A far more successful nostalgia exercise than “Nickelodeon,” 2001’s “The Cat’s Meow” speculates on the death of Old Hollywood mogul Thomas Ince aboard publisher William Randolph Hearst’s yacht in 1924, dramatizing the longstanding rumor that a jealous Hearst shot Ince by accident, intending to kill Charlie Chaplin instead. This rumor had been of interest to Bogdanovich for decades, ever since Orson Welles told him that the incident was included in an early draft of “Citizen Kane,” as the title character was infamously modeled after Hearst.
Working off of Steven Peros’ adaptation of his own stage play, the film gathers a cast of famous faces playing other famous faces, notably comedian Eddie Izzard as Chaplin, Edward Hermann as Hearst, and Kirsten Dunst as Marion Davies, Hearst’s mistress whose brief affair with Chaplin sets the plot in motion. A stray bowler hat seals the fate of Ince, played by Cary Elwes, as Hearst pulls the trigger on the wrong man.
Co-starring Jennifer Tilly as longtime Hearst gossip maven Louella Parsons, “The Cat’s Meow” marked something of a career comeback, earning Bogdanovich some of his best reviews in years, particularly for its strong ensemble and Hollywood insider flourishes.