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In November of 1924, a mysterious Hollywood death occurred aboard media mogul William Randolph Hearst's yacht. Included among the famous guests that weekend were, Charlie Chaplin, Hearst's mistress, starlet Marion Davies, the studio system creator, producer Thomas Ince, and feared gossip columnist, Louella Parsons. Written by
Carol Lewis, Producer
The rubber-ball fenders seen as the Onida is docked are of a modern (c. 1970) design. Period fenders would have been white and cylindrical. See more »
Man in crowd:
Stop pushing! Stop pushing!
[unintelligible yells from crowd]
Man in crowd:
Please, calm down!
In November of 1924, during a weekend yacht party bound for San Diego, a mysterious death occurred within the Hollywood community. However there was no coverage in the press, no police action, and of the fourteen passengers on board only one was ever questioned by authorities. Little evidence exists now or existed at the time to support any version of those weekend events. History has been ...
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The characters, entities, and events depicted and the names used in this motion picture are ficticious. Any similarities to any actual persons living or dead or to any actual entities or events is entirely coincidental and unintentional. See more »
Peter Bogdanovich's `The Cat's Meow' is an only mildly interesting take on an unsolved scandal that has become a part of early Hollywood folklore. The year is 1924. The setting: a yacht owned by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. The occasion: the birthday celebration of one Thomas Ince, a movie mogol desperate to join forces with Hearst's organization. The guests: Charlie Chaplin, Hearst's mistress, actress Marion Davies, the neophyte gossip columnist Louella Parsons, and famed bodice-ripper writer Elinor Glyn. The mystery: the sudden death of Ince under potentially shady circumstances. It is Miss Glyn, serving as the tale's narrator, who states right up front that most of what we will be seeing in this rendition is pure speculative fiction.
Given the fact that writer Steven Peros (who wrote both the screenplay and the stage play on which it is based) had pretty much a free hand when it came to dreaming up a convincing scenario to explain the tragic events of that November weekend, it seems odd that he basically settled for little more than an updated production of `Othello' played out in a `Great Gatsby' setting. Hearst is, of course, Othello himself, the powerful leader driven into a jealous rage at the thought of his dearly beloved's betraying him with another man. Ince plays the part of Iago, a self-centered opportunist who poisons Hearst's mind against Marian's fidelity, using a combination of whispered innuendo and fabricated circumstantial evidence to achieve his purpose (though his motive for doing all this is never very adequately explained, I must confess). Marian is, of course, the beloved Desdemona - though she seems a less wholly virtuous innocent than the character Shakespeare gave us. Finally, Chaplin plays a considerably less virtuous innocent than the play's Cassio, the man allegedly having an affair with Othello's that is to say, Hearst's dearly beloved.
Even without the `Othello' parallels, `The Cat's Meow' never really adds up to very much in the long run. Perhaps, the characters are too broadly drawn to really make us believe that what we are seeing is an actual historical event and not mere dress-up playacting. Hearst (Edward Herrmann) seems like little more than a petulant, befuddled buffoon, hardly a man who would be sitting atop one of the world's great corporate empires. Louella Parsons, as played by Jennifer Tilly, comes across as a hopeless ditz, a nitwit who literally stumbles, through a stroke of `good' fortune, into her long and lucrative career as one of Hollywood's premiere gossip columnists. And Eddie Izzard makes a thoroughly bland and unconvincing Charlie Chaplin. He neither looks nor moves like the legendary performer and seems to be completely devoid of the kind of charismatic persona one would naturally associate with Chaplin, both on-screen and off. Only the lovely Kirsten Dunst makes a mark on the audience's emotions. Her Marion Davies radiates a high-spirited warmth that brings a touch of much-needed humanity to the rather cold, clinical world these characters inhabit. Of course, recreating this world is one of the prime dictums of the film, but it is hardly earth-shattering news at this late date (and especially to anyone who has ever read the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald) to discover that the idle rich of the 1920's were all a bunch of shallow, self-absorbed hedonists without morals, values, direction or purpose. When Glyn gets the chance to sum up the moral lesson for us at the end, we can barely stifle a yawn at the pedestrian nature of the `revelation.'
So what makes `The Cat's Meow' worth seeing? Well, it certainly feeds a kind of morbid fascination we have for that long-ago world of early Hollywood, when movies were in their infancy, their creators larger-than-life figures and their scandals made all the juicier by the fact that the press actually played along with keeping the details a deep, dark secret thereby enhancing the curiosity factor and guaranteeing that a kind of modern, pop-culture mythology would grow up around that industry and that time. It is that mythology that `The Cat's Meow' effectively opens up for us. That, along with the sharply observed details of the period, is what makes the film, flaws and all, into a reasonably diverting drawing room entertainment.
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