It's taken over three years for Peter Bogdanovich's period drama to reach our screens, but don't take that as a sign that it's a turkey. True, this atmospheric wallow in one of Hollywood's most enduring mysteries won't be to everyone's taste, populated as it is by real-life characters even movie buffs may be unfamiliar with. Still, the fact remains that something bad happened on board William Randolph Hearst's luxury yacht on 15th November 1924, and the scenario suggested in The Cat's Meow is as plausible as any.
On board the Oneida that fateful night were silent screen icon Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly), and Hearst's young mistress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst). Also along for the cruise were the British writer Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley), producer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes), and his actress lover Margaret Livingston (Claudia Harrison). One of them would leave the vessel dead, the victim - writer Steven Peros claims - of a bullet meant for the Little Tramp.
OK, so this 80-year-old enigma might not be up there with Marilyn Monroe's death or JFK's assassination. But it's still a tasty footnote in the chequered histories of both Chaplin - rumoured to be Davies' secret lover - and Hearst, the millionaire tycoon who later inspired Citizen Kane. (Bogdanovich alludes to a scene from Orson Welles' film by having Edward Herrmann's insanely jealous Hearst trash a bedroom.) And it's also a reminder that in Hollywood, the rich and famous really do believe they can get away with murder.
"EVOKES AN ERA FULL OF DARK PASSIONS"
Performances range from the enchanting (Dunst) and the uncharismatic (Izzard) to the downright irritating (Tilly), but handsome production values make up for any thespian discrepancies. Like Robert Altman's Gosford Park, The Cat's Meow evokes a bygone era very different to our own, full of dark passions that have never gone out of style.