Horror Review: Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

An aging, reclusive Southern belle, plagued by a horrifying family secret, descends into madness after the arrival of a lost relative.

This was one of those films I’d had on my ‘To Watch’ list for years and I finally got round to watching it recently.

I’ve recently been having a bit of a classic Horror run lately, these old films grab me in a way modern Horror rarely does, the storytelling always keeps me engaged and holds my attention throughout the feature, it’s something that I hope filmmakers will pay more attention to.
This film was actually intended to be a follow up to one of my all time favourites “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” reuniting bitter enemies Bette Davis and Joan Crawford on screen but Crawford dropped out, shame really as their feud created great on screen tension.
Director Robert Aldrich had a great visual style and alongside his longtime cinematographer Joseph Biroc they created some stunning shots that is on show for all to see here, add the amazing  score from Frank De Vol into the mix and it makes for great viewing.
Lead star Bette Davis puts in the incredible performance she’s known for, a true icon in her own right. Her co-stars are also great, especially Olivia de Havilland who replaced Joan Crawford, she had big shoes to fill and managed to do so with ease and grace.
“Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte” is a film that deserves more recognition, a true classic that has been overlooked.
If you want to see the “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte” trailer then just click on the video below:
Miscellaneous facts about the film:
Final released film of Mary Astor. (“Youngblood Hawke” was actually the last film Miss Astor worked on, but it was released before “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte.”)
When Joan Crawford was in Baton Rouge and came to film Miriam’s arrival, there was no dialogue involved. Joan was to arrive at the mansion in a cab, exit, carrying a small case, pay the driver, and lowering her sunglasses, look up at the balcony of the house where Bette, in pigtails and a nightgown, was standing in the shadows, holding a shot gun. The scene was designed to be photographed in a wide continuous shot, and, thanks to Crawford’s proficient technical skill, it was completed in one take. Later that evening, when publicist Harry Mines called on Bette in her motel bungalow, he found her standing in the middle of the room practicing Joan’s scene. “My God!” said Bette. “I’ve been here all evening long with a pair of dark glasses and some luggage and I’m imagining getting out of a cab and trying to do that whole business in one gesture. How did she do it?”
The painting of young Charlotte is of Bette Davis in her role as Julie in Jezebel (1938).
On Wednesday, July 29, 1964, Joan Crawford worked until 1:30 p.m. Crawford then informed Robert Aldrich that she had overtaxed herself the previous day and would have to return to a less strenuous shooting schedule. Aldrich informed her that he wanted her examined by the company’s insurance doctor. Resenting his suspicions and harassment, Joan returned to her dressing room and made it clear she would no longer talk directly to the director. “The only way they communicated was through me,” said Crawford’s makeup man, Monty Westmore. “Joan would tell me something, then I’d go and tell Aldrich. He would give me a reply to take back to Joan. It was an unpleasant, awkward position for me to be in.”
When Olivia de Havilland agreed to make the film, Robert Aldrich called Bette Davis to give her the good news. He also requested she keep the news a secret until he returned in two days, when he would legally inform Joan Crawford and her lawyer by letter. However, Bette didn’t listen, she called her press agent, Rupert Allan, who immediately leaked the story to the press.

Joan Crawford had it in her contract that her trailer be placed so many yards from Bette Davis. The trailer was set up at the back of the house, with her own golf cart to take her back and forth when filming.

Joan Crawford was seething when she read that Robert Aldrich had replaced her with Olivia de Havilland. She is quoted in “Hollywood Reporter” as saying, “Aldrich knew where to long distance me all over the world when he needed me, but he made no effort to reach me here that he had signed Olivia. He let me hear it for the first time in a radio release – and, frankly, I think it stinks.”
Whilst Bette Davis’ dislike of Joan Crawford is well known, what isn’t well known is her absolute hatred of Faye Dunaway – going so far as to call her a ‘bitch’ during a 1987 interview with Bryant Gumbel on the Today show. Ms. Dunaway portrayed Ms. Crawford in ‘Mommy Dearest.’
On Friday, June 12, 1964, the last day of shooting in Louisiana, after some late-afternoon shots, Joan Crawford was relaxing in her trailer, on hand if needed for additional scenes. She apparently dozed off, because when she woke up it was dark. When she sent her maid to check when shooting would be completed, she found the place empty. The crew had packed up and left, leaving Joan at the rear of the house, in her trailer, with no transportation back to the motel. Outraged, Joan returned to Los Angeles the very next day and checked herself into Cedars Sinai Hospital.
Joan Crawford would always say “Good morning” when she walked onto the set. Bette Davis, however, would seldom answer her. Three hours later she might say “Hi”, prompting Crawford to look around to see if she was addressing her or someone else.
Barbara Stanwyck and Loretta Young were both offered the role of Miriam when Joan Crawford became ill but they turned it down. Young felt the role was totally wrong for her, saying “I don’t believe in horror stories for women and I wouldn’t play a part like that if I were starving.” At the time Crawford was good friends with both Stanwyck and Young.
Song lyrics heard over the opening titles: “Chop chop, sweet Charlotte / Chop chop till he’s dead / Chop chop, sweet Charlotte / Chop off his hand and head / To meet your lover you ran chop chop / Now everyone understands / Just why you went to meet your love chop chop / To chop off his head and hand.”
Robert Aldrich had to take three planes, a train and a taxi up a goat trail to get to Olivia de Havilland’s home, which was in the mountains of Switzerland. It took him four days to convince her to step in and replace Joan Crawford.
Because there was no time to redo the costumes for Miriam, many of her clothes come from Olivia de Havilland’s personal wardrobe.
Until his death in April 1959, Joan Crawford had been married to Alfred Steele, the president of Pepsi-Cola. After his death she was elected to fill his spot on the Pepsi board of directors. While making this film Crawford had Pepsi-Cola vending machines installed on the set and during rehearsals, costume tests, filming in Baton Rouge and on Fox’s soundstages she would sometimes have a bottle of Pepsi by her side or in her hand. In an effort to spite her co-star, Bette Davis had Coca-Cola vending machines installed as well and later when Crawford was replaced she also had a Cola-Cola truck barrel through town just before Miriam sees Jewel Mayhew on the street.
After being in the hospital for five weeks, Joan Crawford returned to work on Monday, July 20, 1964. On the first day, after she spent three hours in make-up, she stepped onto the soundstage, where she was greeted with applause and hugs from the cast and crew. Bette Davis also joined in the welcoming and handed Joan one perfect red rose. On the second day, Davis announced during a scene between Crawford and Joseph Cotten that she wanted some lines eliminated. “I am cutting some dialogue,” said Bette, wielding a large red pencil and excising large chunks of dialogue from Joan’s scene. “Miriam doesn’t need them, and you, Mr. Cotten, I hope you don’t mind. These lines hold me up.” Joan abandoned her professionalism and turned on her heels and went to her dressing room. After this incident she was unable to work a full day without feeling tired.
When Joan Crawford was replaced by Olivia de Havilland in the role of Miriam and production resumed on Wednesday, September 9, 1964, Davis and de Havilland pulled a “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” routine by toasting one another with Coca-Cola – a catty observation of the fact that Crawford’s husband had been an executive of Pepsi-Cola and that she was now on the board of directors. Joining in on the toast were Joseph Cotten and director Robert Aldrich.
Weather and travel delays, as well as Joan Crawford’s departure, forced director Robert Aldrich to cease location filming and move to a $200,000 replica of Houmas House at Fox Studio’s Soundstage 6.
When Miriam Deering (Olivia de Havilland) is preparing to close up the house in anticipation of moving out, she is packing a box which is stenciled “Sam Strangis Storage & Transfer, Baton Rouge, LA.”. Sam Strangis was the assistant director on this picture.
Joan Crawford felt that Bette Davis was manipulating director Robert Aldrich, saying, “She’s practically directing the picture for him right in front of me, so God knows what else she’s up to behind my back. I might wind up on the cutting-room floor.”
When asked by Bette Davis who he thought could be a possibility to play Cousin Miriam, Robert Aldrich suggested Bette’s The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) co-star Ann Sheridan. Ultimately, Aldrich persuaded her to accept Joan Crawford because it was what the studio wanted.
Though adapted from Henry Farrell’s unpublished short story, “What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?”, this title was nixed personally by Bette Davis, who felt it was too close to “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” Upon hearing Frank De Vol’s theme song for the film, Davis agreed with a suggestion (or perhaps was the first to suggest) a switch to “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte”, a lyric from the song.
Bette Davis’ trailer was parked at the front of the mansion but she was seldom there. She set up a huge mirror in the hallway of the house and she put on her makeup there. At lunchtime she had her meals outside, with the director and the grips.
Second picture in a row in which Olivia de Havilland stepped into a role originally announced for Joan Crawford; prior to this one, she played the lead in Lady in a Cage (1964) when Crawford bowed out.

The brooch that Bette Davis wears in the dining room scene belonged to director Robert Aldrich’s first wife.

The entire company was put up at the Belmont Motel (a mile outside Baton Rouge) and when Joan Crawford arrived there, her rooms had not been made up. She then had to sit for an hour in the motel’s lobby, and when she was finally put into a bungalow, it was next to the garbage disposal unit. That evening, when the company returned from filming, Joan complained to Bette Davis. Davis replied, “Oh, Joan. Pull yourself together. This is Baton Rouge, not Beverly Hills.” Davis’ bungalow was across from Crawford’s and was slightly larger and more luxurious.
At 28 minutes and 30 seconds the taxi carrying Miriam pulls up in front of the mansion and for two seconds Joan Crawford can be seen peering out from the backseat window wearing dark sunglasses and dark clothes. When Olivia de Havilland as Miriam is seen in the taxi before she arrives she is wearing a white hat and her clothing is light colored.
On Thursday, July 30, 1964, Bette Davis was scheduled to report to Fox to record dialogue with the other cast members, but the morning of the recording she called Robert Aldrich and begged him to let her have the day off. Davis doubted her capacity to contribute much to the recording because she was so depressed at not knowing when and if the film was ever going to be finished. After speaking with producer Richard D. Zanuck, Aldrich excused Bette and the recording was canceled.
In 1926, both Joan Crawford and Mary Astor had been named WAMPAS (Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers) Baby Stars.
When Joan Crawford traveled to Baton Rouge for the location shooting, she brought along her maid, hairdresser and makeup man. However, when they arrived at the airport, there was no one from the company to greet them. There had been a mistake in the schedule and everyone was filming at the mansion. Somehow, Crawford’s arrival was not relayed to the proper driver.
Production was supposed to begin in April, but Joan Crawford had to attend a Pepsi sales convention in Hawaii that same month so production was postponed until May.
Football player Dick Butkus once said in an interview that he enjoyed seeing the film, and jokingly said he could imagine some of the more gruesome scenes from it occurring during a football game.
In Harry’s (Cecil Kellaway) initial meeting with Charlotte, he tries to charm her by alluding to an earlier meeting with her. It was during the trial for the murder, being convened in England to avoid an American trial which her father Sam Hollis managed to manipulate. Harry recounts how he was a reporter and what he remembers Charlotte was wearing during the trial. This is a hidden reference to Bette Davis’s 1936 suit against Warner Bros. who were only offering Bette less than stellar roles at the time. Harry even describes her green “tam o’shanter” which Bette is clearly wearing in several 1936 images as she arrived for her court date in London.
Agnes Moorehead was the only one to win a Golden Globe or earn an Oscar nomination out of the entire cast.
Joan Crawford’s contract included a clause that stipulated she was not to accompany Bette Davis in any promotional appearance for the film.
The film was shot at Houmas House Plantation and Gardens, outside the towns of Darrow and Burnside, Louisiana (just south of Baton Rouge). The home and grounds are open to tours, and the tour guide points out several bits of trivia pertaining to the film on the tour, including the bedroom where Bette Davis slept while filming and the spot where her character pushes the potted vase onto Olivia de Havilland and Joseph Cotten.
Bette Davis’s son Michael Merrill says his mother did not want to do this film, and that the idea of the head being cut off and rolling down the staircase was something she was appalled by.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s