It has taken nearly a half-century to finally produce a film about the mystery surrounding 'Superman' George Reeve's death, but it was worth the wait..."Hollywoodland", despite some minor factual errors, is, perhaps, the finest 'true' Hollywood film ever made. Unflinching in it's willingness to "name names", to illustrate the caste system that would make (and break) actors, and the extent the film community controlled both the police and the press, the film works as both a terrific noir-style detective story, and a bittersweet biography of the charming, doomed actor who would become an unwilling hero to a generation of children.
The film tells parallel stories, after Reeves' nude corpse is discovered, in June, 1959. The first involves a seedy P.I., Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), who is 'tipped' that Reeves' mother, Helen Bessolo (Lois Smith) believes her son's death was not suicide, but murder, and needs a good investigator to dig up the truth; the second, done in flashback, relates the post-war tale of actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck), who will do anything to jump-start a career 'dead-ended' into 'B' serials by the late '40s. A flirtation with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane, who is superb), the aging but still-sexy wife of MGM exec Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), provides Reeves an 'angel' to promote him, but also erodes his dignity, as he becomes a well-compensated 'gigolo' to Mannix.
Simo quickly discovers that the police investigation had been botched, with incongruities (three bullet holes at the crime scene, the murder pistol having been wiped clean), conveniently ignored. A growing list of suspects emerges...could the killer be the jilted lover, Toni Mannix, her overly-protective husband, Eddie, Reeves' coarse ex-fiancé, Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney)...or someone else? Meanwhile, an embarrassed Reeves auditions for a kiddie show, "The Adventures of Superman", never expecting it to get a sponsor...then sees the show 'picked up', literally changing America's viewing habits, and 'typing' him forever as Superman...costing him any hope of an acting or directing career...
The performances are uniformly excellent, with Brody's jaded yet still idealistic Simo both believable and sympathetic. He laughs at the hypocrisy rampant in Hollywood, but is torn by his son's pain over seeing his hero, Reeves, betray his trust by killing himself. The performance nearly equals Lane's complex, anguished portrayal of Toni Mannix, a woman watching the last of her beauty fade, ripped away by losing her younger lover.
Ben Affleck deserves a particular 'nod', as Reeves; while bearing only a passing resemblance to the star, at best, he gives the role a depth he has never displayed on-screen, previously. What you see isn't the smug, arrogant Affleck persona of nearly all of his films; instead, you see a sweet, often naughty but likable rogue, who sees his dreams of great roles and screen immortality end in red and blue tights in a 'kiddie' show...the only complaint I have is the nearly cartoonish portrayal Affleck gives, as 'Superman', in the staged AOS scenes and personal appearances; Reeves never portrayed the Man of Steel as a buffoon on TV, or drank heavily before a 'live' appearance; he was too much of a professional, and cared too much about his influence on kids, to give anything less than his best.
As I stated earlier, the story occasionally veers from the truth; while it was true that wrestling was considered, when acting and directing jobs 'dried up', "Superman" was again picked up, after a season off the air (a fact not mentioned in the film), and Reeves happily planned a return to the steady paycheck of the series, abandoning the wrestling move (with NO 'training' film of an 'out-of-shape' Reeves ever shot); while Eddie Mannix and Reeves were portrayed as enemies, they were, in fact, at least casual friends (Reeves actually started dating Toni BEFORE her marriage, and Eddie was aware she was still involved, afterward); the fact that Reeves' body was embalmed before an autopsy could be performed is never mentioned, but is even further evidence of a police 'cover-up'; Reeves' mother was never 'bought off' to keep her silent; the 'kid-with-a-real-gun' scene never actually occurred (it was actually fabricated by Reeves to try to avoid making appearances in the uncomfortable and embarrassing costume, although his concern about children was genuine). There are other glitches, in the film, as well, but the film DOES accurately tell the story, for the most part.
All-in-all, "Hollywoodland" is a remarkable film, about a most bittersweet time in my generation's lives.
It should not be missed!
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