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    Hush...Hush, Sweet Music by De Vol

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    On what would have been his 105th birthday today, prolific big- and small-screen composer Frank De Vol (1911-1999, aka “Music by De Vol”) remains best known to generations of rerun-gobbling TV viewers as the man behind the bouncy earwig of a title song (along with show creator Sherwood Schwartz) for The Brady Bunch as well as the snappy signature themes to the comedy series My Three Sons and Family Affair. But as Ronald Bergan’s 1989 obituary for the long-time West Virginia-born bandleader/latter-day actor in The Guardian declared: “For film buffs, however, De Vol was to the director Robert Aldrich what Bernard Herrmann was to Alfred Hitchcock and Nino Rota to Federico Fellini.” Across 16 movies from 1954 through 1981, De Vol and Aldrich were a solid team that struck the right chords required for the brutalities of war (Attack, The Dirty Dozen), frontier harshness (The Flight of the Phoenix, Ulzana’s Raid, Emperor of the North), Hollywood hard knocks (The Big Knife, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Legend of Lylah Clare), sporting roughhouse (The Longest Yard, All the Marbles…) and mystery-driven films noirs (Kiss Me Deadly, Hustle). The Aldrich/De Vol matchup that followed the surprise success of Baby Jane was another creepy excursion into chillingly dark family skeletons from the same pair of writers, Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller: Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). It was originally intended as an encore matchup of Baby Jane’s Academy Award®-winning headliners Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, but the latter dropped out shortly after production got underway due to illness and the equally capable – and equally Oscar®-winning – Olivia de Havilland stepped in. Davis plays faded Southern belle Charlotte Hollis, who has become a dotty recluse in her family’s decaying Louisiana plantation manor following the 1927 decapitation murder of her married lover with whom she intended to elope. Although she’s thought “crazy” enough to have done the deed, the case was never solved. Flash forward to 1964, and with her property endangered by a state highway construction project, Charlotte reaches out to her long-gone cousin Miriam Deering (de Havilland) for help. What Charlotte gets after Miriam arrives is a one-way ticket into madness, as the still-vivid memories of her thwarted love and a series of terror-inducing apparitions unfold in a headlong effort to shove her over the brink. As critic Judith Crist succinctly put it: “The Guignol is about as Grand as it gets.” So is the supporting cast: Joseph Cotten, Cecil Kellaway, George Kennedy, Bruce Dern (as Charlotte’s ill-fated swain), Baby Jane alumnus Victor Buono (as Charlotte’s sinister father), Davis’ The Great Lie Oscar®-winning co-star Mary Astor, Wesley Addy, William Campbell and the incomparable Agnes Moorehead, who scored a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe Award and fourth Oscar® nomination as Charlotte’s intrusive basket-case of a housekeeper. Many character secrets require unraveling and De Vol’s music, carefully orchestrated to drip with julep-soaked romantic nostalgia one minute and ratchet up the escalating tension with stings of strings and brass the next, buckles you in for a helluva thrill ride. When the film’s seven Oscar® nominations were revealed, the versatile De Vol earned two, for both his score and the film’s dreamy title song (with lyrics by Mack David). In time for Halloween tricky treating, TT’s Blu-ray of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte includes De Vol’s delicious score on an Isolated Track, two information-drenched Audio Commentaries, featurettes covering Crawford’s short-term involvement, Dern’s memories of working with Golden Age stars and a vintage promotional short hosted by Cotten. Charlotte comes home in hi-def October 11. Preorders open September 28. (And for more music of birthday celebrant De Vol, explore TT’s Emperor of the North and two of his other Oscar®-nominated scores, Cat Ballou and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.)