The Cat's Meow  (2001)





Director:     Peter Bogdanovich. 

Starring:     Kirsten Dunst (Marion Davies), Edward Herrmann (William Randolph Hearst), Eddie Izzard (Charlie Chaplin), Cary Elwes (Thomas H. Ince), Joanna Lumley (Elinor Glyn), Jennifer Tilly (Louella Parsons), Claudia Harrison (Margaret Livingston), Victor Slezak (George Thomas), James Laurenson (Dr. Daniel Goodman), Ronan Vibert (Joseph Willcombe), Chiara Schoras (Celia), Claudie Blakley (Didi), Ingrid Lacey (Jessica Barham), John C. Vennema (Frank Barham), Steven Peros (Elinor's Driver).

 movie producer Thomas Ince dies after yachting with William Randolph Hearst, Charlie Chaplin & Marion Davies


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Elinor Glyn says:  "In November of 1924, during a weekend yacht party bound for San Diego, a mysterious death occurred within the Hollywood community.  However, there was no coverage in the press, no police action, and of the 14 passengers on board, only one was ever questioned by authorities.  Little evidence exists now, or existed at the time, to support any version of those weekend events.  History has been written in whispers.  This is the whisper told most often.  The yacht, you see, belonged to William Randolph Hearst."

San Pedro Harbor, Los Angeles, California.  Saturday, November 15, 1924.  Guests start arriving at the dock.  The birthday boy, Thomas H. Ince, arrives and goes on board.  On board with Hearst is his mistress, the actress Marion Davies.  Charlie Chaplin arrives.  He notices that Elinor Glyn is already there, but is just waiting in her car.  She doesn't like to be the first arrival.  Chaplin and Glyn start walking together and they are met by Louella Parsons, gossip columnist, who likes to be called Lolly.  Lolly latches onto Charlie Chaplin and doesn't want to let him go.  He finally is free of her when she missteps and goes down. 

Charlie says hello to Thomas and the Thomas's business partner George Thomas and his guest Margaret Livingston.  George mentions that Charlie lost his shirt in his last picture Woman of Paris.  And now he is running way over budgets on his new film The Gold Rush

Marion talks with Charlie about Hearst having heard about their little affair and has hired private detectives.  He only invited Charlie so he could watch the two of them together, so nothing can happen this weekend. 

Marion shouts to Hearst that she's coming up, so he has to quickly close the windows, put away some listening equipment and get back to his main room.  Marion asks him if he is coming down from his Mount Olympus.  She knows that he is spying on everyone and tells him there is nothing going on between her and Chaplin. 

The boat is about to pull away from the dock when two chorus girls come running up the gang plank.  George Thomas sees them and remarks to Ince:  "I think this is going to be a most enjoyable boat ride."  Ince replies:  "Yeah . . . the cat's meow."  Ince goes below deck to the room of Margaret Livingston.  They are having an affair under the pretense of Margaret being with George Thomas. 

Ince goes on deck to talk with Hearst.  He says that Hearst's pictures haven't really been making money and he brings up the idea of his personally overseeing Cosmopolitan Pictures for Hearst.  Hearst responds that Ince is not what he was five years ago -- he's been more in the background.  Hearst doesn't need or want Ince's help. 

Charlie knocks on Marion's door in an attempt to get in, but she opens the door and then closes the door in his face. 

Ince tells George what Hearst said about his being a cripple in the business.  He thinks he should throw the Chaplin-Davies affair in the man's face, but George advices him against it. 

Hearst asks Chaplin what he thinks about the way he's been handling Marion's career.  Chaplin says that they have neglected her comedic side.  Hearst rejects the idea saying:  "I don't want people laughing at Marion." 

After dinner Marion dances the Charleston with Willie and others.  Everyone marches out of the dining salon following the musicians.  Only Ince stays behinds. 

Hearst screens a showing of his latest motion picture.  Marion is caught on camera horsing around being funny. 

Ince is keeping a close eye on Marion and Chaplin.  Hearst is piloting the yacht, so Ince goes and talks to him about that sleazy Chaplin and how the man got his 16-year old actress pregnant.  Ince, however, is interrupted by other guests coming up to talk with Hearst.

Marion, Charlie, Didi, Celia and others smoke pot in Marion's room.  They now will play charades.  Charlie and Marion are on the same team.  As they act out "man sees his own reflection", the couple start smooching.  Elinor breaks it up.  She takes Marion outside and suggests that she stay with Hearst. 

Hearst receives notice of an article to be published tomorrow.  It says that Chaplin continues to show ardent attention to Marion Davies and that they are still together.  This upsets Hearst a great deal and he yells at the man who read him the message to get out!

Ince waits until Chaplin leaves his room and he goes inside to investigate.  In the waste basket he finds one of Charlie's short love notes to Marion.  Didi and Celia have been watching Margaret and now they come over to her to ask her if she is Tom Ince's lover?  Margaret walks away from them.  Tom shows George the letter and George again warns him that he is going to get himself into some big trouble. 

Marion discovers the article that is going to be published about her and Chaplin.  She goes to Charlie and tells him that she wants him to deny to Willie as cheap gossip all this writing about he and Marion.  Charlie says he won't do that and Marion gives him a hard smack across the face saying she loves Willie.  Charlie says he can admit he loves Marion, but Marion can't admit that she loves him. Charlie keeps the pressure on Marion and soon he has her on the bed taking her clothes off. 

Meanwhile, Ince just won't shut up about Marion and Chaplin.  And also Margaret is going around telling everyone that she is Tom Ince's lover.  This shocks Lolly who did not know about this. 

Marion brings in Tom's birthday cake on a cart.  Hearst gives a nice toast to Tom.  Then Hearst notices the new, intense looks on the faces of Marion and Chaplin and he doesn't like it.  He mentions about people respecting him. Marion and Chaplin dance the Charleston and Hearst sees more of what he doesn't like.   He gets disgusted and walks out on deck to get some fresh air.  Tom follows Hearst and gives him Chaplin's letter to Marion.  Hearst says thank you and that he will handle this matter. Hearst gets his pistol. 

Tom and Margaret have a big argument. Tom walks out.  Charlie wants Marion to star in his film The Gold Rush so he can get rid of the 16 year old actress he got pregnant.  Charlie leaves Marion's side and is replaced by Tom.  The two of them are talking together and Hearst thinks Tom is Charlie.  He shoots Tom in the back of the head and Tom flops forward and collapses.  Marion calls Dr. Goodman and then one of Hearst's aides.  Marion leads Hearst away from the scene of the crime. 

It is soon obvious that there will be a cover-up of the crime.  The doctor and the aide refer to Hearst as God Himself.  Elinor sees the doctor and the aide carry someone into the doctor's room.  Hearft throws his weapon into the ocean.  Margaret gets up to see where Tom is, but he's not in his cabin. 

The yacht lands.  Tom is taken off the boat on a stretcher, placed inside an ambulance and driven away.  Hearst now calls Mrs. Nell Ince.  He promises Nell that he will keep all of this out of the papers. So the wife becomes, unknowingly, part of the cover-up.  Now Hearst comes to speak to Lolly.  She says there's no one at fault here.  It was just an accident.  She does, however, now ask Hearst to expand her syndication.  She says if he will give him her security, she will give him his security.  She wants a life-time contract. 

Charlie sees his driver and asks why is he here?  The driver says that Mr. Hearst's office contacted him about the change in plans.  He also learns that a man was taken off the yacht and driven away in an ambulance. 

Hearst comes to the breakfast table and tells everyone that Tom Ince took ill last night and left early in the morning.  In the name of protecting Tom's good name, he gets his guests to agree to a cover-up of the incident. 

Charlie goes down to see Marion, who tells him what really happened.  Margaret is suspicious, but Hearst promises her a possible acting job to win her silence.  Hearst comes into Marion's room.  He tells Marion and Chaplin that the two of them are the reason for the shooting of Tom Ince.  He asks:  "Haven't you any sense of responsibility?"   Charlie says he at least didn't shoot Tom.  Hearst says he can produce three witnesses that saw Chaplin shoot Tom.  He also tells Marion if that she really believes Charlie is better for her, then she and he can both go and good luck to them.  Hearst leaves.  Charlie wants her to go with him, but she doesn't trust him and tells him to leave.  He leaves. 

Elinor is the last to wave goodbye to Hearst and Davies. 

". . . Thomas Ince held on unconscious for two days before dying in his own bed.  There was plenty of misinformation in the days following his death, much of it coming straight from the Hearst press machine, which inexplicably reported that Ince was 'stricken unconscious' while visiting Hearst at his upstate ranch!  Three weeks later, the San Diego District Attorney conducted an obligatory investigation and was, 'satisfied that the death of Thomas H. Ince was caused by heart failure as a result of acute indigestion.'  He did not examine the body because Ince had been cremated immediately, and except for Dr. Goodman, no members of the boating party was ever questioned, including Hearst.  The San Diego DA suggested that the Los Angeles office continue the investigation.  They politely declined."

At the funeral Charlie gets a chance to speak with Marion one more time.  Marion tells him:  "Goodbye, Charlie."  Charlie himself is going down to Mexico to get married.  He married Lita Grey and the marriage lasted two years. 

Margaret Livingston married band leader Paul Whiteman and quit her acting to help him manage the band that popularized the Charleston. 

Lolly Parsons became the most feared of gossip columnists in America. 

Marion stayed with Hearst until he died at the age of 88.  She triumphed as a comedic talent. 


There were many different versions of what happened on the yacht Oneida.   Chaplin's Japanese driver saw that Tom Ince came off the yacht with a head wound.  Soon the story spread of Ince's murder by mistake spread through the community of Japanese Hollywood maids and more or less became the most commonly told version of the story.  The screenplay takes off from this most common version of what happened on the yacht.  The film was okay, but one doesn't learn anything special about Hollywood.  The acting wasn't especially good, except that Kirsten Dunst sure did look pretty and perky in the role. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 




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