Hollywood Story (1951) William Castle
Before he became the gimmick master of thrillers and horror movies in the late ‘50s, William Castle made several crime pictures including Hollywood Story (1951) for Universal International.
Richard Conte (center) plays Larry O’Brien, a New York producer who wants to transition to making movies in Hollywood. Thanks to his friend and publicist Mitch Davis (Jim Backus, right), O’Brien purchases an old studio that’s been vacant since the silent era. Once Davis leads O’Brien into the bungalow where the famous silent film director Franklin Ferrara was mysteriously murdered 20 years earlier, O’Brien knows he’s got his first picture idea: a documentary on Ferrara.
Davis tells his friend that neither he nor anyone else knows who killed Ferrara. “Someone knows,” O’Brien counters. “The person who killed him.”
O’Brien’s obsession with Ferrara leads to encounters with various people, all of whom become sources of information and potential suspects, including O’Brien’s business partner Sam Collyer (Fred Clark), who thinks the film project is a bad idea.
But there’s also Sally Rousseau (Julie Adams), a woman who knows the case and clearly has secrets of her own. And what about police Lieutenant Bud Lennox (Richard Egan, below), who appears to be sometimes assisting, sometimes hindering O’Brien’s investigation. But when a gunman’s bullet narrowly misses O’Brien, the filmmaker begins to think that digging into the case might be bad for his health.
Two things are clear: Hollywood Story is loosely based on the famous unsolved murder of William Desmond Taylor in 1922, and the picture is meant to capitalize on the then recent film Sunset Boulevard. When you understand that Hollywood Story was never meant to blow the lid off the William Desmond Taylor case, it becomes a fairly interesting venture, more mystery than noir.
Yet watching the film requires the viewer to ignore several questions in believability that could’ve brought the storyline to a complete halt, including plot holes (no, let’s call them craters), the idea that this bungalow has been sitting around untouched for over 20 years (combined with a security guard who’ll seemingly let anyone inside), and an extremely unlikely ending featuring some awful gunplay. As long as you go with the flow (or torrential flood), you’ve got a reasonably good shot at enjoying the picture.
My biggest problem with the film is that Richard Conte isn’t a tough guy here, although much of the problem comes from the way the part is written. Even when he knows he’s being lied to by multiple characters, O’Brien exactly doesn’t put on the heat. (It’s more like an old hand warmer.) Any halfway successful New York producer should have more bite than this guy. And of course an outsider with no previous knowledge of the case is going to be able to solve it in 77 minutes. Sure, no problem. Conte has often played smart characters with plenty of sense, but too many things come far too easy for O’Brien.
This is indeed a low-budget affair, but it features some good supporting players, including Fred Clark, Julie Adams, and Henry Hull. Plus you’ll see cameos from several actors from the silent era including Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum, Betty Blythe, Helen Gibson, and Joel McCrea, who appeared uncredited (as he does here) in several silent films before he became a major star.
You can find Hollywood Story on a 2-disc double feature (with another Castle film, New Orleans Uncensored) Blu-ray from Mill Creek as well as Essential Film Noir - Collection 2 from the Australian company Import, which also includes City That Never Sleeps (1953), Plunder of the Sun (1953), and Private Hell 36 (1954).
Photos from DVD Beaver and IMDb.