out of five
: 112 mins
Splendidly acted, decadent drama – a must for all fans of Hollywood scandal and a welcome return to form for Peter Bogdanovich.
Peter Bogdanovich shot to fame as a director in 1971, when he directed The Last Picture Show. He followed that with the odd little gem (Paper Moon) and one other bona fide hit (What’s Up Doc?), but his career never really lived up to the promise shown by The Last Picture Show.
His latest film, strangely, is a return to an era he’d already explored in Nickelodeon – Hollywood in the 1920s – and it marks a welcome return to form for Bogdanovich (perhaps best known these days as Dr Melfi’s psychiatrist on The Sopranos.)
The Cat’s Meow uncovers an untold Hollywood scandal that took place over a weekend aboard newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst’s luxury yacht in the 1920s.
The guests include Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard, wisely ditching any reference to the familiar ‘little Tramp’ persona and pulling off his best performance to date as a result), Hearst’s mistress, actress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst, graduating to adult roles).
Also, movie producer Thomas Ince (Carey Elwes), soon-to-be-famous gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly) and acerbic novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley, excellent), whose narration bookends the film.
As the movie unfolds, it quickly becomes clear that some of the guests have their own agendas: the jealous Hearst is deeply suspicious of the attention one of his guests is paying to Marion; Ince wants to secure Hearst’s financial backing as a producer; Louella Parsons has her heart set on working for Hearst’s paper; and Chaplin…well, Chaplin has his sights set on more lustful goals, all of which leads, inexorably towards tragedy.
The ensemble cast is superb, with a top-billed Dunst the standout, but with excellent work from Izzard and Edward Herrmann (as Hearst) in particular. The period detail is impressive (a ping-pong game is a highlight) and there’s also a delightful 20s soundtrack. It’s also great to see Joanna Lumley well cast in a decent film for once.
As an interesting side-note, Orson Welles once told Bogdanovich that he’d included a version of the story in Citizen Kane (thinly based on the life of Hearst), but he’d taken it out because, pointedly, he didn’t believe KANE could be a killer…
To sum up, then, The Cat’s Meow is well worth looking out for, particularly if you’re a fan of either Chaplin or old Hollywood history. An intriguingly salacious drama, nicely told and well acted. Recommended.