The IMDB (International Movie Data Base) has likened Bette Davis’ portrayal of Charlotte Hollis in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte to the life of Lizzie Borden. The 1964 film was a box office hit, and the haunting theme of the same name recorded by Patti Page enjoyed great success for years after.
Charlotte Hollis is a reclusive spinster living in a decaying old mansion, who is believed by the citizens of her small city, to have murdered her suitor (a married man). The circumstances appear to have been a murder/suicide with Charlotte’s formidable father as the culprit who puts both an end to Charlotte’s lover and then to himself. Did Charlotte kill her true love (played by Bruce Dern) ? The town thinks she was guilty and that she got away with murder. The method of dispatch was a large, sharp meat cleaver, with the head and hand of Charlotte’s beau being savagely hacked off, reminiscent of the removal of the heads of Abby and Andrew Borden in Oak Grove Cemetery on August 11, 1892 to be stored as evidence.
Olivia DeHavilland plays Miriam, Charlotte’s refined, gentle cousin- an Emma Bordenesque, sisterly presence who harbors a dark, dark twisted secret, along with the trusted family doctor of many years played by Joseph Cotten ( an 1892 parallel to Dr. Bowen?!) There are plenty of turns and twists along the way, many witnessed by the household domestic servant, played superbly by Agnes Moorehead, who tries to protect Charlotte – not quite a Bridget Sullivan, ( the Borden’s household domestic who was home the day of the Borden killings) but still an interesting parallel.
The gossipings and whisperings of the townfolk in front of Charlotte’s house as well as behind closed doors and on the street harken back to the Fall River crowds on Second Street in 1892-93 and even later to French Street when Lizzie moved into Maplecroft.
The end of the film is very satisfying as we, the viewer, are privy to the real story of what happened in 1927 in the Hollis summerhouse (1927 also being the year of Lizzie Borden’s death). There are three more murders over the course of the film. Unlike the Borden story however, we find out the truth in the end. To view the murder scene with cleaver, visit this Youtube link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9csL2GVU1Y