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Film / The Hoax

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The Hoax is a 2006 American drama film directed by Lasse Hallström starring Richard Gere, Alfred Molina and Marcia Gay Harden loosely based on the true story of Clifford Irving and his fake autobiography of Howard Hughes.

Clifford Irving (Gere) is a struggling writer whose latest book (which he believes will finally propel him into the big time) was rejected by his publisher. Angered at the rejection and their subsequent indifference, Irving claims he is working on "the book of the century" and that they will heavily regret it if they reject him again. While brainstorming with his friend and fellow author Richard Suskind (Molina), he has the idea of claiming that he was hired by Howard Hughes himself to write his autobiography. Since by this point Hughes was well into his reclusive phase and leery of legal action, Irving believes he is comitting The Perfect Crime. However, the public isn't easy to fool, prompting an elaborate con on the part of Irving, his wife Edith (Hayden) and Suskind to track down everything that can be used to make the book look authentic, such as signatures, documents, etc.


...of course, this would all come crashing down if Hughes himself suddenly came out of seclusion to deny ever dealing with Irving but what are the odds of that happening?

This film contains examples of:

  • The Con
  • The Consigliere: Noah Dietrich used to be this to Howard Hawks. Then they fell out and Dietrich wrote memoirs detailing his experiences with Hawks, which served as the basis for the forged autobiography.
  • Giftedly Bad: Noah Dietrich's manuscripts are said to be poorly written gossip.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with an elaborate deception by Irving in which a helicopter supposedly carrying Howard Hughes nearly lands on top of a publisher's building before veering away. Then the story proper starts.
  • Lovable Rogue: Irving is portrayed this way, as an eccentric con man.
  • Only Sane Man: Suskind, who is the voice of reason caught up in Irving's hare-brained scheme.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The real Clifford Irving called out the film as this, to the point that despite having worked as a consultant for the film, he demanded his name removed from the credits.
    Irving: As played by Richard Gere – an actor I admire – Movie Clifford is desperate and humorless, a washed-up hack writer who lives in a conservative New York suburb. In fact I had a multi-book contract with my publisher and enjoyed the good life on Ibiza, a sunny Mediterranean island where I owned a beautiful fifteen-room farmhouse. Movie Clifford has the energy of a not-too-bright psychopath. If I were that man, I'd shoot myself. The movie misses the point that the Howard Hughes hoax was a live-action adventure story concocted by two middle-aged hippie expat writers and a Swiss heiress. Edith, my then-wife, a woman of great zest, is portrayed as a dull hausfrau; and Nina van Pallandt, my Danish mistress, as barely one level above a New York hotel hooker. Dick Suskind, witty friend and co-conspirator, is offered to the public as a self-righteous, sweaty buffoon. The scenes that deal with Movie Clifford feuding with Movie Dick, getting him drunk and hiring a bargirl to seduce him, are totally fictional. The Hughes people mailing the package of files to me is also made up.
    • Irving kept up the hoax for a while after Hughes's audio press conference, not admitting anything until one of his publishers directly accused him of fraud.