Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). Directed by Robert Aldrich. Starring Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland and Joseph Cotten.
Robert Aldrich and Bette Davis do their damnedest to re-bottle the Baby Jane magic in this superior slice of Southern Gothic – a thematic sequel to the 1962 picture although lacking the creative tension that Joan Crawford brought to that party.
Aldrich creates a feeling of murky, sweaty dread as lust-filled secrets lurk in dusty corners of shambling mansions running to seed. He throws a load of tricks at the screen as his camera shimmers, dazzles and super-imposes its way through a story of money, murder and sex in the sultry groves of the South.
It isn’t as good a film as Baby Jane of course. The narrative is broadly similar and there is a haunting title song but it all edges a little too far towards Grand Guignol to be great, the tension between the performers isn’t as taut as it was previously and Davis’s mad camp comes off second best to De Havilland’s thoughtful controlled repression – offset by tiny little outbursts which quickly find themselves suppressed and calm restored.
Her interplay with Joe Cotton’s childhood sweetheart bristles wonderfully with unclean tension – on a side note Cotton’s Southern accent holds together throughout apart from at any point he has to say the word “house” where it deserts him completely for that particular collection of syllables.
The atmosphere is controlled, creepy and downright sinister as Aldrich successfully harnesses film noir stylings and more than a hint of Hitchcock’s 1941 flick Suspicion particularly with relation to the high and low angle shots of the important action as viewed from and occurring on the central staircase of Hollis House. All slightly tonally undermined by the riotous humour of Bette’s performance, harnessing the Baby Jane style-madness again, although far more sympathetic and less macabre in her Miss Havisham-ness this time round.
Ultimately, there is a lot of fun to be had and it is entertaining throughout, sometimes wildly so but it loses its own sense of style on occasion, reverting back to Baby Jane hysterics rather than its own sultry, swampy Southern tinge.