Here’s the thing about movies that are So Bad They’re Good.
They usually have a ridiculous plot, yet there’s an earnestness about them that endear you. Sometimes the plots beggar belief (e.g. Plan 9 from Outer Space), but it’s the incredulousness that keeps you watching.
Then you have a movie like Hollywood Story (1951). This film, directed, surprisingly, by William Castle, is a low-key affair loosely based on the real-life murder of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor in 1922.
(Taylor was officially found dead in his home the morning of February 2, 1922, although he’d been murdered the night before. There are some unusual circumstances surrounding this murder, such as the delay in notifying the police and a possible tampering of the murder scene. The case remains Unsolved To This Day.)
In Hollywood Story, Richard Conte plays a New York filmmaker who visits Los Angeles. He’s scouting around for Movie Ideas, and he stumbles upon the unsolved 1929 murder of a director. Conte becomes mildly obsessed with this murder, and decides to make a film about it.
However, not everyone wants Conte digging around in this business, and his life is soon in Danger.
Sounds like a great premise, right? It is! There are lots of suspects and secrets, as well there should be in a Hollywood murder mystery.
The pacing of the film is clunky, and there are some pretty significant plot holes. We also kept wondering how the energy of the film might change if police lieutenant Richard Egan were cast in the role of the NYC filmmaker.
The ending is a Letdown, as well, because there aren’t enough clues throughout the story to make a reasonable guess re: the murderer.
All of this, oddly enough, contributes to it being a Must See film for classic movie fans. The movie is a mess, but what unsolved murder isn’t messy? There’s no clear direction for the characters to follow, because the Trail is So Old.
So all this fumbling gives us an unexpected bonus: A loving tour of silent-era Hollywood.
When Conte first arrives in Hollywood, he’s given access to the studio bungalow of the murdered director. And hey look! All deceased’s papers and belongings are still here! “This is where they found the body,” says the chatty security guard, who clearly has no compunctions about letting Just Anyone In.
As word about the film gets Around Town, real celebs from the silent era show up at the studio casting office, because they, too, are curious what Conte is uncovering in regards to the murder. These stars include Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum, and Betty Blythe.
Filming locations for Hollywood Story include The Roosevelt Hotel, the old Chaplin studio, Santa Monica pier, Ciro’s Restaurant, and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. It’s like a time-travelogue; when you see all these famous Hollywood landmarks, it almost doesn’t matter what the plot is.
Should you see this film? If you’re a fan of Old Hollywood, or a William Castle completist, then definitely Yes. If, however, you’re after a well-paced, solid mystery, you may want to pass.
This post is part of The Fourth So Bad It’s Good Blogathon, hosted by Taking Up Room.
Hollywood Story: starring Richard Conte, Julie Adams, Richard Egan. Directed by William Castle. Written by Frederick Kohner & Frederick Brady. Universal Pictures, 1951, B&W, 77 mins.