Thursday, 11 March 2021

The Cat's Meow - 2002 film review

Peter Bogdanovich's film The Cat's Meow is sometimes described as a whodunit, which it certainly isn't. It is, however, a film in which a crime and its consequences play a central part. The screenplay, like the play on which it is based, were both written by Steven Peros, who also has a very small role in the film. It's really an imaginative reworking of a real-life incident that occurred in 1924 and which evidently was a great Hollywood scandal in its day. Despite the disclaimer in the small print of the credits, the key characters are major characters of the day, including William Randolph Hearst, Charlie Chaplin, and Elinor Glyn.

The events take place on Hearst's upmarket yacht. He's invited guests along to celebrate the 44th birthday week-end of Thomas Ince, a film mogul with whom he was in the course of negotiating a deal. In real life, Ince's death during the week-end was attributed to heart failure, but rumours about what actually took place have swirled ever since. There's some doubt about who actually was and was not on board on the yacht at the crucial time, but Peros's storyline is well-crafted and has a touch of authenticity.

This is a very well-made film, and the quality of the cast speaks for itself. Joanna Lumley plays Elinor Glyn, and acts to some extent as a commentator on events. Eddie Izzard is Charlie Chaplin, and does a pretty good job in an important role. Even better is Edward Herrmann, an actor I'm not familiar with, who conveys the complexity of Hearst's character with considerable subtlety. He is besotted with his lover Marion (Kirsten Dunst, also excellent). But there's something going on between Marion and Charlie.

The historical side of the film is done really well and contemporary music is used splendidly. I did feel that the story sagged in the middle, perhaps because Bogdanovich dwelt too lovingly on interplay between various characters which didn't really advance the story. So it's not a complete success, but I found it interesting and visually terrific.


No comments: