Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte was supposed to be the second Bette Davis/Joan Crawford headliner after 1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, with the roles reversed and Davis playing the victim to Crawford’s scheming villain. Unfortunately, as is documented by the FX series Feud: Bette and Joan, Crawford felt she was being victimised by an uncaring cast and crew (with Davis being the ringleader), so she delayed production with an “illness” until Robert Aldrich was forced to fire her, replacing her with Davis’ old pal Olivia de Havilland.
The film is the very essence of “hag horror”: we’ve got a mentally unstable protagonist (Davis) wasting away in a decaying Louisiana mansion, we’ve got dismemberment, we’ve got gaslighting, we’ve got sassy maids with suspicious minds. All very stock-in-trade, though the Southern Gothic feel is a nice touch. It’s not as fun or memorable as Baby Jane, however, and the persecution here is particularly sadistic because it involves torturing someone who is genuinely losing her mind. I don’t think modern films would go quite this far.
Davis is excellent as always, shedding her steely persona for one much more vulnerable. I thought de Havilland was very good, though I kept wondering what Crawford would have brought to the role. And it’s hard not to love Agnes Moorehead in anything, and here she’s a tough old spitfire who genuinely makes every moment count.
Verdict: A reasonably enjoyable, if not very dark and morbid entry into a canon that’s not as PC now as it once was.