We think of Superhero worship as a recent trend, with Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, and D.C.’s filmography building upon the walks of Sam Rami and Tim Burton. Yet almost half a century earlier, the televised adventures of Superman were catapulting struggling actor George Reeves into a household name. Until that all ended with the star’s tragic, and mysterious death, in 1959. In 2006, A film set out to try to answer that question, or at least present the truth and legends for the audience to make up their minds, in the crazy world known as Hollywoodland.
We follow private investigator, Louis Simo, who sees dollar signs over a potential murder that the cops are hesitant to look further into. The victim in question is rising actor, George Reeves, the star of the successful Superman serial. His death is ruled a suicide, but Simo isn’t buying it. Attempting to get the murky truth of The death of Superman, Simo will discover the late star had an interesting life, both before and after the series elevated him to fame. Simo will also come face to face with infamous film producer Eddie Mannix, whose wife, Toni, may have had more than a professional interest in Reeves, as three possible probabilities prevent themselves.
Hollywoodland wisely crafts Simo’s investigation as an appealing framing device. As a relative outsider, Simo allows an easy entry point to see the facts from an audience’s perspective. Who’s involved, how their stories conflate, and the impact of Reeves’s death on Hollywood. Especially with Simo’s son, showing the colossal impact that the televised serial’s contribution to building up the mythos of Superman is more than a nice touch. Caveat emptor, as legal wrangling does limit how much of Superman can be referenced by the film. Although Hollywoodland manages to overcome these difficulties and tell its tale sufficiently, even if they did have to change the name and some iconography to do so.
Hollywoodland does more to live up to its name; Aspects that are real, documented, or lost in legend are recanted here. The oft-repeated tale of the young boy with a loaded gun, and the way Reeves deflected the situation, is depicted here. Whether this happened is debatable, but it is just one of the tall tales that come from the legend. Much like the Black Dahlia, we will never know for certain what happened, but Hollywoodland manages to tell three convincing narratives and manages to ask all the right questions. The focus on the infamous Hollywood personality Eddie Mannix (played by Bob Hoskins) is another fascinating wrinkle in this true-crime mystery.
While the legend of Superman has outlived Reeves’s tragic passing, the murky details and scandalous rumours very much remain. These details still make for an interesting story. Similarities to the Noir-like True-Crime mystery dramas like The Black Dahlia are bound to reveal themselves. You’re given a lot of evidence to make up your mind, and we will never know fully what happened. Hollywoodland also presents a cinematic rise and fall that provides a fascinating case of the Hollywood of old, and a captivating true-crime mystery to boot. Superman may be dead, yet his story will far live on, fuelled by a fervent pursuit of truth, justice, and the American way.
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