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September 2006
Hollywoodland

by Kam Williams

Hollywoodland

Distributor: Focus Features
Director: Allen Coulter
Screenwriter: Paul Bernbaum
Cast: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Afflleck, Bob Hoskins, Lois Smith, Robin Tunney, Kathleen Robertson, Steve Adams, Jordan Barker, Donald Burda, Larry Cedar, Brad William Henke, Joe Spano, Jeff Teravainen
Rated R for sex, expletives and violence.
Running time: 126 minutes

   

 

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 types.

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.