Documentary flattering actress Marion Davies (1897-1961), who is credited with having started the "screwball" comedy genre, and is called, "arguably, the best female comedienne on the screen," by film historian Kevin Brownlow. Much time is spent going over the association of Ms. Davies with the "Susan Alexander" character in Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941). The similarity is that Welles' "Kane" is based on newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, whom Davies served as friend and lover.
Mr. Hearst began, in 1917, his effort to turn Davies into the "Greatest actress in the world." There were years of poorly received, but richly produced motion pictures. Davies showed a flair for comedy, but was continuously put in inappropriate roles; apparently, Hearst wanted her to be a combination of Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish. Ironically, Davies would satirically impersonate those actresses, and others. Hearst's efforts to promote Davies were assisted by his newspaper empire. Charlize Theron is a good narrator.
With columnist Louella Parsons leading the charge, Hearst papers were mandated to deliver positive, daily reports on Davies. When there was no real "news" concerning the actress, she was reported to have simply grown lovelier with the passing day. The studio she worked for also received great publicity; and, this was particularly helpful in building MGM into the world's most successful movie studio. At MGM, in well-produced comedies, Davies became a genuinely successful "box office" star during the late 1920s.
Lost in all the publicity is that Davies' ultimate success was due to years of work. Presented by Turner Classic Movies (TCM), "The True Story of Marion Davies" emphasizes the actress as a comedienne, with very supportive film clips. Davies sexual liaisons, speech problems, and alcoholism are covered. Virginia Madsen, a Davies admirer, appears to explain her portrayal of the famous "mistress" in "The Hearst and Davies Affair" (1985). A real highlight is hearing Davies' own reflections on her life, from a 1951 taped interview; it would have been nice to hear more of this, from Davies.
******* The True Story of Marion Davies (2/14/01) Hugh Munro Neely ~ Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst, Charlize Theron, Fred Guiles
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