Inspired by a real-life skeleton in Hollywood's closet, this solid account of the death of pioneering producer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes) during a yacht party hosted by aging media mogul William Randolph Hearst (Edward Hermann) rehashes a scandal so old it's new again. Was Ince really felled by an attack of "acute indigestion," as contemporary news accounts had it, or did a rich man get away with murder? November 1924: Hearst and his youthful mistress, actress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst), throw a swanky soiree aboard Hearst's luxurious Oneida. The guest list includes English expatriate novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley), who coined the term "It Girl" and terrorized insecure Hollywood parvenues with her high-handed pronouncements about style and deportment; womanizing comedian Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard, who wisely opts for performance over mimicry); and New York-based gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly). Personal agendas abound: Parsons wants Hearst to transfer her to Los Angeles; Chaplin looks forward to flirting with the vivacious Davies; Ince hopes to shore up his faltering movie empire through a deal with Cosmopolitan Pictures, which Hearst formed for the express purpose of furthering Davies's career. The cruise includes a jazz band, dancing, lavish meals and expensive liquor (one glass only, per Hearst's eccentric dictum), ping pong, free-spirited young flappers and a special performance by "Mr. Cannonball" (Hendrik Arnst), but the main entertainment is gossip, and by the time events have played themselves out, the gossip is good enough to withstand eight decades of repetition. Along with the 1922 murder of director William Desmond Taylor, Ince's death is one of old Hollywood's juiciest scandals and Bogdanovich is a natural match for the material, given his well-documented love for Tinseltown's golden age. Overall, the film feels a little stiff, perhaps because screenwriter Steven Peros adapted his own stage play. But the performances are a delight, especially Dunst's effervescent turn as Marion Davies: To the degree that she's known at all today, Davies is best-remembered as the model for CITIZEN KANE's screechy, drunken Susan Alexander, the no-talent singer foisted on an uninterested public by her millionaire sugar daddy. Bogdanovich and Peros depict a very different Davies, a charismatic young woman whose natural gift for comedy shone through Hearst's misguided determination to establish her as a great dramatic actress. Tilly's performance as Parsons is a canny mix of gaucheness and ruthless savvy, while Lumley's pretentious Glyn is positively ghoulish.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Inspired by a real-life skeleton in Hollywood's closet, this solid account of the death of pioneering producer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes) during a yacht party hosted by aging media mogul William Randolph Hearst (Edward Hermann) rehashes a scandal so old it's… (more)