Actors are a funny lot. They strive to land roles that will
catapult them to stardom but sometimes there is a downside.
They can become so associated with a particular role that it
can haunt their entire career. It's a phenomenon that extends
both to feature film performers (think how long it took Sean
Connery to shake being thought of as James Bond -- hell, even
with an Oscar, to some people he still IS Bond) and to television
actors. For those on the small screen, the problem is exacerbated
by the fact that they are beamed into our homes. We come to feel
that we know him or her and somehow cannot accept them in
any other part except the role for which they became known.
Some struggle to overcome the baggage, while others eventually
embrace it and use it. The motion picture
HOLLYWOODLAND
is built around this kernel -- that a particular actor became so
associated with a role that it ruined his career and drove him
to suicide.

That has been the party line regarding the 1959 death of
actor George Reeves who gained fame playing Clark Kent/Superman
in the TV show
THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN in the late 1950s.
Even after his death, with syndication, he lived on in the part. When
I was kid, I used to watch the reruns of the show. Imagine my
shock when I saw
GONE WITH THE WIND as a child and noticed
Superman in the opening scene. There's a scene in this film that
meant to indicate the power of television when it is implied that
Reeves' role in
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953) was trimmed when
preview audiences recognized him. [This has been a rumor floating
around Hollywood for years and has been denied by the late
Fred Zinnemann, who directed the movie, and the late Daniel
Taradash, who wrote the film.] In the context of the film, the
scene is effective, but it may leave audiences believing this
to be the truth and not fiction.

The interesting thing about Reeves' death, though, is that
ever since 1959, there have been whispers that maybe he did
not commit suicide. Maybe he was murdered or accidentally killed
and it was covered up as suicide. It had been an open secret he
was carrying on an affair with an older woman -- Toni Mannix (the
excellent Diane Lane), the former showgirl wife of MGM studio
executive Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), one of the notorious
"fixers" employed by the movie studios to cover up unpleasant
events that might involve money making stars. Reeves also had
a fiancee, Leonore Lemmon, whom he may or may not have wanted
to marry. There are questions about his death that may never be
answered, but the film manages to offer three different scenarios
for Reeves' death, thanks to its framing device of having fictional
private detective Louis Simo (played by Adrien Brody) being hired
by Reeves' mother (portrayed by Lois Smith) to investigate the
matter.

I have to say that I found the framing device of the detective
something of a distraction. I can understand why screenwriter
Paul Bernbaum included this, as it allows for the above speculation.
By giving the detective an ex-wife (the ever reliable Molly Parker)
and a young son who is deeply affected by Reeves' death, he can
also examine the social impact, especially on the youth. But
somehow in the way the movie was filmed by first-time feature
director Alan Coulter,
HOLLYWOODLAND inelegantly jumps
between Reeves' story and that of Simo's, straining to find
parallels.

One of the main reasons to see the movie is for the
performance of Ben Affleck as George Reeves. Ever since he
broke onto the scene in the late 1990s, Affleck has been
brushed off as a lightweight performer. Early on in his career,
he was typecast as the bully (see
SCHOOL TIES or DAZED AND
CONFUSED
), and then after he and pal Matt Damon took home
an Oscar for writing
GOOD WILL HUNTING, he opted to pursue
fame and fortune without regard for building a career. He became
tabloid fodder for his high profile romances which overshadowed
his acting career. Even though he did fine work in films like the
little-seen
BOUNCE and in CHASING AMY, Affleck was relegated
to the status of something akin to a joke. Well, the joke is now
on Hollywood, as he delivers a terrific portrayal of Reeves, a
conflicted man who wanted fame and a successful acting career
but one who settled for making a quick buck and got typecast.

It helps Affleck tremendously that his many of his scenes
are opposite two very powerful female performers -- Diane Lane
playing Toni Mannix and Robin Tunney portraying Lenore Lemmon.
Lane is excellent as the older woman who knows the score --
her husband will allow her the affair since he is engaging in his
own extramarital activities. She and Affleck have a nice, easy
chemistry and their scenes together crackle and sparkle.
Similarly, Tunney commands the screen when the focus is on her.
An often underrated actress, she is very good as a party girl
who sees Reeves as a meal ticket. There's both a hardness and
a vulnerability to her that makes her an intriguing and interesting
character and although she is not onscreen for very long, she
makes an impression.

Adrien Brody does well as the fictional private eye,
but there's something about his storyline that feels tacked
on and not involving. Whatever comparisons Bernbaum and
Coulter are attempting to forge between the two men and
their messy lives don't quite come together.

The truth about Reeves' death -- whether it was suicide or
murder -- will probably never be fully known. Unfortunately,
Hollywood is littered with the broken dreams of any number of
people -- from Peg Entwhistle who jumped to her death from the
Hollywoodland sign in 1932 to Elizabeth Short who was gruesomely
murdered (and who figures prominently in
THE BLACK DAHLIA).
Reeves unfortunately ended up as one of those for whom a
measure of success didn't fulfil his desires.


      Rating:                B
      MPAA Rating:       R for language, some violence
                                      and sexual content
      Running time:      126 mins.


      Viewed at the Broadway Screening Room
Hollywoodland
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.