Thursday, January 22, 2004

"The Cat's Meow" 2001


A Video Review of "The Cat’s Meow" (2001)

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

This is the stuff of Hollywood legend. The Cat’s Meow is the story of a yachting trip in 1924 where movie producer Thomas Ince dies of mysterious circumstances. The legend holds that super-publisher William Randolph Hearst, whose yacht it was, shot Ince and then used his considerable wealth to cover it up.

The yachting trip was to celebrate Thomas Ince’s birthday and other notable guests included Hearst’s mistress actress Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin and Louella Parsons. It’s quite a cast of characters and played by quite a cast of actors.

Edward Herrmann is Hearst. He’s a longtime character actor well known for playing mostly real people and also most disastrously Herman Munster. He plays the power mad millionaire with human emotional flaws despite the man’s almost demonic Citizen Kane reputation. It is a considerable performance. The only thing that ruins it is the occasional lapses into that fake Herman Munster laugh.

One person who impressed me was Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin. I had previously only known him for his stand-up comedy act that he usually performs in drag. In The Cat’s Meow he is skilled and very serious, quite a turnaround from how I normally perceive him. Anyone else out there with similar pre-perceptions might want to check him out in Shadow of the Vampire and The Secret Agent from 1996.

Kirsten Dunst as Marion Davies shows yet another side of her formidable skills. What on the surface appears to be a silly girl Dunst always proves each part she plays to be much deeper and substantial. Ince is done by a restrained and subdued Cary Elwes in a masterful piece of work. It’s rare that an actor can show such skill with so little room. Also blink and you’ll miss Joanna Lumley from "Absolutely Fabulous." She’s mostly background but when she speaks she shines.

Jennifer Tilly’s Louella Parsons appears at first ridiculous and sad. She thinks highly of herself but offers little to show she’s anything but shallow and stupid. After the dirty deed occurs she shows an inhuman degree of wile in obtaining a lifetime position with Hearst’s newspapers through blackmail. Tilly plays evil quite well.

The Cat’s Meow represents director Peter Bogdanovich’s return to real movies rather than lesser projects for television and cable. He had a rash of quality hits in the 1970s with PaperMoon, one of my all-time favorites What’s Up, Doc? and the Oscar winning The Last Picture Show although most people nowadays probably know him as Dr. Melfi’s therapist on "The Sopranos." It’s good to have him back.

The script is by novice writer Steven Peros who is currently adapting "Around the World in 80 Days" for a new try at the big screen. He certainly shows a lot of promise here. The story as purported by The Cat’s Meow has Charlie Chaplin having an affair with Marion Davies and Thomas Ince shot by Hearst who mistakes Ince for Chaplin.

It’s certainly a possibility but the facts have never come out as to what really happened on that yacht. Most of the folks who were there are gone now and they never really talked about it except in insinuation. Perhaps Hearst’s power still rules from the grave. We’ll never know. The Cat’s Meow is only speculation but it’s good speculation. Check it out.

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