Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte

 

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The legendary Bette Davis was born in 1908, so by the time 1964 rolled around, she wasn’t exactly a spring chicken anymore. At age 56, she wasn’t precisely finished, but it was widely acknowledged that the ‘good’ roles were mostly behind her.

The release that summer of Hush. . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte, would do little to dissuade many of that notion. To say it was not widely heralded as an instant classic by the critics, would be something of an understatement. More accurate perhaps, to say that it was widely dismissed as dreck.

Well .  .  . the critics were wrong.

The cast was stunning. Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotton, Agnes Morehead, Cecil Kellaway, Bruce Dern, Victor Buono, George Kennedy, and Mary Astor, in her final film role. It was produced and directed by Robert Aldritch, It would be one of his few commercial disappointments.

The plot is as simple as it is timeless, and this wonderful motion-picture not only holds up well over time, but to my mind, has gotten better and better as the years have gone by. It was a cautionary tale at the time, and remains so today.

The subject was .  .  . gaslighting.  And oh yeah, not judging a book by it’s cover. And things are not necessarily what they seem. As if they ever were, in a Bette Davis film.

Charlotte Hollis, played by Davis, is a lady with a past. And about a ton of personal baggage. A tragedy in her youth  has left her, in the eyes of those who know her, a very mentally unstable character. She does little to change that perception of herself, as she ages in her childhood home, carrying a torch for a lover named John Mayhew(Bruce Dern) long dead. A man everyone assumes Charlotte has killed in a jealous rage. A man that went headless and handless to his grave, courtesy of the meat cleaver wielding killer.

The head was never found.

 

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Of course, long-missing decapitated heads have a tendency to re-appear in the movies, and old John Mayhew’s is no exception.

Charlotte’s home is slated for the wreaking-ball as progress marches on, and a new highway planned for the area. She has only a short time to leave the house, and of course, she refuses to do so, her decision enforced at the end of a rifle. No one wants to shoot the old lady, so construction is halted as reinforcements are called in.

Enter Charlotte’s cousin (Olivia de Havilland) and her partner (Joseph Cotton) to try to get old crazy Charlotte and her ever faithful housekeeper (Agnes Moorehead) out of the house.

As the inimitable Sherlock Holmes might have said .  .  . “The game is afoot.” A game that is sadistic, disgusting, and sometimes brutally sickening.

I won’t give away a shred of the ending. It’s just way too good for that. But I will tell you that it is a crackerjack ending. It made me smile as a fourteen year old kid, and it still does today, all these many decades later. It made, and makes me feel good too, and that is not a routine result in an ‘almost’ horror film.

Call it a mystery, thriller, suspense, a gothic tale with a touch of horror and a dose of the macacbre; whatever–it is riveting. Filmed in an age of Technicolor, in beautiful black and white, it is, I believe, an old film that was not well though of .  .  . that has become a classic.

Couple the suspense and atmosphere with a haunting song sang by Al Martino. It occurs throughout the film, and is practically guaranteed to make your skin crawl, and blood run cold.

Give it a watch and see if you do not agree. It is readily available on streaming service such as Netflix, and also for purchase at Amazon, both new and used. I provide an easy link for anyone interested.

 

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Next up, another great film from Bette’s golden years .  .  . Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

Until then, Goodnight.

 

 

Nevada Street

An excerpt from The Reckoning – The Watchmaker – Book Three, by Lee Capp. Anticipated publication date: End of Summer, 2015

 

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We hit Nevada Street just as the sun dipped beneath the horizon. It was not a good time. It was the time of day when the rough guys come out to play. It was the time of day when bad stuff happens. I could see a couple of rough guys just down the street and on the other side.  Skulking next to an abandoned car up on cinder blocks. A couple of “ganstas.” Complete with hoodies. Bulges  in the pockets too. I didn’t think they were sacks of candy.

I figured we probably had five good minutes before the shit would start. Trouble was .  .  . Brick wanted ten.

We stood on the sidewalk in front of the old house, leaning on an ancient and rickety picket fence. I could see that Brick was lost in thought and memory. He didn’t seem to notice or care that we might just be a couple of sitting ducks. Jedediah ‘Brick’ Wahl didn’t carry weapons of any sort, and wise-guy Johnny O’Brien had left Betsy back at the hotel. I felt just a little naked and vulnerable.

“My dad was born here,” he began. “The man who created me. Well, not actually in the house. In a hospital over on Seven Mile Road. It was called Grace Hospital. Long since gone now. Torn down years ago to make way for a Home Depot .  .  . progress, I guess.”

“This was a beautiful house then, back in ’49. And a lovely street as well. Tree lined. It was like a tunnel driving through them. Dutch Elm disease killed them all. This was what we used to call a ‘neighborhood’, Johnny. Everybody knew each other. All kinds of businesses and stores and shops within just a block or two. All gone now, of course. Empty, burned-out, or bulldozed away.”

He was right. The “neighborhood” had turned into what closer resembled the surface of the moon. It was hard to see the near ruin of the building in front of me as having ever been a livable residence, much less a nice house. I couldn’t quite  squint my eyes that much. Death and destruction had long ago come to Nevada Street.

“The Detroit riots were in ’67, but it was even pretty decent back when I was a kid in the seventies,” Brick continued. “But then something happened. Something went bad. Something moved in to the city. For the want of a better word, I guess I’d have to call it ‘Evil’. Sure, you can blame the economy, blame the Democrats, General Motors, the post-industrial revolution period, or whatever else you like. But you just can’t get around the fact that the goodness here  took a hike .  .  . and Evil moved in. Most of these empty houses are used now for doing drug deals, and for the dumping of bodies after the deals go bad.”

“The houses here used to be close together. Most of them are gone now. Long ago burned down for the insurance money. I’m surprised, Johnny, that dad’s old house survived. He worked for a while right next door at a garage and gas station. It was called Ned’s. It burned down a long time ago too.”

I looked around. Where Ned’s used to be was an empty and weed-infested parking lot. On the other side of the house was a vacant space. A brief outline of what was once a basement was the only evidence that a structure had ever existed there.

Brick went on. “Right across the street, was the Detroit Bank and Trust.” Now it was a liquor store. “Around the corner I used to run to Perry’s Butcher Shop to pick up stuff for mom to make for dinner. Next to that was The Rainbow Bar. A guy with no legs used to sit right over there on the corner of Nevada and John R. and sell pencils. He did a good business too. Everyone liked him.”

Brick was in memory lane. I could see that I was going to have a tough time getting him out of it. I could also see that the two goons down the street had decided to make their move. Brick and I must have looked like easy pickings for them–a quick payday.

They had pulled their guns. A couple of rather pricey and nice looking high-capacity semi-automatics. The two ganstas held them down low, next to their sides, with their fingers on the triggers, as they hot-footed it toward us. Looked to me that this was probably not their first attempted robbery.

“Time to go Brick,” I said. “We’re about to have company.”

Brick continued to stare at the house for a few seconds more. “Are they definitely coming at us?” he asked.

“Definitely,” I said.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Brick replied, as he turned to face the two rapidly approaching men.

“Why is that?” I asked.

Brick sighed. “Because I hate to hurt people.”

 

To be continued .  .  .