Review by Paul Stathakis | 2006

Hollywoodland good but not super

Few peo­ple rec­og­nize his name but those who do best remem­ber George Reeves as Super­man.  Reeves was an actor who slow­ly worked his way into show busi­ness.  He accept­ed sup­port­ing roles in films like “Gone with the Wind” (1939) and “From Here to Eter­ni­ty” (1953).  Win­ning the part of Super­man in a 1950s tele­vi­sion series (“Adven­tures of Super­man”) was per­haps the best and worst thing that ever hap­pened to Reeves.  Count­less chil­dren admired him for his brav­ery and super­hero abil­i­ties.  He may not have had the prop­er physique for the role but he was blessed with the face of a movie star.  Each night, chil­dren would rush in front of their tele­vi­sion to watch the Man of Steal fight off vil­lains and do what he did best: save the day.

On June 16, 1959, fol­low­ing the can­cel­la­tion of his Super­man series, Reeves trad­ed in his red cape and out­fit for a pis­tol.  The papers report­ed Reeves’ death as an act of sui­cide.  He was found dead in his Hol­ly­wood Hills home.  “Hol­ly­wood­land” re-vis­its Reeves’ ill-fat­ed career and ques­tions the mys­ter­ies sur­round­ing the actor’s trag­ic death.

Adrien Brody stars as Louis Simo, a pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor who is hired by Reeves’ griev­ing moth­er, Helen Besso­lo (Lois Smith), to inves­ti­gate her son’s bizarre death.  Simo soon dis­cov­ers that a siz­zling affair Reeves had with Toni Man­nix (Diane Lane), the wife of MGM stu­dio exec­u­tive Eddie Man­nix (Bob Hoskins), could bring him clos­er to the truth.  In the style of a clas­sic inves­ti­ga­tor, Simo risks a great deal to get answers.  “Hol­ly­wood­land” is based on a true sto­ry but like Oliv­er Stone’s “JFK” (1991), it presents an inves­ti­ga­tion with spec­u­la­tive con­clu­sions.  If you’re look­ing for answers as to what real­ly hap­pened to Reeves, a sim­ple search on the inter­net could give you the answer.  The film, for the most part, is mas­ter­ful in the way it depicts a grainy side of the Gold­en era but it pro­vides view­ers with no def­i­nite answers.

One of my col­lege pro­fes­sors told me that Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe was his favorite actress of all time.  He used “The Sev­en Year Itch” (1955) as exam­ple to draw his point.  Not only did he claim it was her best film but that it con­firmed that Mon­roe was a beau­ti­ful blonde actress who could real­ly act (crit­ics often believed that Mon­roe was not pro­fi­cient actress).  “Hol­ly­wood­land” is sim­i­lar in the sense that it show­cas­es Ben Affleck­’s abil­i­ties as an actor.  After being harsh­ly crit­i­cized for appear­ing in a series of box-office fail­ures, Affleck makes a come­back by turn­ing in a flaw­less per­for­mance as an aging actor bat­tling the pit­falls of the movie indus­try.  This is a cru­cial role for Affleck and it shows what a for­mi­da­ble actor he can be when dealt the right part.  His por­tray­al of Reeves not only bares a haunt­ing qual­i­ty but is one of the year’s biggest sur­pris­es.  Adrien Brody and Diane Lane also deliv­er stel­lar per­for­mances and it should come as no sur­prise if each actor receives a nom­i­na­tion for their work in “Hol­ly­wood­land.”

Reeves’ death was very con­tro­ver­sial in 1959.  At the time, col­leagues and close friends of the actor believed he was mur­dered.  Simo exam­ines the case by feed­ing off of these assump­tions.  At first, he mere­ly works to urn his buck but lat­er becomes far too involved in the case to think about mon­ey. “Keep your check,” says Simo in one of the film’s more pow­er­ful moments.

Hol­ly­wood­land” is a per­son­al sto­ry about one detective’s strug­gle for redemp­tion and truth at a time where decep­tion laid buried beneath a pic­ture-per­fect image of glam­our.  Simo learns a great deal about Reeves and the inves­ti­ga­tion helps him with his own life.  There is a scene in which Simo con­fronts his son who, dis­ap­point­ed by Reeves’ death, set his Super­man out­fit on fire.  The lit­tle boy, like many oth­er chil­dren of that era, felt betrayed by Reeves’ death.  Like the real case, “Hol­ly­wood­land” clos­es on a cold intrigu­ing note.


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