THE HOAX
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

angry. He sold the rights to a memoir about his
perpetration of one of the most audacious
literary deceptions in the second half of the
Twentieth Century to a movie company. Now the
film, called
THE HOAX, is being released, and
the man who perpetrated one of the most
elaborate deceptions against a major publishing
house in the second half of the Twentieth
Century is objecting to the tweaks and dramatic
license employed by screenwriter William
Wheeler. So much so, that he has demanded his
name be removed from the credits. Does anyone
else see the irony here? I mean, all I want to
say is "Pot, Kettle."

Any writer worth their salt knows that when you
sell your property to a Hollywood studio,
changes will be made. The book/play/whatever
no longer is yours. Even those who have the
luxury of working on the screen adaptation
realize that what works on the page doesn't
always serve a dramatic purpose. I suppose I
can see Irving's side of things -- it is his life
they are portraying -- and the filmmakers have
played fast and loose but they do acknowledge
this in the press material for the film -- so
unless the check bounced, Irving really should
not voice his objections.

As for what is on screen,
THE HOAX suffers a
little from schizophrenia but it still is quite
enjoyable. Perhaps I have a different take on
the material because I vividly recall the press
about it. In the early 1970s (when I was a
precocious toddler, ahem) the current mania for
celebrity had not taken hold. Irving was a
novelist who hit upon what he was certain was a
foolproof idea: he claimed to have been in
contact with the reclusive billionaire Howard
Hughes and that Hughes had selected him to
assist in writing an autobiography. In the film,
Irving (well played by Richard Gere) is portrayed
as a bit more desperate than he may have been
in reality. When we are first introduced to the
character, he has just had a novel accepted by
McGraw-Hill and sets off to celebrate, spending
most of the advance on a new car for his
German-Swiss wife, painter Edith Sommer
(Marcia Gay Harden, whose accent waivers
badly, although she looks great as a blonde).

Of course, the deal falls apart and Irving
becomes desperate to stave off the creditors, so
he barges into a meeting at McGraw-Hill and
announces with some hyperbole that he is at
work on the most important book of the century:
the autobiography of Howard Hughes. Through
chicanery (he forges letters from Hughes based
on writing samples printed in a magazine which
somehow get past handwriting analysts), Irving
manages to carry out his fraud. He is abetted by
his wife and by his pal Richard Suskind (Alfred
Molina in a superb performance). As the ploy
grows, Suskind demands more of a role and he
goes from being a research assistant to
co-author without fully recognizing the
consequences.

Mix in Irving's sexual shenanigans -- at the time
he had been in an on-again, off-again
relationship with Nina Van Pallandt (slyly
embodied by Julie Delpy), a baroness by
marriage and a singer-actress by avocation. (In
a weird bit of coincidence, the real Van Pallandt
played Gere's madam in
AMERICAN GIGOLO.)

As directed by Lasse Hallström,
THE HOAX
moves through the early scenes with a brisk
pace, the snappy dialogue delivered well by the
large cast (including Hope Davis, David Aaron
Baker, Christopher Evan Welch, Stanley Tucci,
and a cameo by nonagenarian Eli Wallach). In
the second half, things turn a little darker as
Wheeler's script tries to explore Irving's psyche
and delves into the paranoia of the times,
particularly as embodied by then-President
Richard Nixon.
THE HOAX builds on some
comments by H.R. Haldeman regarding the
Watergate break-in and provides a possible link
between Hughes and the president.

Hallström and Wheeler do take liberties, some
of which are pretty obvious (for instance, there
is a scene in the film that takes place at Truman
Capote's famous Black & White Ball -- held
some five years prior to the events in the film)
while others less so (such as having Irving and
his wife living in upstate New York when they
were actually residing in Ibizia).

In today's world, when someone like Oprah
Winfrey can excoriate an author for concocting
dramatic moments in his memoir or another
author can face a lawsuit by people fictitiously
depicted in his books, it's perhaps a bit difficult
to understand just how and why Irving managed
to pull off his feat. Perhaps those at McGraw-Hill
should have been tipped off by an earlier work
of his called
Fake, about an art forger. Clearly
the writer was intrigued by the idea of hoaxes
and confounding the Establishment. Given his
background, it's almost Karmic that his own
memoir should be given the same treatment. He
should be pleased with the results --
THE HOAX
is an enjoyable romp that features one of
Richard Gere's best screen performances. Not
everything on screen may be true -- but then
look at the title. Maybe this is really a case of
truth in advertising.



Rating:                B+
MPAA Rating:       R for
Running time:       116 mins.
Susskind and Stanley Tucci as Shelton Fisher in
THE HOAX

Photo credit Ken Regan
Courtesy of Miramax Films