Peter Bogdanovich’s The Cat’s Meow (2001) centers around the mysterious death that took place on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht that occurred either naturally, accidentally, or intentionally (depending on whose spin you believe) and appeared to have been covered up to protect the media mogul.
If you’re into 1920s costumes, this one really hits all the marks; costume designer Caroline de Vivaise pulled together a beautiful array of outfits for the characters in striking blacks and whites with little pops of color here and there to highlight significant plot points; apparently Bogdanovich wanted the entire film to be filmed in black and white, but it was vetoed by the studio — the monochrome color palette in the costumes was a compromise, and I think it works beautifully. The set is stunning — the stand-in for the Hearst’s yacht Oneida was the Marala, which didn’t launch until 1931, but provides a gorgeous Art Deco backdrop. The attention to detail in the film will appeal to any hard-ass costume historian, despite the occasional gaffe; the most egregious historical inaccuracy is that the American flag flying on Hearst’s ship has fifty stars, rather than the historically accurate 48 (for those not up on American history, Hawaii and Alaska had not yet been granted statehood in 1924).
Eddie Izzard and Kirsten Dunst are fabulous as the clandestine lovers Charlie Chaplin and Marion Davies (who may, or may not, have been engaged in an affair at this point) and Joanna Lumley continues to be my Everything in her role as novelist Elinor Glyn. Jennifer Tilly plays Hearst columnist Louella Parsons, and Cary Elwes is the revolutionary producer Thomas Ince who is experiencing something of a career downturn. Rounding out the principle cast is Edward Hermann as W.R. himself. For all its light-hearted veneer, the dramatic energy in The Cat’s Meow definitely kept me on the edge of my seat the events unfolded.
What do you think of the costumes in The Cat’s Meow? Share with us in the comments!