Created by Paul Bernbaum
For truth, justice and the American way…
LOUIS SIMO is the fictional private eye set loose to investigate the mysterious real-life death of 1950s actor George Reeves in Hollywoodland, director Allen Coulter and writer Paul Bernbaum’s ambitious 2006 release.
It’s actually two films, really, or rather two separate but interwoven stories, with the director using light and shadow (and careful choices of sound and music) to great effect to differentiate between the two plot lines. The first covers the life of George Reeves, the struggling and increasingly bitter B-actor who finally made the big time relatively late in life, as the star of TV’s Adventures of Superman, only to find his fan base consisting almost entirely of young boys and himself hopelessly typecast and virtually unemployable when the show ended.
But his misery all came to an end when his body was discovered in the Benedict Canyon home he shared with his fiancée on June 16, 1959, the victim of a single gunshot wound to the head. The initial coroner’s report ruled it self-inflicted although there has always been plenty speculation about that verdict, including one theory that fingered notorious studio fixer and later MGM studio head Eddie Mannix as having Reeves murdered for once having an affair with his wife Toni.
The tagline for the film is “Living in Holly wood can make you famous. Dying in Hollywood can make you a legend” and that’s certainly the case here. George Reeves wasn’t exactly a household name — except to the millions of kids who watched his show–and he’d merely be a Trivial Pursuit question now, except for the murky circumstances surrounding his death.
Which is where the other story in the film begins. Private eye Simo is hired by Helen Besselo, Reeves’ mother, to look into the death but becomes obsessed with cracking the case even after his client backs out.
Granted, Simo doesn’t have much else going on in his life at the moment. He’s recently been booted out by both the detective agency he worked for, and by his wife — and his young son doesn’t really want to have much to do with him, either.
Simo’s investigation and his car wreck of a personal life alternate with flashbacks of (and neatly parallel) the middle-aged Reeves’ growing dissatisfaction with his success — and this is what gives the film its power. There are echoes of other classic Hollywood noirs here, most particularly Sunset Boulevard, and plenty of play is given to the notion of Hollywood as the great wrong place, the black hole where ego and greed meet, and dreams go to die.
The film received generally favourable reviews, and Ben Affleck’s performance, all hollow smiles and Brylcreem, was much lauded (The New York Times even tagged it “subtle and effective”), and gave his then-flailing career a much-needed boost. Brody’s also worth watching–he plays Simo as a cocky, toothpick-chomping private eye whose ingratiating smugness totters on the edge of annoying–and more than a little reminiscent (perhaps deliberately?) of Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes in Chinatown. And Bob Hoskins and Diane Lane do a star turn together, as a thug-like MGM fixer and his bedroom-eyed wife.
The film’s biggest flaw–at least for some–is the lack of definitive answers surrounding Reeves death. But hey, it’s noir, as the ads keep telling us. And in noir, such murkiness isn’t a bug; it’s almost a prerequisite.
As Simo proceeds with his investigation, we’re treated to a slew of possible scenarios and two or three plausible (well, sorta) solutions. We’re never really left, however, with any definite answer–a common problem when filmmakers play with real events and real people, and particularly with unsolved crimes.
Fiction has to make sense and have some sort of point — real life doesn’t.
- Just in case you were wondering, sure, Louis Simo may have been a fictional character, but there was a real-life detective who investigated the “suicide” of George Reeves. His name was Milo Speriglio and he was a rookie operative for the Nick Harris Detective Agency of Los Angeles which Helen Besselo, Reeves’ mother, actually had hired. And like Simo, he’d suffered marital problems. Speriglio died of lung cancer in April of 2000 at the age of 62, but he swore until his dying days that Reeves had been murdered. “Not everyone believed it then, nor do they believe it now. I am one of those who does not.” Evidently, the character’s name was changed at the request of Speriglio’s relatives.
It should be noted that Reeves’ mother initially hired hot shot Hollywood shyster Jerry Geisler, who never found anything to suggest foul play. He was never able to convince his client, though, and she maintained until her death in 1964 that her son had been murdered.
- Ben Affleck has now played Daredevil, Superman and Batman.
- HOLLYWOODLAND | Buy the DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray | Watch it now!
(2006, Focus Features/Miramax)
Tagline: Living in Holly wood can make you famous. Dying in Hollywood can make you a legend.
Screenplay by Paul Bernbaum
Directed by Allen Coulter
Director of photography: Jonathan Freeman
Edited by Michael Berenbaum
Original Music by Marcelo Zarvos
Historical consultant: Jim Beaver
Produced by Glenn Williamson
Assistant producer: Brian Schornak
Executive producers: Paul Bernbaum, J. Miles Dale, Jake Myers, Joe Pichirallo
Starring Adrien Brody as LOUIS SIMO
with Ben Affleck as George Reeves
Also starring Diane Lane, Bob Hoskins, Lois Smith, Robin Tunney, Molly Parker, Joe Spano, Ted Atherton, Daisy Fuentes
- Hollywoodland: The Best Neo-Noir You Probably Haven’t Seen
Sabina Stent reminds everyone of this great little film (January 2021, CrimeReads)