Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte Robert Aldrich

Hard to say how to read this grimy guignol effort by Robert Aldrich; it's either more sympathetic to its protagonist than you'd expect or less charitable to Bette Davis than she deserves. The grand dame herself stars as Charlotte Hollis, a demented spinster who's been living in her decaying Southern plantation house since her married lover was murdered almost 40 years before. Faced with eviction to make way for a highway, she is suddenly flanked by her cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland), who gives the appearance of empathy while Charlotte slowly deteriorates into madness. Is the murder Charlotte's doing? Or do less scrupulous persons have an ace up their sleeves? It almost seems like Aldrich feels compassion for Davis's weak and betrayed maybe killer. But one must also consider that the whole thing is part of a dubious genre defined two years earlier with the Davis/Aldrich smash What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, in which the bright female lights of 30 years before were recycled as withered gorgons in acknowledgement of their faded looks. Still, "king of train wrecks" Aldrich makes this every bit as sensationally fascinating as his Kiss Me Deadly, transcending his gimmick and making you feel real pathos for characters whom lesser hands would have brushed off as complete monsters (as opposed to the semi-monsters on hand here). Though it cynically tries to have it both ways, at least one of those ways makes it worth watching, so much so that you'll be grabbed and held all the way through. With a feature commentary by historian Glenn Erickson that's one-third insight, two-thirds useless trivia, and an array of trailers and TV spots. (Fox)