Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

...aka: What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?

Directed by:
Robert Aldrich

Following hot on the heels of the smash hit WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962), this slow-paced slice of Southern Gothic terror reunites the aforementioned film's director/producer, writer (Henry Farrell) and two of its star for more of the same, only not quite as good. Originally conceived as WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO COUSIN CHARLOTTE?, it has developed cult status among film buffs and horror fans over the years, most likely for the impressive cast. Bette Davis stars as Charlotte Hollis, an aging Southern belle on the verge of sanity who may or may not have murdered her married lover (Bruce Dern in an early appearance) thirty years earlier. Upon the arrival of her genteel cousin Miriam Deering (Olivia de Havilland, who was in LADY IN A CAGE the same year), strange and horrifying things begin to happen. Has the ghost of Charlotte's dead lover returned from the grave to settle an old score or are characters conspiring against her? Cast to perfection with a first rate character actor in every single role, beautifully shot and densely atmospheric (but longish) tale has plenty of rewards to coast over the flaws. Standout shock scenes involving a hatchet chopping off a hand and a decapitated head rolling down the stairs couldn't compete with the backstage horrors of this notoriously troubled production.

Original co-star Joan Crawford (set to play de Havilland's role) ended up quitting weeks into filming (after feuding with Davis and making several trips to the hospital), it was almost abandoned at one point and went way over both budget and schedule. In fact, rumors of all the on-set feuding (Crawford/Davis, Aldrich/Davis, de Havilland/Davis, Pepsi/Coke) makes this seem more fascinating than it actually is. Surprisingly, the film garnered seven Oscar nominations, including nods for the photography, art direction and supporting actress Agnes Moorehead for her scene-stealing work as a white trash housekeeper. Frank De Vol's score and theme song both also received nominations. The cast also includes Joseph Cotten as the Hollis family doctor, Victor Buono as Big Sam Hollis (Charlotte's domineering father), Cecil Kellaway, Mary Astor, William Campbell (who'd star in several Corman productions after this), Wesley Addy and George Kennedy in an early role as a foreman. Crawford ended up starring in William Castle's lower-budgeted STRAIT-JACKET (1964) instead... and quite frankly, I found that to be a bit more enjoyable than this one.

Score: 6 out of 10

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