HOLLYWOOD STORY(director: William Castle; screenwriters: Fred Kohner/Fred Brady; cinematographer: Carl Guthrie; editor: Virgil Vogel; music: Joseph Gershenson; cast: Richard Conte (Larry O’Brien), Julia Adams (Sally Rousseau), Richard Egan (Lt. Bud Lennox), Henry Hull (Vincent St. Clair), Fred Clark (Sam Collyer), Jim Backus (Mitch Davis), Houseley Stevenson (Mr. John Miller), Paul Cavanagh (Roland Paul), Joel McCrea (Himself), Francis X. Bushman (Himself), Helen Gibson (Herself); Runtime: 76; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Leonard Goldstein; Universal-International; 1951)
“A fairly absorbing crime thriller whose plot involves a look at Hollywood’s silent stars.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A fairly absorbing crime thriller whose plot involves a look at Hollywood’s silent stars. The film tries to capitalize on the success of the similar themed silent film modern day venture “Sunset Boulevard,” which was released in 1950. Hotshot NYC stage director Larry O’Brien (Richard Conte) comes out to Hollywood to co-produce his first film with his longtime friend Sam Collyer (Fred Clark). Larry’s agent is his thirtysomething high school classmate who has lived in Hollywood for years, Mitch Davis (Jim Backus). When Mitch takes him over to an abandoned lot that hasn’t been used since the silent picture days, Larry becomes obsessed with an unsolved murder story that the old-timer security guard John Miller tells him happened there 22 years ago. A famous Hollywood silent screen director, Ferrera, was killed on January, 5, 1929, in his bungalow on the lot while an automatic piano player was playing. Members of Ferrera’s studio were suspected, but none charged. Roland Paul (Cavanagh) was a bit player, who was the chief suspect but was never charged because of lack of evidence. The studio star was the beautiful Amanda Rousseau, whose career came to a screeching end because she was rumored to be having an affair with Roland. Larry thinks he found a good story here, and becomes so obsessed with it that he decides to make a film about the murder despite the objections from Collyer and Mitch.
Lt. Bud Lennox (Egan) shows up at the studio when he hears about Larry’s project and tells him that an unsolved murder case is never closed. After researching the Ferrera biography by watching all his silent pics, Larry talks with the movie veterans staying at the Hollywood home for actors, checks the police files, the LA Times’ news stories, and visits the Good Shepherd Church in Capistrano where the Ferrera family attended church. Larry also seeks out the has-been screenwriter of some of Ferrera’s films, Vincent St. Clair (Henry Hull), and even though Vincent is a boozer who hasn’t had a job in 22 years, he’s offered the job as the film’s screenwriter.
While on the lot, someone fires a warning at Larry to stop making the film. Larry is soon visited by Sally Rousseau (Julia Adams), who lives back east with her mother Amanda. She came to Hollywood to beg Larry to not open up old wounds and make the film. Also in town making a film, is Roland Paul. Larry learns that Roland is Sally’s father, as Amanda was secretly married to him at the time but had fallen in love with Ferrera and divorced him. The marriage was a secret because that’s the way the studio wanted it in those days.
When Larry gets a tip about the killer from Ferrera’s crooked secretary who hasn’t been located since the murder, he goes to meet him at a dumpy Ocean Park hotel and is willing to pay him shakedown money for any valuable info. But the informer is killed.
The climax makes for a hard to guess whodunit and a nice peek into the silent film era and at some silent stars who make a cameo appearance and speak a few lines, like Helen Gibson and Francis X. Bushman. Joel McCrea is also saddled with a bit speaking part, as he’s observed shooting a scene with Roland Paul on the Universal lot. The only thing that failed to work smoothly into the twisty script by Fred Kohner and Fred Brady and the confident direction of William Castle, was the romance between Adams and Conte. They end up getting married at the film’s conclusion in a vain attempt to make this dark story seem lighter.
REVIEWED ON 10/7/2002 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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