Demise of “Superman” George
Reeves Revisited by Riveting Crime Drama
On June 16, 1959, George Reeves allegedly
shot himself in the head following a night of partying with friends at
his Hollywood Hills home, and just a few days before his scheduled wedding
to a social climber named Leonore Lemmon. Initially, no rumors of foul
play surfaced, as that there wasn’t any evidence of an intrusion,
plus, all of his houseguests told the police essentially the same story,
namely, that the 45 year-old actor had been alone in an upstairs bedroom
at the time of the incident.
Following an autopsy, the coroner ruled the death a suicide, having determined
that the deceased consumed enough booze to register a blood alcohol level of
.27 prior to succumbing from a self-inflicted wound to the right temple. And
the cops were inclined to close the case quickly, too, given the existence of
a plausible explanation for Reeves’ wanting to take his own life.
For, it was common knowledge that his career had been on a downward spiral ever
since the cancellation the previous year of his Superman TV-series. And the hit
show’s six- season run had left the talented thespian unemployable and
despondent over television’s tendency to leave a star indistinguishable
from the role which made him or her famous.
So, the only urban legend which ended up generating any traction at the time
was the widely-circulated, silly schoolyard rumor that Reeves had killed himself
by leaping out of a window in the mistaken belief that he actually could fly.
But time has a way of imbuing cockamamie conspiracies with an air of legitimacy.
Thus, we now have Hollywoodland, a crime drama which successfully reweaves the
demise of George Reeves into a riveting whodunit worthy of Agatha Christie. This
flashback-laden flick features an ensemble cast which executes Paul Bernbaum’s
intriguing script so convincingly don’t be surprised to exit the theater
believing that there might really have been a murder to solve afterall. While
Ben Affleck (in his best outing in ages) plays the ill-fated, fading icon, the
show is stolen by Oscar-winner Adrien Brody (The Pianist) as Louis Simo, the
private eye hired by Helen Bessolo (Lois Smith), Reeves’ grieving mom who
was convinced her son would never have done himself in. Simo, a pushy gumshoe
unafraid to step on toes in order to make a name for himself, starts to do a
little digging and immediately finds no shortage of suspects. First, there’s
MGM exec Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), who might have been miffed that George had
been having an affair with his wife. Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), in turn, had a
motive of her own, since the woman scorned had recently been dumped by her hunky
boy-toy in favor of a blonde bombshell (Robin Tunney) who he claimed made him
feel young. The investigation even uncovers secrets which appear to implicate
the gold digger fiancée, and an assortment of other shady, slippery Tinseltown
Paying meticulous attention to the recreation of period costumes and sets to
achieve a legit Fifties sensibility, Hollywoodland is worthwhile for the amusement
of the escape to that bygone era alone. But when you factor in an absorbing pulp
fiction plotline, you’ve got all you can ask of a cinematic experience,
revisionist history notwithstanding.