The Cat’s Meow

Movie Information

The Hendersonville Film Society will show part one of The Cat's Meow at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 16, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
Genre: Fact and Rumor Based Drama
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Eddie Izzard, Edward Herrmann, Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Tilly, Cary Elwes
Rated: PG-13

If The Cat’s Meow (2001) turns out to be Peter Bogdanovich’s last theatrical feature—as frankly seems likely—I can scarcely think of a better way to go out. That it wasn’t a success even on the art-house circuit (I looked up my original review, and it played one week locally) doesn’t change the fact that the film was a return to Bogdanovich’s 1970s form—something I never expected to see happen. The story is Hollywood-insider speculation on what might have really happened on William Randolph Hearst’s (Edward Herrmann) yacht in 1924 that led to the death of pioneer filmmaker Thomas H. Ince (Cary Elwes). It’s told from the point of view of then-popular (and slightly scandalous) novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley). The screenplay takes the known facts, then goes off on its own version of what happened on that yacht—something that no one aboard ever talked about. Are its conclusions valid? Who knows? Those conclusions would certainly go a long way toward explaining the unprecedented power that Hearst afforded Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly) right after the fateful excursion—but true or not, the speculation makes for a wonderful and wonderfully dishy movie. A lot of what works here comes down to the casting. Kirsten Dunst, Eddie Izzard, Edward Herrmann, Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Tilly are absolutely perfect as Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin, Hearst, Glyn and Parsons. Even Cary Elwes as Ince is credible. (It helps that he’s playing the character least clear in our minds.) But don’t sell Bogdanovich short here. He obviously has something to do with those performances. Plus, he made the film into a kind of small-scale Citizen Kane in a couple of instances, and he crafted a beautiful film that actually feels true to the period. His major accomplishment, though, may be in capturing the strange desperation of the time—nowhere more so than in his depiction of the sense of despair and hysteria lying just beneath the “Charleston.”

Here’s my original 2001 review:

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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2 thoughts on “The Cat’s Meow

  1. Considering his relationship with Welles, it seems fitting that Bogdanovich wound up making a speculative film about William Randolph Hearst.

  2. Ken Hanke

    And it works in several pertinent ways. Not only does Hearst get a miniature version of the scene where Kane trashes his wife’s room, but there’s a character like Raymond the butler, who in this case literally does know “where all the bodies are buried.” Moreover, the film gets a chance to paint a better picture of the Marion Davies character — the one aspect of Kane that Welles felt guilty about.

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