DATELINE: Whatever Happened to Joan?
Joan’s Replacement: Olivia
Joan Crawford missed a sour mint julep when she bailed out of her second movie with Bette Davis.
Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte clarifies a few notions we have carried since we last saw this from back in the 1960s. Despite the handle that this was another film degrading older actresses, it is nothing of the sort.
Director Robert Aldrich gave his stars some dignified screen time amid the severed hands and decapitated heads. Bette Davis looks fresh and powerful. Taking over from Crawford was Olivia De Havilland in an unusual turn as the harsh cousin who allegedly comes to the rescue of her faded Southern Belle cousin who has fallen into hard times and dementia.
The cast is marvelous: Joseph Cotten shows up as a syrupy doctor and Agnes Morehead is the floozie housekeeper. You will also find Mary Astor as Charlotte’s archrival Jewel Mayhew.
The film gave a few character actors their first juicy roles: Bruce Dern is the beau of Bette in 1927 who loses his head over her advances. George Kennedy shows up as a blue collar house wrecker. To top it all off, Aldrich brought back Victor Buono from Baby Jane to play Bette’s father in the flashback scenes; his giant portrait dominates the library for the remainder of the movie.
The film is not a horror picture at all. It is a crime drama that comes across as Tennessee Williams gone awry among magnolia blossoms.
You can’t help but see Joan Crawford in the Olivia role, though De Havilland makes a strong case. What a shame that Joan couldn’t abide Bette enough to see through to finish this picture. It’s a remarkable movie.
If you expect bloody scenes, this is antiseptic by modern standards—but suspense and melodrama is always delicious when old stars give their last hurrahs.