Monday, June 1, 2020
Mill Creek has recently released what they call a "Classic Crime Double Feature" on Blu-ray. The gimmick is that both films on it (HOLLYWOOD STORY and NEW ORLEANS UNCENSORED) were directed by the famed William Castle. Before Castle re-invented himself in the late 1950s as a self-proclaimed master of exploitative shock, he helmed several low-budget Hollywood features.
The first film I'll be looking at is HOLLYWOOD STORY, a 1951 murder mystery made by Universal. It concerns a New York producer named Larry O'Brien (Richard Conte), who has traveled to Hollywood to make his first movie on the West Coast. While examining a run-down studio lot, O'Brien finds out that a leading silent film director named Franklin Farrara was murdered on it in 1929. The case was never solved. O'Brien thinks that Farrara's story would make a great picture, and he begins to investigate what actually happened to the murder victim. O'Brien is warned off the case by a number of people, most of them suspects themselves. The producer keeps digging, endangering his own life along the way.
HOLLYWOOD STORY is an okay B picture which will be of interest to film buffs. Many real-life Hollywood locations are used (at one point we are shown a Christmas parade going by Grauman's Chinese Theater). One can't help but think of SUNSET BOULEVARD when discussing HOLLYWOOD STORY, but Castle's approach is far lighter in tone. Four silent film veterans are given cameos here: Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum, Helen Gibson, and Betty Blythe. SUNSET BOULEVARD portrayed leftovers from the silent era as veritable phantoms, but the quartet of past stars in HOLLYWOOD STORY are shown as happy and well-adjusted.
Conte's investigation of the long-ago murder of a silent film director brings to mind the real-life homicide of William Desmond Taylor. Taylor's case had all sorts of tawdry details attached to it, while Franklin Farrara's murder is humdrum in comparison. At one point Conte goes to a screening room to see some of Farrara's movies....and a clip of the 1925 PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is shown. It is stated that it was directed by Franklin Farrara! (This must have been big news to any of Rupert Julian's relations.)
One of the major attributes of HOLLYWOOD STORY is its supporting cast of fine character actors, such as Henry Hull, Fred Clark, Jim Backus, and Paul Cavanagh. The story is much enlivened by the always welcome presence of Julie Adams, who plays the daughter of a silent screen actress who was involved with Franklin Farrara. Richard Egan plays a police lieutenant that acts so shady, you wonder if he had something to do with the murder. Joel McCrea has a cameo as himself (he's working on the set of a movie that Conte happens to be visiting).
I've always thought that William Castle, once you take away his gimmicks, had a somewhat flat directorial style. HOLLYWOOD STORY has a livelier tone than Castle's usual work, but that's probably due to the fact that Castle didn't produce as well. The style here owes more to what Universal was doing at the time than Castle. The actual mystery isn't all that mysterious, due to the fact that there's not that many suspects.
Surprisingly, Mill Creek gives each of the two films on this set its own disc. HOLLYWOOD STORY is in black & white with a standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The sound and picture quality are fine, and there are no extras.
HOLLYWOOD STORY is a decent film, and at 77 minutes, it won't take up too much of your time. But don't expect a hard-edged thriller.