How Was I To Know It Would End In Murder?

Somehow, I don’t know why, I missed seeing Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? when it came around to the Neptune Theatre, as I’m assuming it must have in 1962 or thereabouts.

When I did get around to seeing that classic horror film that revitalized the careers of both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, I wondered what all the fuss was about. I’ve seen it at least twice and I find it a slow-moving bore, a little bit campy perhaps, but I’m pretty much at a loss as to why it has held its positive reputation for so long.

Agnes Moorehead and Bette Davis in Hush, Hush…Sweet CharlotteAgnes Moorehead and Bette Davis in Hush, Hush…Sweet Charlotte

Agnes Moorehead and Bette Davis in Hush, Hush…Sweet Charlotte

On the other hand, I find it a bit more understandable why I might not have seen its quasi-followup, Hush, Hush…Sweet Charlotte in 1964, because by that time I wasn’t going to the movies at the Neptune nearly as often as I used to. Maybe it was because we had moved to South Race Street and I no longer walked past the posters advertising the upcoming movies regularly, or perhaps I had just found other things to occupy my time.


I do recall Ed Stutz, the upper classman who shared my dorm floor during my first year at Penn State, giving me a complete synopsis of the movie, it being one of his favorites. I still recall him describing the final moments of the film as Miss Charlotte (played by Bette Davis) is driven away from the mansion where she has lived her entire life, no longer haunted by the secrets that have kept her a virtual prisoner there.

Happily, when I finally got around to seeing the movie, I had forgotten all the rest of the plot, so the film wasn’t spoiled for me. For some reason Hush, Hush isn’t held in the same esteem as the earlier Baby Jane, even though I think it’s a far superior film. And when it is remembered, it’s often more for the backstage drama, than for the movie itself.

Both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were originally intended to star in it, even though relations between the two of them, never really more than cordial, had soured dramatically since the making of Baby Jane. You see, Davis was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for Baby Jane, an award she desperately wanted to win, as it would have made her the first woman to win three Best Actress awards. So she was crushed when the award went to Anne Bancroft.

Meanwhile, Crawford was furious that she wasn’t even nominated for her role in that film and resolved to have her revenge. So she teamed up with Hedda Hopper to badmouth Davis all over town to sabotage any chance Davis had of winning that award. But that wasn’t enough. Crawford called all the other nominees and asked if she (Crawford) could accept the award for them if they won in case they weren’t able to attend the ceremony.

Bette Davis always had a bottle of Coke on the set of Hush, Hush in order to annoy Joan CrawfordBette Davis always had a bottle of Coke on the set of Hush, Hush in order to annoy Joan Crawford

Bette Davis always had a bottle of Coke on the set of Hush, Hush in order to annoy Joan Crawford

Bancroft accepted her offer and wasn’t able to attend. So it was like a punch in the gut when, not only didn’t Davis win the award she felt she deserved, but there was Joan Crawford accepting an award that she hadn’t earned.

So no, these two larger than life actresses did not get along. And in particular Bette Davis did not want to work with Joan Crawford ever again. So Davis arranged to get herself designated as a producer of Hush, Hush and commanded a much larger salary than Crawford would get. Then once filming began, she did everything she could to make Crawford’s life hell, even down to such petty details as always having a bottle of Coke (Joan Crawford being on the board of directors of Pepsi).

Well, Crawford did the location scenes in Louisiana and came back to Hollywood where filming resumed. She stuck it out as long as she could, but finally she couldn’t take it anymore and came down with a case of pneumonia and had to be hospitalized.

Whereupon Davis saw to it that her friend Olivia de Havilland was cast.

Hush, Hush is variously described as a horror film, a gothic melodrama, and a camp classic. Which is it? Actually it’s all three rolled into one.

Olivia de Havilland and Joseph CottonOlivia de Havilland and Joseph Cotton

Olivia de Havilland and Joseph Cotton

The first time I saw it was on TV in the early 70s when I had two roommates, and each of us reacted differently to it. Walter was completely absorbed by the horror elements and would jump at every sudden loud sound or other device designed to scare viewers, while I was engrossed in the melodrama of Charlotte’s story and even got choked up at the ending when she is finally driven off her estate. Meanwhile, David was having a ball laughing, both at the campiness of the movie as well as the reactions of his roommates. So I guess you could say it has a little bit of something for every taste.

I’ve probably seen the movie at least four or five times by now, and I always enjoy it. I remember in the late 80s I told Joe Bonafiglia that one of the characters reminded me of someone that we worked with, but I refused to tell him who it was until he saw the movie. I don’t know if he ever did.

It’s on Blu-ray now, so I just upgraded the copy in my Plex library and watched it again last evening. And yes, once again I shed a tear as Miss Charlotte is driven away at the end.

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