Tuesday, October 2, 2012

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Casting Coup Tuesdays: Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte

With the success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were hot commodities once again and psycho-biddy films were born. And Hollywood being, in the end, all about the green, you know they had to have a sequel of some sort for the Oscar-winning, fourth highest-grossing picture of 1962. Of course, the way Baby Jane ends, a direct sequel would be impossible, not to mention anticlimactic.

Luckily, source novelist Henry Farrell had another gem in paperback: What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?. It's another faded beauty gem, this time set in a dying plantation in Louisiana, where mad Charlotte Hollis has been living for forty years. Haunted by the mysterious murder of her married lover John Mayhew in 1926, a crime which she was suspected of but never convicted for, Charlotte's only company is poor white trash companion Velma and the workers trying to demolish her home to make way for the new highway. Charlotte loves Velma; the workers, on the other hand, she fires at with her daddy's shotguns. Desperate to save the place, she calls upon citified cousin Miriam to help her keep the place -- but Miriam is more interested in the vast wealth of the estate, wealth that would be hers if she can successfully have Charlotte committed. And with the help of former lover Dr. Drew Bayliss, she may get her way...

Once again, Lukas Heller adapted (this time with some help from Farrell), Robert Aldrich directed, and Bette Davis and Joan Crawford acted opposite each other. This time, Crawford was to play the cunning manipulator to Davis's shut-in, though of course the latter was getting the juicier role. Alas, the first publicity still featuring the two divas on location is all we'll see of the Crawford-Davis version: the animosity between them finally came to a head, and Joanie walked off the picture. Davis recommended her friend, fellow two-time Oscar-winner Olivia de Havilland...and surprise of surprises, her subtler, more insidious performance almost steals the show from Davis's histrionics!

Once again, audiences responded: the film was the ninth highest-grossing flick of 1964, ahead of A Hard Day's Night and right behind Viva Las Vegas!. And although it didn't bring home the gold come Oscar night, the film was still graced with seven Academy Award nominations: Best Supporting Actress for Agnes Moorehead as Velma; Best Film Editing (Michael Luciano); Best Original Score (Frank De Vol); the black-and-white categories for Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design (Norma Koch) and Best Cinematography (Joseph Biroc); and Best Original Song.

Of course, we've covered most of this before: last year, I did a retrospective of the year 1964, and I did profiles for five of those categories. So strong were the technical categories that year, I couldn't even give my personal vote to Score or Song, both of which I play repeatedly on my iTunes. My own Hollmann Awards could only fit Moorehead in -- and once you've seen the performance, you'll understand why.

I expect interest in this film, which has never really weakened, to come on still stronger in the near future. People will want to check out the Bette Davis Psycho-Biddy Double Feature that started it all once Walter Hill's remake of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is completed. And if they want to give the same treatment to Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte...well, shouldn't they stop here for a look first?

Who is He: Local sheriff, knows and respects the Hollis family, tries to reason with Charlotte but more or less knows its fruitless.
Originally played by:
Wesley Addy (Tora! Tora! Tora!, Network)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Dreamgirls)
Hinton Battle (Foreign Student, TV's Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story)

Who is He: Charlotte's daddy, a wealthy man who sought to separate his daughter from the married John Mayhew. It was his party that played host to murder, with his gazebo as the star.

Originally played by: Academy Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?)
Victor Buono (The Greatest Story Ever Told, Beneath the Planet of the Apes)

My Choice:
Ken Howard (1776, J. Edgar)

Who is He: An insurance investigator posing as a journalist, he's poking about for the truth behind John Mayhew's decades-old murder.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Luck of the Irish, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?)
Cecil Kellaway (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Harvey)

My Choice: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor - Drama (Wilde), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Gosford Park)
Stephen Fry (Tales of the Riverbank, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows)

Who is He: A local doctor and old friend of the Hollis family, he courted Miriam as a young man but left her after the murder of John Mayhew. Now that Miriam's back in town, single, and close to a fortune, Bayliss is more than happy to pick up where they left off.

Originally played by:
Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane, The Third Man)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner/BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Adaptation), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (American Beauty)
Chris Cooper (The Town, The Muppets)
Can bring a slick Southern charm, and also nail the sleazier aspects. Cooper's a master, of course, and I dare say he'd find a more nuanced approach than Cotten (and don't get me wrong: I adore Cotten).

Who is He: The husband of Jewel Mayhew, he was going to elope with Charlotte Hollis the night of Big Sam's party. Instead of marital bliss, a hatchet to his hand and head saw to it that he enjoyed a honeydoom.

Originally played by: Hollmann Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Great Gatsby), Academy Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Coming Home)
Bruce Dern (They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, The Driver)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (J. Edgar) and Best Ensemble (The Social Network)
Armie Hammer (Billy: The Early Years, Mirror Mirror)

Who is She: John's widow, respected in the community, still in mourning-dress, more reclusive. Oddly, she seems to bear little ill will for Charlotte; it's Miriam who sticks in her craw.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (The Great Lie)
Mary Astor (Dodsworth, The Maltese Falcon)

My Choice:
Morgan Fairchild (Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge, TV's Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady)
The first to be cast, actually. I was thinking, "Who could pull off the small but important role of widow Jewel Mayhew? Who could do it but not be so distracting as to take away from the film?" Diane Keaton? No, something didn't sit right with that. Morgan Fairchild? But of course! She could bring the aging beauty queen thing into it, the former belle who's still got the confidence to hurl a metaphorical loogie in Miriam's face.

Who is She: Charlotte's loyal cook, housemaid and companion, white trash from the bayou who'd do anything for her employer but talk down to her. She knows the truth about everything that goes on 'round these parts...if only she would keep her mouth shut!
Originally played by: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte), Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (The Magnificent Ambersons, Mrs. Parkington, Johnny Belinda, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Mrs. Parkington, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte)
Agnes Moorehead (Raintree County, The Singing Nun)

My Choice:
Beth Grant (Crazy Heart, The Artist)
A large role worthy of her talents, one that allows her to "LET IT RIP" as far as her dialect goes. She's played homely before, but rarely as central as this. You know I love her.

Who is She: Charlotte's glamorous cousin from the city, still a beauty, who's come to town to take care of Charlotte and the estate. Like all beauties throughout history, however, Miriam is playing another, more manipulative game, one that ends with Charlotte in the madhouse and Miriam in a penthouse. She's a "vile, sorry little bitch".

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (To Each His Own, The Heiress), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress (The Heiress)
Olivia de Havilland (Gone with the Wind, The Swarm)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress [Drama] (Blue Sky) and Best Supporting Actress (Tootsie), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actress (Tootsie), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actress (Blue Sky)
Jessica Lange (Broken Flowers, The Vow)
Still lovely, capable of a regal bearing, and great at playing controlling or sinister family members. Plus, she'd have great chemistry with my Charlotte.

Who is She: Big Sam's impressionable daughter, she never got over the murder of her lover -- especially since she's the Number One Suspect! The kiddies sing, "Chop-chop, sweet Charlotte/Chop-chop 'til he's dead..." But Charlotte's miserable without him, her family, her riches, aging away in a dying plantation set for demolition, close to crazy already before Miriam and Bayliss get their hooks into her.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (Dangerous, Jezebel), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Foreign Actress (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress - Drama and Musical/Comedy (All About Eve, A Pocketful of Miracles, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?)
Bette Davis (The Nanny, Death on the Nile)

My Choice: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Get Low), Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (Coal Miner's Daughter), BAFTA Award  Nominee for Best Actress (Coal Miner's Daughter, Missing, In the Bedroom), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress - Musical/Comedy and Drama (Coal Miner's Daughter, Crimes of the Heart, In the Bedroom), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (The Help)
Sissy Spacek (Carrie, An American Haunting)
 Could find the crazy and the lady, creating an entirely fresh performance out of a character we all think we know. I imagine something in the vein of her Crimes of the Heart character. And speaking of that film: she and Lange have been sisters before, so why not cousins this time around?

1 comment:

Vava said...

You really must read Bette and Joan: the Divine Feud. Although I think Joan abused her two older children, it is hard to not feel bad for her when you read how Davis treated her on the set of Hush...Hush , thusly driving her away.