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    Scandals and Mystery in Hollywood History

    By Jan Wahl–

    It’s a perfect time to be swept away into intrigue, mayhem, and mystery … and I’m talking onscreen! Cinema comes through with engrossing mysteries and even mystery comedies to get us out of ourselves and into some terrific plots, characters, and who-the-heck-did-it. 

    Let’s begin with one of my favorite recent films that not enough people know about. 2006’s Hollywoodland stars a perfectly cast Ben Affleck as George Reeves, TV’s Superman. The word on the street and officially is that he died by suicide, distraught over his typecasting. The true story many of us knew about is that he was murdered. The morale turns out to be: be careful when having a steamy love affair. This engrossing film costars Adrian Brody, Bob Hoskins, and Diane Lane.   

    Another Hollywood scandal was brought to us by Peter Bogdanovich in 2002. The 1920s come alive in The Cat’s Meow, the true story of William Randolph Hearst’s luck and talent in getting away with murder. Aboard his gigantic yacht were Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies, Louella Parsons, and producer Thomas Ince. Hearst may have shot Ince, hid the evidence, and had his body immediately destroyed. Eddie Izzard is terrific as usual; watch for him as Chaplin. Costumes, sets, dialogue … it all works in this movie of money and power running the show.

    Two wonderful British TV series are worthy of searching out on BBC America, Google, or PBS. Inspector Morse stars John Thaw as a charismatic but complicated detective in Oxford. The series features gorgeous locations and smart intrigue. Endeavor is the prequel to this series, showing Morse as a young man fighting the system. Miss Marple has Joan Hickson as the sweet but sneaky little ol’ lady detective, able to solve crimes and get information far better than Scotland Yard. Margaret Rutherford played this part beautifully too, but this Jane Marple makes it all new again.   

    It does not get funnier than Neil Simon’s Murder by Death in 1976. The world’s great detectives (Sam Spade, Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles of The Thin Man, Miss Marple) are summoned by eccentric millionaire (Truman Capote) to guest at his remote mansion. Peter Sellars, David Niven, Maggie Smith, Peter Falk, and even Alec Guinness turn this mystery into a spoof full of out loud laughs. We could use it now. A rare chance to watch Capote at his best!

    We can’t leave the genre without at least one film noir. Murder My Sweet by Raymond Chandler in 1944 gives us Moose Malloy trying to find his love Velma. Phillip Marlowe is driven into a web of blackmail and murder. For years after this, I asked boyfriends to call me Velma. Weird, right? Guess I was looking for my Moose. As good as Dick Powell is in this, I’ll park my shoes next to Bob Mitchum.

    Some other mysteries to take us away: The DaVinci Code, Gorky Park, The Ipcress File, L.A. Confidential, The Fugitive, Chinatown, all six Thin Man’s, and The Player. Settle in and escape!

    Emmy Award-winner Jan Wahl is a renowned entertainment reporter, producer, and teacher. A member of the prestigious Directors Guild of America, she is regularly featured on KPIX television (every Monday morning starting at 6:15 am) and on KCBS AM & FM and other media outlets. To read and listen to her reviews for KCBS, go to: For more info about her remarkable life and career: Check out her entertaining and informative videos at

    Spotlight Film: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

    One of my favorite movies of all time, this is uplifting fun with poignant scenes you’ll never forget. Under the beads, feathers, and ABBA is one of the best closing sequences between a father and son ever put on film. But along the way is the story of two drag queens and a transgender female who journey across Australia’s outback in a decorated bus. 

    Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, and Guy Peace lead a strong group of character players. It is Stamp who stole my heart in this one, and he almost didn’t get cast because filmmakers were set on Tim Curry. I was fortunate to cruise with Stamp (on the QE2) and he told me of his anxiety at taking on this role since it was so different from his past. He was also steamed that To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar seemed to take away the originality of Priscilla

    Stamp’s character of Bernadette is completely original and touching. By the way, Stamp in person was one handsome hunk. But moving along, Priscilla won the Oscar for Best Costume Design, though I would have voted for this brilliant, bawdy, poignant classic as Best Picture of the Year! The late Steve Silver once rented a private screening room for a showing of this movie and a bunch of us watched it together. These are memories that matter, as does this fine film.      

    Published on May 7, 2020