During the 1950s Hollywood, an independent producer unwisely opens a can of worms when he decides to make a movie about the 1929 unsolved murder of a famous silent-film director.During the 1950s Hollywood, an independent producer unwisely opens a can of worms when he decides to make a movie about the 1929 unsolved murder of a famous silent-film director.During the 1950s Hollywood, an independent producer unwisely opens a can of worms when he decides to make a movie about the 1929 unsolved murder of a famous silent-film director.
"Hollywood Story" was made the year after "Sunset Boulevard", which had revived interest in the silent era. While Gloria Swanson and von Stroheim had leading roles in "Sunset" the old stars who appeared in "Story" (I confess I'd only heard of Francis X. Bushman) had the briefest of walk-ons, as themselves. While the screenwriter in "Sunset" was handsome young William Holden, the one in "Story" is played by Henry Hull as a drunken wreck, living in squalor, who hasn't written a film since the coming of sound, so has never written dialogue, which makes you wonder why the hero hired him. Fred Clark, BTW, was in both films, and Swanson's character was called Norma Desmond, combining the names of silent movie director William Desmond Taylor and his lover Mabel Normand, one of several people suspected of his murder in 1922, which remains unsolved to this day.
Independent producer Larry O'Brien arrives to make his first Hollywood film and on a tour of the old studio he plans to use becomes fascinated by the story of the murder of a silent movie director called Franklin Farrara who was killed in a bungalow on the lot. He wants to film the story, but to do that he must solve the mystery. People try to dissuade him, including one who takes a shot at him. Richard Conte may be ethnically incorrect casting as Larry O'Brien (Edmond O'Brien, also big in 1951, would have been more appropriate) but he makes a very personable hero, and Richard Egan is wonderfully laid-back as a sympathetic cop: in those days actors playing cops worked hard at being tough and unsmiling. There's admirable support from Clark, Hull, Jim Backus and Houseley Stevenson, and the photography is excellent.
All in all a most enjoyable film. A bit naughty, though, to pretend that the fictional Farrara directed the 1925 Lon Chaney "Phantom of the Opera" and that the heroine's mum was Chaney's co-star. Still, Rupert Julian was dead and Nora Philbin had been a recluse ever since the coming of sound and probably never saw "Hollywood Story."
- Feb 13, 2021