The Cat's Meow
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Directed by Peter Bogdanovich

Kirsten Dunst
Edward Herrmann
Eddie Izzard
Cary Elwes
Jennifer Tilly
Joanna Lumley
Ronan Vibert

In November of 1924 a scandal of tremendous proportions occurred involving some of Hollywood's most elite players, and very little of it made it into the press and public knowledge. Thinking of it in today's terms it would be as if Steven Spielberg were murdered during a wild weekend in the company of Bill Gates, Tom Cruise and Sharon Stone. It was that big. But back in those days it was easy for the rich and famous to cover up such things--there was no internet, no small hand-held digital video cameras, no CNN.

The rich and famous I'm talking about here are multi-millionaire newspaper king William Randolph Hearst; Charlie Chaplin, the most famous actor in the world at that time; well-known and loved actress Marion Davies; director, producer, and movie mogul Thomas Ince; gossip queen Louella Parsons; and the British novelist Elinor Glyn.

That fateful weekend in 1924 they were all aboard Hearst's yacht, the Onedin, to celebrate Tom Ince's birthday. By the end of it, one of them is dead and the secret of the details has been faithfully kept to this day. There are many "unofficial" rumours and many versions of what happened and "The Cat's Meow" shows one version of events that is most popular.

Kirsten Dunst plays Marion Davies well, although she is a little too young. Davies was 27 as the time and Dunst is only about 20, and it shows in an intangible sense of innocence on her face. Davies was openly secret lover of W.R. Hearst, played by the wonderful Edward Herrmann. When I think of Hearst from other film portrayals, I think of "old, scary man," but Herrmann makes him so real; using his formidable size to play him frightening one minute and then the next showing the depth of his true devotion and love for Marion with beautiful tears. Herrmann is an actor seen often, but not appreciated enough.

Davies is rumoured to be having an affair with Chaplin at the time, and Hearst invites Chaplin (Eddie Izzard) aboard to keep an eye on the two, looking for a shred of credible evidence. Eddie Izzard is my favourite comedian on the planet and he's always so overlooked, it's a such a shame because he's an amazing actor. Finally now with this film he might get the attention he's always deserved. His portrayal of Chaplin is wonderful, using his wide range of facial expressions to get across what seems like is true love for Davies, but Chaplin was a good enough actor for her to wonder if he just may be lustful for the chase more than wanting to settle down.

Jennifer Tilly ends up making gossip columnist Louella Parsons downright creepy and very cold, something you did not see coming based on her behavior earlier in the film. But hey, she was a gossip writer, she had to come off as trustworthy in order to write such backstabbing stories on people!

Cary Elwes does well as Thomas Ince, which is odd because usually Elwes is such a bad actor I can't understand how he's still working. He does well as Ince, but only because he's doing his "stock 1920s showbiz guy" routine. Watch him in this film, then watch him "Shadow of the Vampire" and see what I mean. This guy is particularly UN-talented, and I'm here to tell ya. It needs to be said. The emperor is naked. Cary Elwes needs to stop working in films. There, I said it. Now on to better actors.

You'll know Joanna Lumley best as Patsy from "Absolutely Fabulous," but she's been acting her butt off for decades. She also has a memorable cameo in "Shirley Valentine" (see my review from last month). This woman is awesome and always looks great. Her Elinor Glyn, Victorian-era novelist, is superb. She does what any writer does, observes and comments, and she does it well.

This brings me to a new hot guy for me, Welsh actor Ronan Vibert. He's only been in a few well-known films, and here he plays Hearst's private secretary Joseph Willicombe. He's hot, baby! I've seen him before, in "Shadow of the Vampire" (with Cary Elwes and Eddie Izzard), and he was hot then, too. In "Cat's Meow" his long-suffering private secretary to one of the world's most powerful men can be seen to take its toll on his face as he realizes he must do everything he can to help cover up this murder. He's conflicted but it's obvious he genuinely cares what happens to his boss, and his loyalty is unquestioned no matter how horrific things might get. Did I mention he's hot? Not in the same way Goran is hot, but there's something about his intensity that gets me. I'll have to get a good photo for Tina's Gorgeous Visions, I want to share!

I really enjoyed this film, see if you can find it near you. If not then rent it on video, but keep in mind the lushness of the beautiful sets and 1920s decor, and the subtlety of the secrets on the characters' faces will be lost on your small TV screen. Also, check out the soundtrack, it contains all the biggest hits of the day--my favourite kind of music.


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