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Obsession, combined with jealousy, was the impetus for an incident that
occurred in November of 1924, aboard the yacht of media mogul William
Randolph Hearst, and which in the years since has become the stuff of
Hollywood legend and lore. The story has many versions, but the `whisper
told most often,' is the one recounted in `The Cat's Meow,' directed by
Peter Bogdanovich, a dramatization of what may or may not have happened
during that extended weekend birthday-party cruise in honor of pioneer film
director, Thomas Ince, which included an eclectic guest list of the rich,
famous and powerful. What is known, is that the party ended with the death
of one of the guests, and that foul play and an ensuing cover-up have long
been suspected, but never proved. And one thing is certain: Not a single
person aboard the yacht at the time has ever spoken of what happened, at
least not publicly; but there are those who believe to this day, that
someone just may have gotten away with murder.
Once a powerful force in a young Hollywood, Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes)-- who had formed Triangle Films with D.W. Griffith and Mack Sennett, and later founded Paramount Studios with Adolph Zukor-- has fallen on hard times. Once responsible for forty pictures a year, he now struggles to get a single film made. And, his birthday aside, he has decided to mix business with pleasure during this cruise, pitching an idea to Hearst (Edward Herrmann), to combine their resources and make movies together. Hearst, however, has other things on his mind; rumor has it that his mistress, Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst), is being courted by Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), and he has brought them together, here, to observe and decide for himself if anything untoward is going on between them. Hearst is not only in love with Davies, but is obsessed with her, as well as the course of her career, and he's not about to let this baggy-pants comic actor interfere. And Hearst, a powerful and controlling man, always gets what he wants-- and what he wants right now is for this business with Chaplin to disappear. So it is, that in the midst of celebration, paranoia overtakes the host of the party, and it's about to cast a pall over the proceedings and ultimately involve everyone aboard in one of the greatest unsolved mysteries ever to come out of Tinsel Town. It's a story that Hearst keeps out of the papers, making sure in his own way that dead men, indeed, tell no tales.
Bogdanovich successfully captures the era, as well as the mendacity of this rich assortment of characters, who are all the more intriguing for the fact that they are real people rather than the product of imagination; and it proves that fact is often more bizarre than fiction. The excesses and overindulgences of many within the Hollywood community during this period rivals anything happening today, and one of the most telling scenes in the film is when novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley) offers her take on what Hollywood really is and what it does to those who dwell within. Glyn is also the narrator of the film; a wise choice, as it adds a balanced perspective to the events as they unfold, and are summarily grounded by her often wry and incisive observations. The final words of the film are hers, in fact; a final observation that encompasses so much in so few words, that it provides an impact that makes it the perfect ending. And it makes you realize what a terrific job Bogdanovich did with this film, and how well he brought this material (screenplay by Steven Paros, which he adapted from his own play) to life.
The film is highlighted by a number of excellent and memorable performances, beginning with Herrmann as Hearst. This is possibly the best work he's ever done in his career, perfectly capturing the many facets of this extremely complex man. There's a depth to his performance that conveys not only the bravura of a powerful individual-- and one who delights in using it-- but the vulnerability, as well. He also makes you cognizant of the fact that Hearst is a man capable of almost anything, including creating his own reality, and maintaining it with his limitless resources. It's one of the subtle, underlying nuances that Herrmann brings to his portrayal, which is altogether convincing and believable.
Kirsten Dunst also rises to the occasion, turning in a remarkable performance as Marion Davies. It's a concise reflection of a young actress caught up in a situation that is at once enviable and undesirable, who manages to tactfully negotiate the sensitive issues with which she is faced with a sensibility and maturity beyond her years. And through Dunst, we see the many layers of Davies' personality; the fun-loving girl, as well as the responsible woman, who finds herself in a perpetually tentative environment and selflessly refrains from playing the prima donna or attempting to act as if she is the center of the universe-- something to which too many others who have been swallowed up by the Hollywood lifestyle over the years are prone. It's a comprehensive and convincing performance that proves that Dunst has the stuff to fulfill the promise made by her work in previous films.
The performance that surpasses them all, however, is turned in by Eddie Izzard, as Chaplin. Izzard captures the very essence of Chaplin, physically and emotionally, with a detailed portrayal of the man, created through expression and astute introspection. This is not the on-screen persona, the `Little Tramp,' but Chaplin the complex individual and artist who is presented here. Izzard brings him to life with singular nuance and depth, and it's a performance that should, by all rights, earn him an Oscar nomination. Skillfully acted and presented, `The Cat's Meow' is a memorable film that offers some insights into a town and lifestyle that few have ever experienced. 9/10.
The Cat's Meow is a semi-true story of a murder that occurred on William
Randolph Hearst's yacht one evening in 1924. While much of the screenplay
is presumably speculation, it is interesting to see the effects the murder
on some of his other guests, like Marion Davies, Hearst's mistress, Charlie
Chaplin and Luella Parsons, among others.
This film couldn't fail for me its subject matter involves William Randolph Hearst, a foe of my main obsession Orson Welles, and it contained one of my favorite entertainers in the cast, Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin. However, while watching the film I had to consider whether the movie was a well-written drama or simply too slow in its development, making the climax more of a let-down than anything. If the film wasn't book-ended by compelling writing that made you both look deeply into the subject matter from the beginning, then reflect on the past events at the conclusion, I would have said the latter was true. And while Eddie Izzard was fantastic as Chaplin, and Kirsten Dunst wasn't her usual irritating self as Davies, it was Joanna Lumley who I thought was the breakout star of the film. Her role was small, but integral to the progression of the film acting as narrator, analyst and the film's conscience.
While not a fast paced, action filled film, The Cat's Meow is pleasant to experience based on its dramatic merits. Bogdanovich is more of an actor as of late than a director, but this film's character-driven dramatic elements harkens back to his best known classic, The Last Picture Show. If you are a fan of film history as I am, you will find this film interesting and thought-provoking.
I have to say, I thought the Cat's Meow was the cat's pajamas. Peter
Bogdanovich has made a story out of an event whose outcome is still
unexplained. What's more, it feels like it actually could've happened.
The interactions between the characters leading up to the act are given
much more screen time than the actual act itself. So when it happens,
it doesn't seem preposterous at all.
The story concerns newspaper honcho William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann) and company celebrating the birthday of Hollywood producer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes) on Hearst's yacht. That company includes Hearst's lover/actress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst), Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), author Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley), gossip columnist for Hearst's newspaper Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilley), and Tom's lover. Tom hopes to negotiate a contract with W.R. Hearst for Marion to star in his next few films, but Hearst is more concerned about the attraction between Marion and Chaplin. Elinor is nearby to dispense advice, while Louella unsuccessfully attempts to mingle. There's also a pair of party girls on board attempting to have a raucous time as possible.
The Cat's Meow has an eclectic ensemble with a Robert Altman-esquire taste to it. Edward Herrmann's role may be the most challenging, because he has to juggle eccentric, warmth, and jealousy as W.R. Hearst. Joanna Lumley is wonderfully dry. And for those like me who only remember Eddie Izzard for his droll stand-up work, he's surprising in this film. He's quite good as Charlie Chaplin. Kirsten Dunst is the biggest name on the cast. She's very fetching in the Cat's Meow, and this represents a change of pace from her dearth of Hollywood-oriented films.
As good as the cast is, this is really just as much Peter Bogdanovich's film. After the excellent Last Picture Show, he sort of faded away and made smaller films (The Thing Called Love, for example). Although The Cat's Meow will not make him a household name, hopefully maybe his work will garner more attention again. His direction is very good here.
Oh, I should also mention the costume design and music here. The production values in general are excellent in imitating the feel of that era. I was reminded a little of Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway (and not just the Jennifer Tilly connection). Anyways, The Cat's Meow is a good movie with interesting characters and thoughtful direction.
`The Cat's Meow' is a mildly enjoyable telling of a notorious tall story
that has been told in Hollywood for nearly eighty years.
Super-magnate William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann) invites a diverse mix of Hollywood biggest names and its oddest fringe dwellers to celebrate the birthday of famed director Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes) aboard his luxury yacht. Things begin to fall apart when Hearst suspects a guest - none other than Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), the most famous man in the world - of having an affair with his actress girlfriend, Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst).
Although the film is entertaining, there is something underwhelming about it. Its stage origins are obvious - characters perambulate from plot point to plot point, spouting exposition, never appearing much more than caricatures, and thus failing to evoke much sympathy.
The casting of Eddie Izzard in the pivotal role of Charles Chaplin is a grave mistake, though the script saddles him with a most unsatisfactory characterisation of Chaplin to work with. Chaplin was not a serial romancer, as is implied in the film, but a serial seducer. He would have been the last person to urge a woman to run away with him on the basis of undying love. He spent his most famous years running from women who suggested exactly that, freely admitting to them that while sex was a pleasant diversion, his work came before any woman. It's a casting decision that is an obvious attempt to distance us from the Little Tramp as opposed to Chaplin the real man, but we never get a true sense of either. Ironically, Izzard actually resembles the real Thomas Ince far more than does Cary Elwes, and as a real-life cabaret performer could conceivably have brought the flamboyance and eccentricity of the real-life director to life better than Elwes does.
The film also takes an annoyingly facile view of women, perpetuating the dull cliche that all women spent the 1920s with a bad case of St Vitus' dance and addicted to laughing gas. The grating performances of Claudie Blakley and Chiara Schoras in particular throw the beautifully understated efforts of Kirsten Dunst into high relief. Dunst feels like the only real person in this cast of cartoon characters - beautiful, funny, and vital, she is the best thing in the film. Yet there is never any moment in the movie to suggest the true depth of her dedication and passion for Hearst (portrayed as a roly-poly father figure rather than the hard nosed businessman he was), nor any justification for leaving him for the roguish but uncharismatic Chaplin. Unfortunately, the more interesting conflicts in Marion's life, such as her growing alcoholism and her dissatisfaction with Hearst's insistence on casting her in leaden romances rather than the comedy to which she was so obviously suited, are only touched on lightly.
Though it could have been a thought-provoking and complex experience, as Joanna Lumley's poignant final statements imply (and like `Gosford Park' to which it has been compared), in the end `The Cat's Meow' doesn't feel much more substantial than your average game of Cluedo.
This film, from reclusive director Peter Bogdanovich, traces one of Hollywood's Urban legends.. the rumor that mogul William Randolph Heart (effectively played by Edward Herrmann) accidentally shot movie producer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes, shedding his trademark smirk) while trying to kill Charlie Chaplin (an excellent Eddie Izzard) who was having an affair with Heart's mistress, actress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst, mesermizing as always). The setup and the performers are excellent and the depiction of Hollywood in the late 1920s is well done and the murder and resulting cover-up are believable. While perhaps a bit too much of an "inside Hollywood legends" tale for the mainstream.. the film is well done and entertaining enough that I would definitely recommend it. GRADE: A
I am abhorred that the Oscars could ignore this film for all the categories
it so well deserved:
Best Actress (Kirsten Dunst) Best Actor (Edward Herrmann) Best Costume Design Best Cinematography
And those are just the obvious ones!
Peter Bogdanovich is one of my favorite Directors. He has an amazingly vast Encyclopedia of knowledge about Hollywood during this time. He was good friends with the master Orsen Wells and even did the Commentary for Citizen Cane in Wells' place. He was unquestionably the perfect Director for putting this story to screen.
Kirsten Dunst is remarkable playing 24 year-old Marion Davies at only 18. She does a superb job in the role and deserved a lot more attention than she was awarded.
I strongly disagree with comments that the supporting cast was bad. Everybody was perfect for their role! The sax player WAS a sax player (not an actor) from Berlin (where most of the movie was filmed) and he did fantastic! (He only had one line for goodness sake!)
Though I would concur that Jennifer Tilly played Louella Parsons a bit unlike we would expect, I support her decision to treat her this way for the sake of this film. She lightened up the film with her bumbling silliness. So what if Lolly wasn't like that in real life? It worked well for the movie.
My only (slight) complaint was the decision to have one of the flappers briefly flash us (show her chest) during a party scene with her, the other flapper, the sax player and Chaplin. It was unnecessary and felt out of place with an otherwise clean movie. My guess is this was the reason for the PG-13 rating.
There is hardly any language - in fact Bogdanovich changed the film's only F-word to "screw" to clean it up even more than the original script. This works much better for the period than filling it with 21st century language.
Anybody interested in the 20's, William Randolph Hearst or 'The Golden Age of Hollywood' MUST see this movie!
8½ out of 10. (I can't decide between 8 and 9!)
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
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.
It begins with a funeral, for whom you don't know except who ever it
is, he or she is getting quite a send-off to the tune of Aloha Nui
played by a pair of musicians strumming ukuleles. Now if you have a
photographic memory and can remember the faces of the hundreds of
mourners, then perhaps it won't be a mystery as to who will be in the
casket. You do know however, that someone invited to a lavish any thing
goes party aboard William Randolph's Hearst's yacht the Oneida in the
flash back that follows the funeral will. The movie seems to go nowhere
for a while,mostly just watching fun and games of those lucky enough to
be invited, even though you know the price one aboard that yacht is
destined to pay for this trip. You almost forget the funeral and the
mystery of what this movie is about who is in that casket, but it is
well worth the wait. Like any good mystery, the unlucky victim is one
you'd least expect, though you'd think it would have been Charlie
Chaplin , but we know he lived to a ripe old age. Until it gets to that
point, you get to see another take on what William Randolph, child-like
but likable and with some pretty quirky flaws, making one wonder how he
ever became so rich. As most people have seen Citizen Kane, we already
know about infatuation with Marion Davies bordering on an obsession,
but probably don't know that a competition for her existed between
Charlie Chaplin and Hearst and how this competition creates the mystery
as to whoever is in the box got there.
The epilogue of this film was probably the most interesting of any film I ever seen. Secrets had to be kept and Hearst was willing to pay any price to see they were kept, granting all who cooperated, and apparently all did, whatever wish (and he could do it) as any genie in any bottle. If you are looking for something different and willing to give this movie a chance, this movie is for you. This movie deserves better than the 6.5 of the IMDb and I give this movie a 7.5/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When Pauline Kael did her celebrated combination of original research
and character assassination, entitled "Raising Kane", she mentioned
that in the course of the final version of CITIZEN KANE that we have
Orson Welles pruned out some events put into the script by Herman
Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz, for example, wanted to make the eventual
collapse of the first Kane marriage to Emily Norton Monroe to be caused
by Kane's accidental encouragement of the assassination of Emily's
uncle, the President of the United States. This was based on an
incident that Hearst's enemies seized on involving Ambrose Bierce (a
Hearst columnist in 1900-1901) writing a quatrain about the killing (in
1900) of Governor-elect William Goebel of Kentucky, that suggested that
the missing assassination bullet was headed for Washington "to stretch
McKinley on his bier." When Leon Czolgosz shot and killed the President
in September 1901 Hearst's foes recalled the lines and said Hearst
encouraged political murder. The original script for Kane had Emily
accusing Charles for her uncle's death, and never forgiving him.
That was cut, with Emily's growing dislike for Charles based, instead on his ego, his concentration on his newspaper empire and political ambitions, and his neglect of her (and probably their son). The business with Susan Alexander is the final straw.
It was not the only cut of a sensational nature. In the final film Susan tells the reporter that he should speak to Raymond the butler because "(h)e knows where all the bodies are." In the original script Raymond was (with Susan) a witness to Kane actually killing a man, but covering it up. This is why Raymond remains so important to Kane in his later years. It also helps explain Susan's growing dislike for her husband.
It too was cut. Welles was wise here - everyone in Hollywood would have known what that was about, and any denials about Kane not being based on Hearst would have been dismissed because the dead man would have been too much of a coincidence to ignore.
In 1941 it was generally suspected throughout Hollywood (and in much of the U.S.) that William Randolph Hearst was in some way responsible for the death (in 1924) of movie director/producer/pioneer Thomas Ince. Ince had been one of a set of guests invited on Hearst's luxury yacht, the "Onieda" for a cruise. Others on the cruise included novelist Elinior Glyn, Hearst's mistress Marion Davies, the great Charlie Chaplin, Tom Ince, and a newcomer to the Hearst empire, gossip writer Louella Parsons. At some point on the trip (which was supposed to be a two week cruise) Ince was rushed ashore in serious condition and taken to a hospital. He died two days later. The cause was varied according to the bulletins, usually being either a heart attack or a stomach ailment. However, rumors soon emerged that an incident happened on board the Oneida that led to the shooting of Ince, probably at the hands of Hearst.
The story has never completely died, and even today there is a small body of evidence that Ince did not die a natural death. The basic scenario was that Ince was on deck when Hearst was chasing Chaplin (who had been fooling around with Davies) and in shooting at Chaplin Hearst accidentally wounded Ince. Hearst was powerful enough to clamp down on the tragedy, but at the same time there was a cost: Louella Parsons was just a new employee at the time. Now, she blackmailed her boss into making her a national columnist and a real power in Hollywood.
Peter Bogdanovitch (who directed THE CAT'S MEOW) was a close friend of Orson Welles. One can't quite get it out of one's head that this film, a twisted "prequill" to KANE, was meant as Bogdanovitch's homage to the classic film and his attempt to smear Hearst, who after 1941 did everything he could to hurt Welles.
The period detail is very good, and Edward Herrmann makes a dandy Hearst (sort of a return to the mad playboy husband of Goldie Hawn in OVERBOARD, which also takes place on a yacht). Certainly he is supremely confident as the millionaire, but he is also smart. A running story line is that Tom Ince (Cary Elwys) is trying to get Hearst's backing for a rejuvenation of Ince's film career (supposedly on the verge of collapse in 1924) but that Hearst is not stupid enough to waste his money that way. However, Herrmann does also demonstrate that he is more than a little possessive about Ms Davies (Kirsten Dunst), and that he is worried about that little cockney Chaplin (Eddie Izzard) going after his woman. Certainly Chaplin's reputation with the ladies was enough to give any man pause. Jennifer Tilly (Louella Parsons) certainly is keeping her eyes open (she is, after all, a gossip writer), and it pays dividends at the end. As for Joanne Lumley as Elinor Glyn, she gives the film a kind of narrative and framework (Glyn, by the way, if you can't recall her was the woman who termed the euphemism for sex appeal as "it", and was to make a screenplay called "It" that starred Clara Bow, who became the "It girl" - otherwise she has become pretty forgotten).
The film is worth watching - not perhaps another PAPER MOON or LAST PICTURE SHOW, but better than AT LONG LAST LOVE. Do I think Hearst killed Ince? If he did it was a sheer accident, because who would kill a well known figure under such circumstances as part of a comprehensive murder plan!
"The Cat's Meow" contains a few scenes that boast intelligent dialogue,
and some fine performances, a few of which surprised me. Eddie Izzard
is more effective than I expected as Chaplin (partly thanks to an
excellent hair and makeup job by some talented designer); Joanna Lumley
is compelling as novelist Elinor Glyn; and Kirsten Dunst is winning as
Marion Davies (though why movies never use her real-life stutter is
difficult to explain). But these elements don't add up to a successful
whole. The screenwriter seems to have worked very hard on certain
scenes--the meetings between Davies and Chaplin are particularly well
crafted--but not so hard on the big picture. Several minor characters
don't need to be there, and don't behave consistently. The basic plot
is full of illogic (e.g., why does Thomas Ince think it's a good idea
to tell Hearst something he really doesn't want to hear?), and the
party scenes are repetitive and tiresome. I'd like to think a trip on
Hearst's yacht was more fun than the movie indicates. Davies is
characterized as a standard bubbly Flapper type, which isn't really
accurate, and the screenwriter's ideas about Chaplin and love are
Strangely, Bogdanovich, who seemed so connected to the Thirties in "Paper Moon", lacks a similar affinity for the Twenties. He insisted the excellent costume designer use only black and cream, which gives the party guests a very artificial look, and plays only the most stereotypical songs of the period (e.g., "Yes, We Have No Bananas"). When Hearst insists everybody "Charleston, Charleston!" it looks as if the actors had a ten-minute dance lesson just before the scene was shot.
The lives of silent film stars can make fascinating movies, I'm sure, but not this time.
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