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The Cat's Meow
2002 - PG-13 - 112 Mins.
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Producer: Kim Bieber, Carol Lewis, Julie Baines, Dieter Meyer
Written By: Steven Peros
Starring: Kirsten Dunst Edward Herrmann Cary Elwes Eddie Izzard Jennifer Tilly
Review by: James O'Ehley
It is the decadent 1920s. A group of overprivileged Hollywood types is embarking on a cruise on the private yacht of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Prime amongst them: Marion Davies, Hearst’s mistress (played by Kirsten Dunst) and Charlie Chaplin (yes, that Charlie Chaplin, played here by British comedian Eddie Izzard who doesn’t really look like him at all). Along the way there’ll be a lot of partying, and a murder. You see Chaplin professes to be in love with Hearst’s mistress, a fact which hasn’t escaped the watchful and jealous eye of the elderly Hearst.

Considering Chaplin’s reputation as a serial womanizer (he has just impregnated the 16-year-old star of his previous movie), Hearst is taking this threat seriously. Things will come to a head on the journey, but will not quite turn out the way you would expect it to.

THE CAT’S MEOW is of course based on a real-life event. But that event is so shrouded in mystery that the events detailed in this movie are even more groundless speculation than those chronicled in Oliver Stone’s conspiracy nut opus, the 1991 JFK. This much is known: there probably was a death on Hearst’s yacht, but no one was ever arrested or even actually questioned about it, least of all, the powerfully rich Randolph Hearst.

This 2001 movie is of particular interest if you’ve seen the seminal 1941 Orson Welles pic, CITIZEN KANE, considered by many critics as the best movie ever made. As you might recall, that movie also obliquely dealt with the life of media mogul Hearst. As a sort of side note to that movie, it is interesting to see how THE CAT’S MEOW depicts the same real life persons from Welles’ film.

In CITIZEN KANE, Davies is a shrill gold-digging harridan. Here she is much more sympathetic (as portrayed by the sexy Dunst, most recently seen as SPIDER-MAN’s girlfriend Mary Jane). Author William Gibson’s dictum that “the rich no longer resembles anything human” also seems quite untrue in Hearst’s case. Here he is played by Edward Herrmann, a bit actor in most of the movies he has appeared in (ranging from anything from REDS to NIXON). Herrmann takes centre stage in what is a role of a lifetime. He humanizes Hearst, turning him into someone all too human: ego-maniacal and insecure at possibly being cuckolded at the same time.

THE CAT’S MEOW is a low-key yet watchable drama. If you’ve seen and enjoyed CITIZEN KANE, then you would also be interested in this movie. Was there a murder on that fateful sea trip? Maybe. Was Hearst powerful and influential enough to have covered it up? Probably. But these aren’t really the issues at stake. Even if Hollywood gossip bores you, this well-acted character-based drama will make you sit through it even if it is like my wife, who fought off sleep after a tiring Friday, just to see who exactly was killed . . .
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

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