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White Hot: The Mysterious Murder of Thelma Todd (1991)
** (out of 4)
Extremely sloppy story taken from the "non-fiction" book 'Hot Toddy' by Andy Edmonds. The film starts off on December 16, 1935 in the early morning hours when the body of Thelma Todd (Loni Anderson) was discovered slumped over in her car. The doctor calls it a suicide but an investigator for the D.A. sees that nothing is adding up so he conducts interviews with some of the people in her life including director Roland West, former husband Pat DiCicco and her mother. It turns out that all three of them are afraid of someone and that person turns out to be Todd's most recent boyfriend Lucky Luciano (Robert Davi). Having just finished reading the book that this film is based on it goes without saying that there are a lot of liberties done with the story. The book itself added bits and pieces that no one could possibly know and this film re-arranged facts so much that unless you know some of the history behind the case then it's likely you're going to be lost by the events shown. The story of Todd's death is one of the greatest mysteries of Hollywood yet this film doesn't cover many aspects of it. There's an entire suicide plot. There's West murdering her. There's DiCicco murdering her. Then you have the possibility of an accidental death. There are so many plot devices to this story that it's impossible to pack all of them into a 94-minute running time and the screenplay here is so poor and all over the place that I can't help but think most people are going to be confused. The book made the claim that Luciano had Todd killed after she refused to allow gambling in her restaurant. That's fine but this theory has a few weak points and none of them are covered here. Even worse is that the entire mystery about her death is pretty much overlooked and the events here are presented as the "truth" when many of the truths that come up here are highly unlikely and since Todd is dead and Luciano never talked they're also impossible to prove. The other problem is Anderson who was way too old to be playing Todd and not for a second did I believe her in the part. She couldn't play the happy-go-lucky nature of Todd and there's no question that Todd was terrified of this gangster yet Anderson can never get this across. Most of the supporting performances are either poor or just outrageously opposite of the people they're playing including Maryedith Burrell who plays Thelma Todd (ZaSu Pitts is overlooked in the film). Davi actually does a good job as Luciano. If you're interested in the death of Thelma Todd then it's best to know that the truth will never be known. The book is certainly more entertaining and gets to more of the story behind the events and in the end this film just seemed rushed as if it didn't even know the story it was trying to tell.
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