield nicely and dialogue is clean and clear. Nothing tracks are very good, but the stereo track will provide a slightly more immersive experience.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Film Historian Glenn Erickson: Recorded in 2005, this somewhat dry and professional commentary provides a lecture style rundown of the behind-the-scenes controversy and discussion of the production, actors and themes.
- Audio Commentary with Film Historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros: Designed for the gossip lovers among us, the two explore the behind-the-scenes drama that lead to Joan Crawford departure from the film. They also share stories about their personal interactions with De Havilland and quote from an Aldrich interview with Peter Bogdanovich. Fun stuff.
- Featurette: “Hush…Hush, Sweet Joan: The Making of Charlotte (SD, 21:47) From 2007, this featurette attempts to set the record straight regarding Joan Crawford leaving the production, provides some behind-the-scenes footage, comments from Bruce Dern, Davis’ son Michael Merrill and Aldrich’s daughter Adell Aldrich.
- Featurette: Bruce Dern Remembers (SD, 12:51) Dern recalls making the film and shares a couple of wonderful anecdotes.
- Vintage Featurette: Wizard Work (SD, 4:43) Joseph Cotten narrates this promotional short that celebrates the work of Robert Aldrich.
- Original Theatrical Trailers (HD, 4:24) A trailer and teaser are included.
- TV Spots (HD, 1:38) Three TV spots are included in this collection.
- Isolated Score Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.
- Six-Page Booklet: contains some movie stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s enthusiastic appreciation of the film.
There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either http://www.twilighttimemovies.com or http://www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.