Most Russians wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of a title like "The Cat's Meow," a film recently released in Moscow, or at least so the thinking goes. Thus, the film's Russian title was changed to "Death in Hollywood." However, the new title doesn't capture the essence of 1920s America as well as the original.
Director Peter Bogdanovich's film traces the events surrounding the mysterious death of Thomas Ince - considered to be the father of Hollywood-style moviemaking - on American media magnate William Randolph Hearst's yacht in November 1924. It's a story from the annals of early Hollywood, when the scandalous lives of screen actors were beginning to capture the public's imagination and publishers like Hearst could make or break careers.
The film premiered in Russia at the Moscow Film Festival alongside another mystery movie, "Gosford Park." However, unlike its British contemporary, "The Cat's Meow" is not a whodunit; rather, it tries to offer a plausible story about the events at the party, sticking with the rumors that Ince (Cary Elwes) was accidentally killed in connection with a love affair between Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard) and actress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst), who was Heart's mistress until his death in 1951.
The truth has never been revealed, a real investigation was never conducted and Hearst's press machine published the story as he saw fit. Apparently all the partygoers were sworn to secrecy. Bogdanovich does a good job capturing the wild and carefree spirit of America in the '20s, and Edward Herrmann is convincing as the powerful megalomaniac Hearst. However, Dunst struggles with her character and Izzard just isn't believable as Chaplin.
The two also lack the on-screen chemistry needed to make their love affair seem plausible. Despite the film's shortcomings and complaints from historians that the tale is not 100 percent accurate, "The Cat's Meow" is a good story with a strong script and a nice glimpse at an age in Hollywood that has long since gone.