Dubious Tribute to Olivia De Havilland

DATELINE: Worst Movie of Her Career

Caged Lady!

Leave it to Amazon Prime to honor the memory and career of Olivia De Havilland with the worst movie she ever made.  Long forgotten, Lady in a Cage,  is one of those 1960s hag horror movies made after Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

This features Miss De Havilland who recently passed as age 104 in her attractive, dignified middle-age as a poet trapped in her million-dollar mansion in a private elevator. She is beset upon by a gaggle of horror creatures called in the trailer: the psycho, the wino, the hustler, the weirdo and the wildo.  No kidding. These low-lifes do not rescue Miss DeHavilland, but torment, torture, and drive her to the edge of insanity.

This passed for entertainment.

The following year De Havilland replaced Joan Crawford in the Bette Davis murder horror called Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,a truly dignified and marvelous murder horror. This warm-up is a cold turkey.

In Ryan Murphy’s miniseries, Feud,about Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, there is a scene where Miss De Havilland tosses the script for Lady in a Cage into her trash. Apparently, she changed her mind and agreed to contractual terms. Did she need the money? Was the limelight as star so great that she tossed away all semblance of taste?

All we know is that she chose to make this horror, which horrified us.

The supporting cast is equally shocking: there is Ann Sothern, who had just come off ten years as a TV comedy sit-com star. She apparently had no scruples and appears as a fat, middle-aged prostitute. Another wasted actor was Rafael Campos whose career was playing Puerto Rican slimeballs in movie after movie. His talent was never treated properly, and in his movie debut, there is James Caan as the head monster, looking and acting like Marlon Brando. He is a young lookalike here, and ten years later ended up playing Brando’s son in The Godfather.

We do not recommend this travesty of movie shocks. If you are curious, watch the preview in which demure, attractive De Havilland as herself, talks about the message of the movie: apparently under the surface we are all animals.

Yikes.

Hush…Hush (Say It with Ellipsis, Not Comma), Charlotte

DATELINE:  Whatever Happened to Joan?

hush 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.