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In a mouldy Louisiana mansion, Charlotte (Bette Davis) is an aging Southern hag haunted by memories of a married lover (Bruce Dern) who, 35 years before, was decapitated by an unknown assailant. It is suspected locally that Charlotte committed the foul deed herself, or might it have been her father (Victor Buono) who, fearing scandal, was lurking with intent at the time. With Charlotte facing eviction from the fading family home to make way for a highway, cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland )moves in to offer temporary solace but her real intent, with collaborators who may include a nosey housekeeper (Agnes Moorehead) or a slimy doctor (Joseph Cotten), is to drive sweet Charlotte right off her rocker.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
The original title was Whatever Happened To Cousin Charlotte and it was an unabashed blood cousin to Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, the runaway hit of two years before, with the same cast, director and crew. Queen Bette was desperate to rule again, but she thought it was cheap to try and cash in so transparently on Baby Jane. She insisted on a title change and plotted with Machiavellian cunning to have her despised co-star Joan Crawford dumped from the film.

Davis stripped away pages of dialogue, all of it Crawford's, while her rival fought to have it restored. Crawford had reluctantly accepted second billing to Davis in Jane, but now demanded the reverse. "In a pig's eye," shrieked Bette, "I will not be named second to Joan Crawford; not now, not ever!" Davis only relented when Aldrich offered a 25 percent hike in her salary but on the set, watching snakily while Crawford acted one of her scenes, she turned to Aldrich and snapped: "You're not going to let her play it like that, are you?" It was the beginning of the end for Joan. She stormed off the set and checked into the Cedars Of Lebanon Hospital, citing "exhaustion." When Crawford heard on the radio from her hospital bed that she had been replaced by Bette's pal de Havilland, she attacked Aldrich in the press, but years later said: "I had no idea of the extent of her hate. I still get the chills when I think of the treachery that Miss Davis indulged in on that movie." Still, Davis was renowned for living her parts and perhaps, like dear sweet demented Charlotte, she was simply wreaking the revenge that her tormentors so richly deserved.

Despite seven unlikely Oscar nominations, the sequel that isn't is a slapdash Baby Jane, churned out rather mechanically by Aldrich, too long, and lacking the suspense, the subtlety and the black comedy of the camp classic that preceded it. Davis isn't as blowsy this time; her character is more sympathetic, but Charlotte is every bit as loopy as Jane and the two performances are barely distinguishable, Davis's voice straining against the devilry dished out by Miriam until it is as thin and as weak as Jane's.

Wishing to protect her "goody two shoes" image, de Havilland only reluctantly accepted the part and enjoys one of her most memorable moments on screen when, frustrated by Charlotte's whining after disposing of a corpse, slaps her around while beseeching her to "shut up," perhaps with not the same venom that Crawford might have injected, but convincing nonetheless. Agnes Moorehead, as Velma the housekeeper, who is almost as wacky as her employer, seems so desperate to make an impact in the stellar cast that she chews all the scenery that Davis leaves behind, but it paid dividends with a dubious nomination.

A song ("Chop, chop, Sweet Charlotte; chop, chop till he's dead. Chop, chop Sweet Charlotte, chop off his hands and head!") is part sung by some spiteful little boys taunting the lady of the house and a lullaby-ish version was, unfathomably, a Top 10 hit for Patti Page. The "ghost" of Crawford's part remains...she can be glimpsed arriving at the mansion in a taxi.

Published November 24, 2005

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(US, 1964)

CAST: Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotton, Agnes Moorhead, Bruce Dern, Victor Buono

DIRECTOR: Robert Aldrich

SCRIPT: Henry Farrell, Lukas Heller

RUNNING TIME: 134 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.66/16 x 9 English 2.0 Stereo


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: November 23, 2005

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