The Cat's Meow is a 2001 drama film directed by Peter Bogdanovich, starring Kirsten Dunst, Eddie Izzard, Edward Herrmann, Cary Elwes, Joanna Lumley, and Jennifer Tilly. The screenplay by Steven Peros is based on his play of the same title, which was inspired by the mysterious real-life death of film mogul Thomas H. Ince.
The film takes place aboard publisher William Randolph Hearst's yacht, on a weekend cruise celebrating Ince's 42nd birthday in November 1924. Among those in attendance are Hearst's longtime companion and film actress Marion Davies, fellow actor Charlie Chaplin, writer Elinor Glyn, columnist Louella Parsons and actress Margaret Livingston; the celebration, however, ends in an unusual death, which would go on to become subject of Hollywood folklore.
The Cat's Meow provides examples of the following tropes:
- Based on a True Story: It would be more accurate to say that the movie is Based On An Old Rumor. In fact, Ince took ill aboard the yacht but was still alive when he left, suffering from chest pains. He made it back to his home before he died of a heart attack.
- Costume Porn: The film makes good use of popular 1920s fashions.
- Doomed by Canon: Thomas Ince has to die mysteriously, and the death must remain unsolved (or at least unpunished).
- The Flapper: Didi and Celia.
- Historical Domain Character: All of them. Ince was a real guy who was a pioneer in the Early Films era and made epics like Civilization.
- Horrible Hollywood: Elinor has this view.Elinor Glyn: Only in a place like this do reporters and autograph hounds have absolutely no scruples about stampeding mourners at a funeral. Welcome to Hollywood, a land just off the coast of planet Earth.
- Intrepid Reporter: Lolly Parsons, who uncovers the truth regarding Ince's death, and who assures Hearst his secret will be safe in exchange for a lifetime contract with the Hearst Corporation, thus laying the groundwork for her lengthy career as one of Hollywood's most powerful gossip columnists.
- Left It In: When Ince goes to talk to Marion on the stairwell, you can see Cary Elwes snag his pocket on the banister and take a couple of seconds to unhitch it while speaking his lines. Director Peter Bogdanovich liked it and kept the cameras rolling.
- Meaningful Funeral: The film opens with a funeral and builds the mystery surrounding such a strange death.
- Murder by Mistake: Ince puts on Chaplin's hat and sits down to chat with Marion. Hearst shoots Ince in the back of the head, mistaking him for Chaplin.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: This was what Hearst intended to do, as he (rightly) suspected that something was going on between Marion and Charlie Chaplin.
- The Roaring '20s: The film takes place during the height of the roaring 1920s.
- '20s Bob Haircut: Surprisingly uncommon, though Didi does sport one.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: At the end of the movie, Elinor Glyn narrates what became of the principal characters after the events of the film.