Poor Charlotte Hollis. She's been shunned by the community for decades, ever since the fateful night in 1927 when her lover was hacked apart with an axe. Her antebellum southern mansion is slated for the bulldozer, as it stands in the way of highway construction. Charlotte's only hope lies in her cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland), coming down from up north to help settle things. Miriam, however, has other designs. Together with her boyfriend Drew (Joseph Cotten), she embarks on a scheme to systematically drive Charlotte out of her mind (not a great leap) and get her mitts on the family fortune. From there, things only get more complicated. Charlotte puts the "gothic" in southern gothic, as a great showcase for completely bizarre, overwrought, and out-of-control performances from all involved. Agnes Moorehead plays Charlotte's loyal, disheveled housekeeper to the hilt, with an odd inflection that calls to mind Amos and Andy more than southern gentility. As the drunken, conniving Dr. Drew, Cotten's accent is indeterminate at times, and seems to come and go. As great as the supporting players are, though, the crown goes to Bette Davis as the shrieking Charlotte, a portrait of isolation and decay stuck in a world of tragic delusions inside her crumbling mansion. De Havilland is a close second as the scheming Miriam; the scene where she slaps the holy snot out of a hysterical Charlotte is itself worth the price of admission. Mary Astor (in her last role) and Cecil Kellaway (as a kindly Lloyd's of London adjuster) put in the only performances with any restraint, acting as counterweights for the rest of the cast. Besides, you'll never get another chance to see Joseph Cotten playing the harpsichord and singing, or caked in mud and lily pads! With Robert Aldrich's claustrophobic direction, Charlotte is as Southern as a field of kudzu, and as subdued as a train wreck. --Jerry Renshaw
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