Directed by William Castle
Produced by Leonard Goldstein
Story and Screenplay by Frederick Kohner and Fred Brady
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
Film Editor: Virgil Vogel
Cast: Richard Conte (Larry O’Brien), Julie Adams (Sally/Amanda Rousseauz), Richard Egan (Police Lt. Bud Lennox), Henry Hull (Vincent St. Clair), Fred Clark (Sam Collyer), Jim Backus (Mitch Davis), Houseley Stevenson (John Miller), Paul Cavanagh (Roland Paul), Katherline Meskill (Mary), Louis Lettieri (Jimmy Davis), Francis X. Bushman, Betty Blythe, William Farnum, Helen Gibson, Joel McCrea
Art imitates life here. Hollywood Story (1951) concerns a producer (Richard Conte) solving an old Hollywood murder mystery, while prepping a movie about that mystery. It was based on the actual 1922 murder of director William Desmond Taylor. This scandalous crime, which created a media circus and plenty of completely fabricated news stories, was never solved.
Conte buys an old movie studio and learns of the murder that took place there. Intrigued, he decides to use it as the basis for his next picture, and he reaches out to a number of people who were working at the studio at the time — from a writer (Henry Hull) to the daughter of one of the studio’s biggest stars (Julie Adams). With that framework, the picture manages to follow the Taylor case fairly closely as Conte pieces together what happened.
William Castle directed several entries in Columbia’s The Whistler series, moody mini-noirs starring Richard Dix. They were excellent, and Castle’s same no-nonsense approach can be found here. Hollywood Story was done before Castle went gimmick crazy with his late 5os horror movies, but there’s a gimmick anyway, bringing in a few silent stars — Betty Blythe, Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum and Helen Gibson. Their parts mean nothing to the movie, but their names look good in the ads. (They were paid peanuts.)
This was one of a handful of pictures Castle did at Universal International. He did some cool stuff there — this one, Undertow (1949) and Cave Of Outlaws (1951) — before returning to Columbia, where he’d start working for producer Sam Katzman.
Hollywood Story gives us a great look at early 50s moviemaking, particularly at Universal International. Joel McCrea has a cameo in one of the on-the-set scenes. Judging from his costume, he might’ve been shooting Frenchie (1950) when his brief scene was done. We also visit a number of Hollywood points of interest — such as Jack’s At The Beach, Ciro’s, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Ocean Park Pier and the old Chaplin Studio (as the scene of the crime).
The cinematography from Carl E. Guthrie is terrific, adding plenty of mood when it’s needed and playing up the bright lights of Hollywood. Universal’s movies from the 50s, whether they were in Technicolor or black and white, have a real sparkle to them, thanks to masters like Guthrie. And that’s what makes this Blu-Ray such a great thing. It presents Guthrie’s work flawlessly. It’s much better than the old DVD. Brighter, with better contrast. It adds a level of depth you don’t see very often, which is really effective in the darker, scenes.
Hollywood Story is a solid movie, and it’s been given a sterling transfer for Blu-Ray. Mill Creek has paired it with Castle’s New Orleans Uncensored (1955). It looks great, too, and since each picture is on its own disc, the bit rates are quite high. They’re priced right, too. For William Castle fans, this set is an absolute must. More, please!