Decades after he was pre-served in the black-and-white amber of Citizen Kane, William Randolph Hearst, that arche-typal American mogul-monster, is getting a second life in pop culture. First, there was HBO’s superb making-of-Kane docu-drama, RKO 281. Now, in The Cat’s Meow, director Peter Bogdanovich taps deep into the Hearst mystique, entertainingly reenacting a historic scandal that unfolded during a weekend cruise on Hearst’s yacht in 1924.
Hearst (Edward Herrmann), spying on everyone through his ship-floor peepholes, plays host to Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst), the movie-star mistress who obsessed him, and to Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), the man he suspects she’s having an affair with; also on board are producers, flappers, and the young Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly). Bogdanovich’s staging is lively in a superficial way, yet The Cat’s Meow has a famous-names-on-parade facileness. Its most resonant surprise is the way that Bogdanovich, who arguably let his obsession with Cybill Shepherd become the ruin of his film career, identifies with Hearst, played by Edward Herrmann in a performance of complex bully-ragging power. B+