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Sat September 2, 2006
A B movie with an ambition like its characters.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"Virtue is choked with foul ambition." Shakespeare, King Henry VI, pt ii
Hollywoodland: I suppose the title is a reference to Disneyland, itself a Hollywood spin-off full of dreams and expectations shallow and disappointing while offering only immediate gratification. The same can be said of the film Hollywoodland, a noir in the tradition of Chinatown with a detective, Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) out of his league as he snoops around the real-life "suicide" of the ambitious George Reeves (Ben Affleck), who played Superman in the popular '50's TV series.
There even might be homage to Citizen Kane with its reporter trying to find out the meaning of Rosebud and a manager looking like business manager Bernstein. But be assured, Hollywoodland is in no way near the greatness of these classics. The story is framed by Reeves' death and by the parallel lives of the detective and the TV star. Simo apparently was once a successful detective in the L.A.P.D. and now scrounges to find PI work; Reeves had a promising role in Gone with the Wind but reluctantly found cheesy fame as TV's Superman. Each man's love life is a disappointment: Simo's divorce is unsettling and his girlfriend is cheating; Reeves' is lover of MGM general manager's (Bob Hoskins) wife, Toni Mannix (Diane Lane) and becomes engaged to a gold digger.
The film is patched together with nostalgia for the fifties (the cars are vintage lovely as are the small-waisted slacks) while the unraveling of the suicide circumstances actually is less interesting then the unraveling of Reeves' career. The latter serves as a microcosm of the rough times most actors experience trying to make it in Hollywood, especially from television to film (Reeves is edited out of From Here to Eternity because preview audiences loudly identified him as Superman when he appeared). The film itself serves as a comment on the challenges television brought to movies. The rest is a B movie with an ambition like its characters--doomed to be devoured by Hollywoodland.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com