The Cat's Meow (2002) - Synopsis

From award-winning screenwriter Steven Peros and acclaimed director Peter Bogdanovich comes THE CAT'S MEOW, an extraordinary look at a fateful excursion of "fun and frolic" aboard William Randolph Hearst's private yacht in November of 1924 that brought together some of the century's best-known personalities and resulted in a still-unsolved, hushed-up killing. As Hearst and his lover actress Marion Davies set sail from San Pedro Harbor early one Saturday morning. They host a small group that includes the brilliant but self-absorbed Charlie Chaplin, film pioneer Thomas Ince preoccupied with his recent financial setbacks, ambitious gossip columnist Louella Parsons, and the eccentric British Victorian novelist Elinor Glyn. Quickly, however, it becomes clear that although witty repartee is the order of the day, deceit and deception are also on the menu.

Everyone, it seems, has a secret agenda: Ince, whose pioneering work in defining the role of the film producer has been favorably compared to D. W. Griffith's contributions to directing, is determined to seal a partnership with Hearst's Cosmopolitan Pictures despite W. R. 's seeming lack of interest; New York-based film critic Louella Parsons has her eye on a transfer to the west coast where she can cover the film industry more intimately; Ince's lover, actress Margaret Livingston, no longer cares to keep their affair a secret; Hearst himself suspects that his paramour Davies has been unfaithful with the legendary comic Chaplin; and Chaplin indeed schemes to steal away the beautiful actress from the richest man in the world.

The boat sets off, and the first evening's dinner gives way to frenetic dancing to the on-board jazz band, followed by a screening of Ms. Davies' latest film. From there the late-night revelries shift to individual cabins for bootleg whiskey and other tempting, though illicit, nocturnal activities.

Meanwhile, Ince stokes Hearst's flames of jealousy and offers to "keep an eye on" Ms. Davies if the two men were to unite their filmmaking enterprises. At the same time, Elinor warns Marion away from the predatory advances of the womanizing Chaplin. Hearst is further incensed when a late-night wire comes in to report that a rival newspaper will publish an item romantically linking Chaplin and Davies.

The next day Hearst's party guests are treated to an unusual display when their host fires a cannonball into the stomach of a brawny vaudevillian named "Mr. Cannonball. " Meanwhile, lawyer George Thomas warns the increasingly desperate Ince not to turn over to Hearst a love letter to Marion that the producer stole from Chaplin's cabin. That afternoon, as Margaret reveals to anyone who'll listen that she is Thomas Ince's lover, Marion pleads with Charlie to keep his distance, though they cannot deny their mutual attraction.

That night, Ince fuels Hearst's jealousy into a bonfire. In an attempt to further ingratiate himself to close the partnership deal, he hands Hearst the crumpled love letter that he stole from Chaplin's wastebasket. Later, as figures come and go, trading whispered conversations in the shadows, the events of the last two days hurtle toward a dramatic moment of tragedy and a single gunshot echoes in the night. The events of that evening affect the lives of every celebrity on board the ship, and before the excursion is over, all will learn the painfully high price of their precarious success.

© Lions Gate Films