Connecting truth, scandal, fabrication and lies are a huge guilty pleasure that gets the audience thinking, talking and yes, writing. Hollywood loves to take a look at itself in complimentary and not so complimentary ways.  Pictures such as  WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD (1932) ,  SOULS FOR SALE  (1923), IN A LONELY PLACE (1950),  THE BAD AND  BEAUTIFUL (1952), SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950),  the vicious DAY OF THE LOCUST (1975), BARTON FINK (1991), THE PLAYER (1992),  and MATINEE (1993).  The list goes on.   The  2006 Focus Features picture HOLLYWOODLAND enters onto that list with a  difference: it is an inquiring, sympathetic look at the death of fifties SUPERMAN TV star George Reeves. That “solved” incident is connected with our friends from the E. J. Fleming book THE FIXERS at MGM: none other than Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling.

HOLLYWOODLAND  (2006), which was shot in California and Ontario, Canada, using many Canadian actors in supporting roles, features Adrian Brody as the fictional Lewis Simo. He is a cheap private investigator operating out of a motor court with his girlfriend Kit Holliday (Caroline Dhavernas).

Simo is taking money from a client, Chester Sinclair (Larry Cedar), whose wife is having ‘unauthorized carnal relations.’   Simo says all the right gumshoe phrases, offers Sinclair a shoulder yet no solution. He gladly talks Sinclair’s cash fee for expenses with a straight face. Sinclair leaves the motor court and Simo sheepishly says ‘ that it’s money’ when Kit says that the whole thing isn’t  right.   Simo visits his ex-wife Laurie (Molly Parker) and learns that their son is upset over the recent  death of Superman.  Simo finds  his son Evan (Zach Mills) tossing things around in their backyard when he goes to drive him to school.  Laurie tells him that all the  children are upset at the death of Superman.

Simo tries to reason with Evan on the way to school, giving him an Etch- a- Sketch drawing machine as a gift. It is tossed away.   Simo then says  in a  wonderful bit of  dialogue  to his son that ‘That astronauts, cowboys and people like that that one sees are not real.”   Evan knows but it doesn’t stop him from staring out the window as they drive.

After  dropping Evan off at school Simo heads to a  diner where he meets  a former  police colleague to get a lead on something they won’t  touch.   Simo gets razzed about  not being a real detective yet gets fee the headline of  George Reeves’ suicide that is screaming out of the paper. The police will not touch it because it is close to MGM ,who have closed the case.    Simo launches himself into the case as he senses a large payoff.

The picture unfolds in a series of  flashbacks in the neo noir style where we meet George Reeves (Ben Affleck) and follow his career in show business and his romance  with  Tonie Mannix (Diane Lane).  Solid  on screen chemistry between Lane and  Affleck as  they flirt themselves to dinner, a  walk, a  cuddle  and into bed after meeting  at a party.  Reeves  wakes up the next morning and realizes he has slept with wife of  Eddie Mannix. The Eddie Mannix who runs MGM studio.  This fact does not sit well for his career or so he thinks.

The relationship grows and Reeves auditions for a cheap television show called SUPERMAN which he doesn’t think will last but it’s money.

The picture moves  back to the present with Simo convincing  Reeves’ mother Helen Bessolo (Lois Smith) that she should pursue the truth by getting the right headline in bold type.  Bessolo is convinced her  son did not commit suicide and  agrees to pay Simo to find the truth. She can only pay by cheque, though.

The investigation and Reeves’  career and  relationship with Tonie Mannix  go back and forth in a non confusing pattern to the story.    The picture reaches  a  conclusion that is somewhat ambiguous, but it was dealing with the actual events.  Along the way we  meet a series of  interesting characters like Reeves’ manager  Art Weisman, played  with style  by Jeffery DeMunn.  The actor may appear to be a cliche  manager; he is always fast talking  with a smooth, almost friendly approach that I think is a blend of  people like Lew Wasserman who ruled  Hollywood after the  studio system’s collapse

Robin Tunney does a  funny and aggressive  turn as Lenore Lemon. She was  the  woman that broke up  Reeves and  Tonie Mannix.  Lemon is a gold  digging, dark haired woman in the femme fatale tradition.  Tunney plays her with gusto and  open sexuality in clothes and manners representative of ‘party girls’ that attended  functions to be with them and perhaps  get money or  recognition.


Ben Affleck does  well as  George Reeves. He apparently threw himself into research for the role.  Affleck watched the entire  SUPERMAN television series, and studied Reeves’ voice patterns  in tapes and commercials.   He does an excellent job with some  minor makeup additions to his face to look like Reeves, particularly in the credits of  the  SUPERMAN television series.  Affleck later said he took the role because it was a broken character, plus it distanced him from the large budget pictures he had been cast in before.

A tension filled moment happens when Reeves,  in a live action stunt as  Superman is confronted by a  child who  unwittingly points  a real gun at him, wanting to see the bullets  bounce off.  Interestingly,  both Lane as Martha Kent and Affleck as  Bruce Wayne/Batman would connect in another superhero drama,  JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017).

Diane Lane shine as Tonie Mannix with laughter, a beguiling smile, wonderful  face and  eyes  that seem to dig right into Affleck on screen.  Lane  wears the clothes well, as do all the actors.  Tonie Mannix  was a former  dancer. It was a shame that that was not put into the screenplay.

Bob Hoskins as  Eddie Mannix and Joe Spano as Howard Strickling absolutely steal the show.  Hoskins is tough and coarse, almost  Tony Soprano like in his physicality and voice. Mannix was connected and this maybe an exaggeration.  Hoskins jumps out of one particular scene  when Reeves, Tonie, Mannix and his Asian mistress are at dinner. Reeves tries to engage Mannix’s mistress in conversation when Mannix growls at him not to talk to her.  When Reeves inquires as to why Mannix tells him with a wry smile that she  doesn’t  know  English.

Joe Spano also comes  across  as  the smooth yet direct Howard Strickling whose job is  to make things right when something prevents one person from buying a  ticket to a  film.  Spano’s  Strickling is smooth and erudite with a hint  of menace. He is someone who does his job with ruthless precision.  Hoskins and  Spano both make the best of  limited  screen time, which makes what they do more interesting.

The key scene, and  you can take from it what you will, is between Mannix and Tonie.   Tonie has just told Eddie that Reeves is leaving her. Mannix tells her  that she is lovely and he will do anything to protect her happiness.  HOLLYWOODLAND  shows three examples of  Simo’s possible investigation by presenting three ways  that  Reeves may have  died.  Each is different, some  conjecture, but they are presented as ideas of what might have happened.

HOLLYWOODLAND (2006) was helmed by  television director  Allan Coulter who replaced Mark and Michael Polish. They were up and coming filmmakers who worked  with actors James Woods and Nick Nolte on successful Festival Feature NORTHFORK (2003) and the Billy Bob Thornton feature THE ASTRONAUT FARMER (2006).

Facts are changed, characters are written in and events  are  condensed in HOLLYWOODLAND (2006). The facts  are that Mannix  did have  a wife named  Tonie who had numerous  affairs of which he had  full knowledge and encouraged. Mannix  encouraged them because  it made Tonie happy.   Mannix also had an Asian mistress among others, all with full knowledge of his  wife.

HOLLYWOODLAND (2006) is as entertaining as the historical fiction or fact books one finds on the  shelves.  Symbolism abounds  with what we do for money, also that we  don’t listen to people or really know what they do.  How much to we  really know people is brought  out with a moment between Kit and Simo at night.  Simo really doesn’t know what Kit can do or  what she is capable of.

If one watches HOLLYWOODLAND (2006) for the well paced action, the characters, brilliant wardrobe plus cars and  a story of what might have happened without hitting one  with conclusion over the head then it is enjoyment.  Reeve’s death is  still a true  event in Hollywood history that has been officially solved. Or has it?


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