banner image

:: The Cat's Meow

The Cat’s Meow is undoubtedly Bogdanovich’s best film since Mask (1985), though since his career has been in a decided slump for the last decade, that isn’t necessarily a huge compliment. Bogdanovich, as well as being an actor, is also known as a film buff, with a particular interest in Orson Welles, and so it is interesting to see him tackle the arguable subject of Welles’s Citizen Kane- William Randolph Hearst, a media mogul of the 1920’s.

The Cat’s Meow takes place on a weekend luxury cruise in 1924, hosted by Hearst, played by Edward Herrman (indelibly, for me, Max, from The Lost Boys) and his mistress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst). The guests include Charlie Chaplin (played with charm by Eddie Izzard but he will always suffer from comparisons to Robert Downey Jnr’s portrayal), up and coming gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly) whose reign over Hollywood may have begun on this trip, studio head Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes from Princess Bride), his mistress, and various other social climbers and obedient employees. The story is told in flashback from the point of view of British writer Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley). Someone dies on this trip and the circumstances of their death have only ever been whispered about. Many versions have been put forward and this film is about the one whispered most often.

With its single location and much secretive movement in and out of other people’s rooms, it is much like an old fashioned whodunit. There are many plots being plotted, from Chaplin’s attempts to seduce Hearst’s mistress out from under him to Ince’s ultimately tragic scheme to use the information to rebuild his ailing career. The interest comes mainly from the fact that these were real people and this may be the event that actually took place.

Adapted by Steven Peros from his play, the film shines with Kirsten Dunst’s performance, her openness and cheeky smile are used to full effect, Bogdanovich seeming to know how much she can convey in simple a look, a sparkle in her eye. She is more than a match for the much more experienced cast around her.

The plot is slight and some of the characters are more caricature than character, however the many witty retorts and cinematic in jokes, particularly Chaplin’s running gags, entertain unflaggingly until the end.

Screening at Cinema Nova and Cinema Como.