By Shawn McKenzie 09/11/2006
In the early morning hours of June 16, 1959, George Reeves (Ben Affleck)…the man who became famous for playing the title role in the syndicated TV series “The Adventures of Superman”…was found dead in his Hollywood Hills home from a gunshot wound to the head. He had attended a party in his house with friends Carol Von Ronkel (Kathleen Robertson), William Bliss (Phillip MacKenzie), Robert Condon (Kevin Hare), and his fiancée, Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney), when he went upstairs to go to bed. According to official police report, George’s death was ruled a suicide. Leonore asserted that he was depressed about being typecast in the “Superman” role, but his mother, Helen Bessolo (Lois Smith), didn’t believe that her baby boy would kill himself. She is so convinced of this that she hires private eye Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) at $50 a day to prove that her son was murdered. Louis, who is down on his luck himself, takes the case for the extra scratch and the notable publicity of investigating the possible murder of a celebrity. He has an ex-wife named Laurie (Molly Parker), who has a new boyfriend named Russ Taylor (Brad William Henke), and a young son named Evan (Zach Mills)…the latter of whom is one of the millions of kids who was traumatized by the death of Superman. He has another case though…Chester Sinclair (Larry Cedar) has hired him to find out if his wife (Dendrie Taylor) is cheating on him. Chester’s case takes a backseat as Louis and his assistant/girlfriend Kit Holliday (Caroline Dhavernas) begin their investigation on the high-profile Reeves case. Through his investigation, he comes up with three different possible scenarios. Scenario #1: George killed himself. After a promising career start as Stuart Tarleton, one of Scarlett O’Hara’s twin suitors in the opening scene of the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind, he received critical raves as Lt. John Summers in 1943’s So Proudly We Hail! He soon went to war during World War II, and when he came back, the good roles had dried up. His manager/agent Art Weissman (Jeffrey DeMunn) then convinces him to take the title role in 1951’s Superman and the Mole-Men…a very low budget superhero movie. He is embarrassed to wear Superman’s “monkey suit”…a brown and grey set of tights (since it was in black-and-white color, red and blue wouldn’t film quite as well)…but his options were limited. The movie becomes a huge hit, and he decides to star in the TV version…even though most movie actors at the time thought that television was beneath them. In the first season, George worked alongside Phyllis Coates (Lorry Ayers), who played Lois Lane; Jack Larson (Joseph Adam), who played Jimmy Olsen; and John Hamilton (Sven Van de Ven), who played Perry White. The hit movie turned into a hit TV show, and he became idolized by kids everywhere. He actually quit smoking and hanging around women in public for fear that it would hurt his public image. He also made personal appearances as Superman, but they almost became tragic, such as when a young fan named Kenneth Giles (Jason Spevack) approached him with what appeared to be a realistic-looking gun and intended to shoot George to see if bullets would fly off Superman’s chest. While kids all around loved George, he discovered that the role hurt his chances for more movie roles. A prime example was his appearance in the 1953 Best Picture winner From Here to Eternity as Sgt. Maylon Stark…but the part was edited out after a preview audience recognized him too much as Superman (in reality, he wasn’t edited out of the movie. The part was just very small.) He spiraled into alcoholism, and he got into a car accident not long before his death. He was apparently so despondent about the state of his career that he killed himself in an alcohol-driven suicide. Scenario #2: George was killed by a hitman. Not long before he got the role on “Superman,” he met Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), the ex-showgirl wife of MGM studio executive Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), who was an ex-New Jersey mobster (and may still have ties with his associates back in the Garden State.) George and Toni quickly started an affair together…an affair that lasted almost eight years. She kept him a somewhat kept man though (she even purchased a $12,000 house for him to live in.) Eddie had a mistress himself…an silent Asian woman named Miss Yoshida (Ayumi Izuka)…and he didn’t appear to care that much about George and Toni’s affair (in fact, there is an odd scene where the four have dinner together.) In this scenario, Toni was spurned by the dumping, so she had Eddie send one of his hitmen to take George out (the car accident may have also been another hit.) Scenario #3: Leonore killed George. Even though George ended his affair with Toni and became engaged to Leonore, he still pined for Toni (in fact, he left his entire estate to Toni in his will.) New York socialite Leonore knew this, and she became jealous that his heart lied elsewhere. She claimed to have accidentally fired the gun previously while fooling around with it in the room, which is why there was a few stray bullet holes in the room…and the police took her word for it. Whichever scenario is to be believed, Louis tries to get to the bottom of the case…and encountering resistance from some people with vested interests in the case…such as MGM PR guy Howard Strickling (Joe Spano.)
This has certainly been the year for Superman. We had Superman Returns rake in some money this summer (I hope that it made enough to greenlight a sequel), and the CW’s “Smallville” will be starting its sixth season this month. It seems like a good time to bring out Hollywoodland now…but the movie will be thought of by most people as an attempt to revive Affleck’s career after a series of bombs.
Let’s get right to the main question…will the movie bring him back to movie star glory? It should…at least critically. His last box office hit was 2003’s Daredevil, but you would have to go back to 2002’s The Sum of All Fears and Changing Lanes to remember the last time he was praised by critics (though this critic liked Daredevil as well.) He gained 20 pounds to play Reeves, and I believe that it paid off. Some will say that he could identify with the character, since it mirrored his own slide into career mediocrity, but I don’t believe that. The guy is only 34 years old people! I could understand if he had been typecast as Daredevil (or for my money as a Kevin Smith fan…Holden McNeil), but the guy isn’t currently tied to any specific character like Reeves was. With this movie, I believe that he will be able to make a comeback. He will be starring in the crime comedy Smokin’ Aces in March of 2007 and he will be making his directorial debut later that year with Gone, Baby, Gone. I may be biased, because I am usually a supporter of the careers of any Kevin Smith regular (Jason Lee, George Carlin, Ethan Suplee, Alanis Morissette, Chris Rock, etc.), so I am positive that we will see Affleck regain his superstar status again.
The rest of the cast did a great job as well…even though I was mainly focused on Affleck. Brody turned in another great performance, and he was the main star of the “second story” of this movie, i.e. the investigation into Reeves’ suicide. While the second story was necessary, I actually wonder if this would have been a more entertaining movie if it had just been a regular biopic on the life of Reeves. I don’t think so, because the second story allowed for the possible murder theories. It’s funny how Lane’s character said that she figured that she only had about seven years left before her looks went south, because I believe that the 41-year-old actress will still be hot well into her ‘50s. Even if they do eventually go south, she will still be a great actress, and her performance here is yet another example of this fact. Hoskins is intimidating as the studio exec that may still have mob ties, and Tunney (FOX’s “Prison Break’s” dearly departed Veronica Donovan) does a decent job as Reeves’ opportunistic younger girlfriend.
I don’t think that Hollywoodland will earn a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, but it might get some surprise nominations for Affleck and Lane (along with art direction and costumes, which I thought looked good for the era.) This is TV director Allen Coulter’s directorial debut (using TV writer Paul Bernbaum’s first theatrical script), and I do hope that people will check it out…especially if you are a fan of either Superman or conspiracy theory movies. If for no other reason, you can check it out and agree with me that Affleck can indeed star in a good movie again!
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