HOLLYWOOD, April 15 (UPI) -- Hollywood's most scarlet woman and her powerful, intimating lover are the principals in the new movie "The Cat's Meow."
It is a licentious story of a sexy blonde movie star and a publishing giant who built a film company solely for the purpose of making his mistress a movie queen.
The screenplay deals with the biggest scandal in Tinseltown history: the murder of filmmaker Thomas Ince aboard William Randolph Hearst's luxurious yacht involving the town's most infamous kept woman, Marion Davies.
"The Cat's Meow" marks the return of director Peter Bogdanovich to bigtime moviemaking with a curious cast and a story based on rumor and gossip.
All the principals are dead but well remembered.
The so-called murder of Ince is based entirely on speculation but it makes a compelling story.
Yes, Thomas Ince died in 1924 of "heart failure" according to Los Angeles County records.
And who was Ince?
He was a prolific director with 151 silent films to his credit; producer of 131 of them and writer of 32. No one before or since has been as productive.
To this day in Culver City, near the old MGM Studios, is a thoroughfare named Ince Boulevard.
Bogdanovich has taken the legendary tale of his "murder" from the elaborate (and unproved) tale that Hearst shot and killed Ince aboard the publisher's yacht in a jealous rage, mistaking the luckless Ince for Charlie Chaplin, the incomparable comic genius of silent movies.
Hearst, and everyone aboard the yacht that fateful night in 1924 -- according to the script -- thought Davis and Chaplin were carrying on an affair right under Hearst's nose.
Clearly, writer Steven Peros and director Bogdanovich carefully researched the much-written about scandal to encompass almost all the popular scenarios rumored over the years about Ince's mysterious death and subsequent activities that hint at a cover-up.
Naturally, all rumors and stories were whispered behind closed doors until after Hearst's death because they were obviously libelous.
Even as he lay dying at his Beverly Hills home with Davies at his side in 1951, Hearst's power was awesome through his huge newspaper and magazine empire.
No one had the courage -- or insanity -- to insinuate in print or on film the story of Ince's death with impunity; there would have been ruinous reprisals by Hearst.
After all, at the height of his career, Hearst had been a member of Congress and a major influence in the Democratic Party, a man of fearsome power and vengeful personality.
While "The Cat's Meow" is entertaining and captures the flapper mentality of 1924, Bogdanovich might have lost some plausibility with his casting.
Key figure in the film is Marion Davies, a dazzling beauty brimming with charm, sex appeal, humor and mischief. In 1924 she was 27 years old, in the full bloom of her looks and figure.
Unfortunately, Bogdanovich chose to cast 19-year-old novice Kirsten Dunst to play Davies.
Dunst, cover girl on the May issue of Vanity Fair, is too young and inexperienced to have captured the ineffable wit and grace of Marion whose eyes seduced every man who fell under her spell.
Dunst plays Davies as a somewhat insecure teenage vamp with her eye on the main chance, making one wonder what Hearst or Chaplin could have seen in her.
Cary Elwes is superb as the urbane Thomas Ince and Edward Herrmann makes a fine W.R. Hearst, although the script, which often makes the majestic Hearst appear to be something of a clown, trips him up.
Even among close friends and his own family Hearst was an august figure of near-reverence.
He was an intimidating man in every respect who wielded the power and influence of a Renaissance nobleman.
Miscast entirely was Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin, a physically graceful, humorously sly skirt-chasing genius who doggedly pursued underage females.
Tilly plays Parson's like a gibbering idiot, which she was not. But Tilly's performance does lend comic relief to the tense drama of homicide at sea.
The yacht, cruising from San Pedro to San Diego on the blue Pacific, carries 14 passengers in spacious staterooms, dining room and other commodious cabins, which gives audiences the feeling of being aboard the Queen Elizabeth.
Only occasionally does the camera pick up a crew member wearing U.S. Navy garb. Throw in the crew and a full-time orchestra with the 14 partying guests, and audiences get the impression they are aboard a ship of the line rather than a pleasure yacht.
Then again, it's just a movie and an enjoyable one. It would never be mistaken for a documentary.