Murder In Movieland finds Jimmy Stewart as country lawyer Billy Jim Hawkins in Tinseltown where Cameron Mitchell, the husband of former movie queen Sheree North is being held for murdering Ernie Orsatti the bisexual lover of North's daughter from a previous marriage Maggie Wellman. This is Mitchell's second marriage with North, he was her first and if convicted he'll be the only one that did not end in divorce.
The plot and characters are taken from many sources. Anyone who does not recognize the Johnny Stompanato murder from real life is not a fan of old Hollywood and Lana Turner. Coincidentally Turner played opposite Stewart in their salad days at MGM in Ziegfeld Girl. Kenneth Mars "self styled friend to the stars" is clearly Truman Capote. He's a hanger-on to certain celebrities and some do clearly attract a gay following as we know.
There is a much more tragic tale of Hollywood gay life in the solution. Lawyer, agent, and Hollywood powerbroker William Smithers is the eventual guilty party. He backed Orsatti, set him up in what looks like a gay condominium which he owns through some dummy corporations and got jealous when Orsatti started playing the field on both sides of the gender divide. Smithers for all his wealth and power just fell in love.
Smithers has as a manager of the building Thaao Penghlis who is also a gay stereotype. But during the course of the investigation for the defense by Strother Martin, Penghlis attacks him from behind and renders him unconscious when Martin uncovers some incriminating photographs. Smithers wants his privacy in the closet protected at all costs. Martin is in fact worried that he as a former deputy sheriff in West Virginia will get razzed when it comes out some gay took him out.
For all its weaknesses this Hawkins murder mystery is an early post Stonewall attempt at introducing gay characters even if it did lean on stereotypes. And William Smithers gets acting honors for this tragic role.
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