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PCR # 338  (Vol. 7, No. 37)  This edition is for the week of September 11--17, 2006.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review

Movie review by:
Nolan B. Canova
Three stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

theater seats

The Tampa Film Review For September  by Nolan B. Canova
The True Story of the Royal Guardsmen  by ED Tucker
"The Black Dahlia"  by Mike Smith
"Hollywoodland"  by Nolan B. Canova
The 20 Best Heavy Metal Albums of All Time  by Terence Nuzum
Crazed Fanboy Live! The Musical....Andy's Expedition to Tyrone Square Mall....VHS Grindhouse: "Midnight"  by Andy Lalino
Great Company....Set Phasers on Numb....Speaking of Star Trek....Musical History....Speaking of Music....My Favorite Films, Part 37: "Hoosiers" by Mike Smith
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Focus Features and Mirimax     
Starring: Ben Affleck, Diane Lane, Adrien Brody, Robin Tunney, Bob Hoskins, Lois Smith, and Molly Parker
Directed by: Allen Coulter
Written by: Paul Bernbaum
Rated: R
Running Time: 2 hours 5 mins

I've said many times before about what a seminal influence the '50s TV series The Adventures of Superman had on me in developing my early crazed fandom. I've also said that it took me a while to accept anyone else in the titular role but George Reeves, the incredibly likable and adept hero every kid emulated, usually by tying a bath towel around your neck and running around the yard pretending to fly (and hopefully not by jumping off the roof of a house as some unfortunate kids were reported as doing).

I was born a little late to enjoy the series during its initial run in the '50s, instead becoming obsessed with Superman during his syndicated run in the '60s.

It came as a shock to every kid on June 17th, 1959 when it was reported that Superman himself, George Reeves, had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head the night before. It was no less shocking when I learned of it in the '60s after simply asking whatever happened to him. The popular anecdote was that Reeves, out of work and despondent at being typecast as Superman, simply decided to end it all.

Turns out it was a little more complicated than that and not everyone believed it was a suicide. Hollywoodland takes us on a journey through the eyes of private detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), hired by Reeves' mother Helen Bessolo (Lois Smith. Bessolo was Reeves' birth name), to try and find what actually happened that fateful night at Reeves' home in Benedict Canyon.

Show business during the '50s, like the government of the time, was full of seedy underworld characters, mobsters, and a relentlessly unsympathetic studio system slow to grasp or deal with the new medium of television. One studio head, Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins) was a particularly successful, but nasty character whose wife, Toni (Diane Lane), happened to be...uh...having an affair with George Reeves (Ben Affleck). Before you leap to any conclusion over this, please know Eddie was OK with the arrangement as he had a mistress of his own and at least he always knew where Toni was. So far so good as far as that goes.

Although Reeves was grateful for the job on Superman, he was increasingly frustrated that the BIG movie roles continued to elude him. The careers of Clark Gable and Cary Grant are what he wanted, but instead he was stuck in a red and blue suit, continuing to save the day for millions of adoring children around the country. For anyone else this would be enough. Reeves made no secret of his hatred for the role that would wind up defining his career.

As Reeves aged, his opportunities dwindled. Six months or so before his life ended, he fell in love with a dancer half his age, Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney), and broke off the affair with Toni Mannix. Mannix was absolutely horrified and betrayed. But was she capable of setting up Reeves' "suicide"? The courtship with Lemmon may have soured at the same time.

Everything culminates the night of June 16, 1959 when Reeves, after a late night with a few friends over, goes upstairs to bed and a shot rings out. Forty-five minutes later the police are called. An in-depth investigation was never done and the coroner quickly labeled the death a suicide, seemingly on the word of the house guests(!) and Lemmon.

All this is public record and published in several biographies and any histories concerning George Reeves. The movie's detective, Simo, considers the only three possibilities before him with little else to go on: murder, suicide, or some freak accident.

Ben Affleck is an OK George Reeves, and some angles do strike an eerie resemblance (particularly in costume as Clark Kent), but for at least half the movie, it's very hard to forget we're looking at Ben Affleck. I always thought Kyle McLaughlin looked much more the part, but he's a little old to be playing Reeves I guess. Affleck's portrayal of Reeves, admittedly a challenge for anyone at this date, is sensitive and revealing. Diane Lane is amazing as Toni Mannix, who wines and dines "her boy", buys him his house and car and basically makes him her kept man. Reeves, in this adaptation, doesn't seem to mind too much, perhaps because he's expecting his own success is just around the corner.

I liked very much the woman who plays Reeves mother Helen, Lois Smith. She captures a very strange and enigmatic woman, on the surface very concerned about her son but with a past of her own to hide, and when you get to know her, she's, well, downright strange.

Others may disagree, but in my opinion, this show basically belongs to Adrien Brody, whose character Louis Simo is your typical run-down, seedy, third-rate private eye of the period, down on his luck and into something obviously out of his league. Initially reluctant to take the case, he can't help but notice how his own son looked up to Reeves and the effect his death had on children.

This brings up my only small qualm with the film and it's that, for all the talk about Superman, we really don't see all that much of him. A recreation of the production on the RKO set is kept to about three smallish isolated scenes, basically so we can see Affleck in costume and hit on some popular anecdotes (like the time a small child aimed a real gun at Reeves, expecting the bullets to bounce off). The set of Perry White's office, so central to the series, is limited to one quick "take".

But....this film is about George Reeves after all, not a behind-the-scenes documentary on The Adventures of Superman. Someone recently said to me that the film is ultimately uplifting because Reeves actually got the fame he so desperately sought in that he's remembered fondly and they made a movie about him. I replied that, no, the film is a tragedy, because he didn't get the kind of fame he desperately sought, he wanted to be a movie star and that may have cost us having him around anymore. While it's terrific Reeves is remembered as a wholesome, heroic character, I can't help but think that, had he lived, it would've taken decades for him to deal with his ultimate legacy, just as it has for other typecast actors (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Adam West, etc., etc).

As a postscript, I'd like to add that the production did a terrific job simulating 1950's Los Angeles. For such an obviously moderately-bugeted affair, kudos!

For any others like myself who wondered why the film is called Hollywoodland (which doesn't seem to bear any obvious tip-off this is about George Reeves), it's been reported that the original title, Truth, Justice and the American Way (announced as Superman's mission at the start of every 1950s episode), was vetoed by DC Comics. They also would not let the production use the famous "S" chest emblem in trailers, but allowed it to be used in the movie itself (perhaps to avoid confusion with this summer's Superman Returns).

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give "Hollywoodland"  Three stars

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    This week's movie review of "Hollywoodland" is ©2006 by Nolan B. Canova.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2006, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2006 by Nolan B. Canova.