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The Cat's Meow
The Cat's Meow (Soundtrack)

The Cat's Meow Review

Directed By: Peter Bogdanovich.
Starring: Edward Herrmann, Kirsten Dunst, Eddie Izzard, Cary Elwes, Joanna Lumley .

Synopsis: From award-winning screenwriter Steven Peros and acclaimed director Peter Bogdanovich comes The Cat's Meow, a look at a fateful excursion of 'fun and frolic' aboard William Randolph Hearst's private yacht in November of 1924 that brought together some of the century's best-known personalities and resulted in a still-unsolved, hushed-up killing. As Hearst and his lover actress Marion Davies set sail from San Pedro Harbor early one Saturday morning, they host a small group that includes the brilliant but self-absorbed Charlie Chaplin, film pioneer Thomas Ince preoccupied with his recent financial setbacks, ambitious gossip columnist Louella Parsons, and the eccentric British Victorian novelist Elinor Glyn. Quickly, however, it becomes clear that although witty repartee is the order of the day, deceit and deception are also on the menu.

It has been nine years since his last film (A Thing Called Love) and Peter Bogdanovich has returned to his favourite stomping grounds. Hollywood, to be more precise...old Hollywood. He journeyed within this area once before with the critically maligned and relatively unseen Nickelodeon (which I loved for it's attention to detail alone) and now skips into the 1920's with this ensemble comedy of Hollywood business, affairs and murder.

I have, for years now, been fascinated by two old Hollywood tales of murder that were never solved though rumours always ran rampant around both. The Thomas Ince Affair (wouldn't that make a better title than The Cat's Meow...naw, maybe not. ) and the one surrounding Mary Miles Minter. As such, I have read endless tripe and trivialities to feed my curiosity, and with the hopes that one day I might be able to use one of these cases in one of my own scripts. Well, one case down, one to go obviously as Mr. Bogdanovich has done a stunning job of recreating the time and the details to tell of the murder of Thomas Ince on board the Oneida (Hearts Luxury Yacht).

In terms of details, only one truly stood out to be glaring...a message that propels the storyline along claiming that New York Daily news columnist Grace Kingsley will be publishing an item about Charlie Chaplin and Marion Davies (Hearst's Lover) being seen flirting in public was actually published two days prior to the trip whereas it comes in a pivotal moment in the film to drive Hearst crazy with jealousy...still, that's some pretty nit-picky stuff and only boring old critics like myself would even raise an eyebrow at that.

Bogdanovich opens the film in black and white at Thomas Ince's funeral and reverts to colour for the flashbacks of the oft-gossiped tale, a device that worked well within Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle and works just as well here.

The two major stand outs are Eddie Izzard as Chaplin who adds another great performance to the resume (check out his work in Shadow of the Vampire...stunning stuff) and I am pleased to say, Kirsten Dunst is also amazing. While bringing to life Marion Davies as a fun, whacky and caring person she also keeps the stutter that Davies had to a minimum without making it whacky or annoying. Besides, she looks the part, young, attractive and I have to say, this is Dunst's best performance by far in a wildly diverse career.

Edward Herrmann also deserves some credit for playing William Randolph Hearst, the most thankless role of the lot. Despite being super-rich he is a petulant, vicious child when his way is not observed and I felt, for the most part, Herrmann brought this in without ever switching over to a caricature (although he came very close once or twice).

As for Cary Elwes as the ill-fated Thomas Ince, Elwes must have something going against him in Hollywood. I love is work but he rarely seems to show up in films and when he does he is always great but then it will be a few years before we see him again. What I don't understand is why Bogdanovich made Ince such a weasel, a lowly, snivelling, almost back-stabbing worm of a man. I mean, that was one of the few things I disliked about this flick.

However, one of the most joyful things about this film are the cutting lines provided by Joanna Lumley as Elinor Glyn who narrates the tale and this whole 1920's frivolity jumps throughout the film though darker things lie within the shadows. Jennifer Tilly as the insipid but enterprising gossip columnist Louella Parsons is a vicious joke that is always enjoyable, but never more in a small scene playing Ping Pong on the boat opposite Margaret Livingston (Ince's lover played by Claudia Harrison).

A very solid little ensemble film that shines little new light on an oft-told Hollywood tale, but tells it well and that was more than enough to give it 2.5 stars, plus an additional star for the excellent performances leaving it with a solid 3.5 stars out of 5. Let's hope Bogdanovich is returning to form after his brilliant debut (The Last Picture Show) thirty years ago.

Copyright© Written By: Rob Paul

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