Stars: Edward Herrmann, Kirsten Dunst, Eddie Izzard, Jennifer Tilly, Cary Elwes, Joanna Lumley
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Writer: Steven Peros
Back in 1924, Hollywood insiders may have found events on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht particularly intriguing especially when a studio executive ends up with a bullet in his head one fine weekend. But as they say, that was then and this is now. The Cat’s Meow is a colossal bore.
It’s based on events that may have taken place when media giant William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann) invited a bevy of insiders to his yacht to cruise and celebrate the birthday of Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes) by carousing and ignoring the prohibition. Supposedly, Hearst suspected that invitee Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard) was having an affair with Hearst’s mistress, the actress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst) and that Hearst tried to shoot Chaplin in a jealous rage but accidentally shot Ince instead. Being the powerful man that he was, Hearst allegedly manages to hide the truth from everyone on board, including a suspicious gossip columnist and literally gets away with murder. Ince later died. That’s a fact.
The story is first presented in narration by guest Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley), one of two columnists on board, the other being the quite famous Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly) to whom Hearst later gives a lifetime contract. Glyn describes the 1924 occurrence as “the whisper most told.” Surely no one in his right mind would have wanted to call W. R. Hearst a murderer, at least not to his face. His newspaper empire packed big guns.
Hearst is portrayed as a jealous, insecure, suspicious and often foolish man bent on spying on his mistress and anyone else he thought deserving. He has peepholes and listening devices all over his yacht. That famous womanizer Charlie Chaplin’s attentions to Marion don’t go unnoticed and while everyone else seems to be enjoying the food and drink, Hearst peeps away, convinced that Chaplin is trying to do him in. Marion’s solicitous behavior doesn’t alter his opinion.
Meanwhile birthday boy Ince is having financial troubles and is trying to convince Hearst to go in on a film deal with him. Hearst has his hands full in distractions.
Although the period setting is exact, the grainy, dark film quality is less than pleasing. Most of the characters come across as mere caricatures and there’s only so much of the Charleston and roaring twenties music you can take in one sitting.
Kirsten Dunst portrays her first adult role respectably, and while Izzard plays Chaplin as phony and overly callous through much of the film, in the end, he evokes the most sympathy and comes across as the most real of all the players. Jennifer Tilly shrieks and annoys with her portrayal of airheaded gabber Louella from opening to finale.
Lotta says pass on this one.