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September 14, 2006

Hollywoodland

hollywoodland.jpg

Allen Coulter - 2006
Focus Features/Miramax 35mm film

There is a moment when Ben Affleck looks astonishingly like George Reeves. It is when the audience first sees Reeves, a corpse laying in the coroner's examination room. I grew up watching the George Reeves "Superman" television series virtually every chance I got, regardless of the fact that the stocky man in the tights and cape didn't exactly look like the character in the comic books, regardless of the fact that the television Superman usually fought off bank robbers and assorted crooks unlike the comic book Superman who frequently had extra-terrestial enemies or combatted the brilliant Lex Luthor. Even at the age of seven, I knew intuitively that The Adventures of Superman was not very good, but I just had to watch.

I also have a vague memory of hearing about Reeves' death from an older kid. He was probably passing along a rumor he had heard from someone else which was that Reeves thought he actually was Superman when he shot himself, and had assumed the fatal bullet would bounce off his body. I was unaware of the controversy concerning Reeves' death until I saw the previews for Hollywoodland. The film raises more questions than answers concerning the death of George Reeves' but is more informative about how business was done under the old studio system.

In terms of facts concerning Reeves acting career, being typecast as Superman probably didn't help, but he was a bit busier than the film suggests. In Hollywoodland, Reeves discusses starring in the movie serial The Adventures of Sir Galahad with his future lover, Toni Mannix. What Hollywoodland ignores is that Reeves kept busy with guest roles in several television shows in 1950 and 1951. And while the fictionalized Reeves is first seen glancing hopefully at German emigres Billy Wilder and Fred Zinneman, the real Reeves worked with Fritz Lang on three films. While Reeves did little film work after From Here to Eternity, he did keep busy prior to Superman becoming a full-time job with personal appearances in addition to shooting the series.

While Affleck won an acting award at the Venice Film Festival, the performance to watch belongs to Diane Lane as Toni Mannix. With dark hair, and appearing as mature as Mannix, who was forty-five when she met Reeves, Lane proves again to be one of the braver actresses when the opportunity arises. Lane makes palpable Mannix's fury at being rejected by Reeves for the somewhat appropriately named Leonore Lemmon. While it is never clear if Toni Mannix or her husband, MGM executive Eddie Mannix helped George Reeves career in any way, Hollywoodland concludes that Eddie Mannix killed Reeves professionally, if not personally. Superman might be able to bend steel with his bare hands, leap tall buildings and fly faster than a speeding bullet, but he's never had the power to greenlight a movie.

Posted by peter at September 14, 2006 11:29 AM