If only the Lake Theatre were showing Chinatown and LA Confidential along with its current offerings, Hollywoodland and The Black Dahlia, we could have the Oak Park Film Noir Hollywood Film Festival. I love these movies because even when they’re not so good, the atmosphere they evoke is so cool, I almost always enjoy the experience. Pastel stucco, tendrils of cigarette smoke, the clink of cocktail glasses and beautiful women with their too-red lipstick evoke a time and place where dreams become reality, but often at an awful price.

Hollywoodland is the better of the two movies. It poses the question whether the June 16, 1959 death of George Reeves, who played Superman on TV, was a result of his own hand or someone else’s. Although the official inquiry concluded suicide, this movie raises some plausible alternate possibilities.

These possibilities include Reeves’ golddigger fiance Lenore Lemmon (Robin Tunney of TV’s Prison Break). Or maybe it was Toni Mannix, played by the great Diane Lane, as the older woman losing her good looks. Or even Toni’s thuggish husband, studio boss Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins). These alternate histories are presented in flashbacks as we follow the investigation of the death by a seedy detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor in The Piano Player).

Ben Affleck does a nice job capturing George Reeves’ dream to be taken seriously as an actor, made difficult by playing a superhero in tights and a cape. The ending’s non-resolution was a bit disappointing, but this movie is probably worth your time and money.

The Black Dahlia is not. Like Hollywoodland, this movie examines a specific event-the brutal murder of actress wannabe Elizabeth “Betty” Short on Jan. 15, 1947. Two of L.A.’s finest are assigned the case. Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnet who is a bit callow for the role) and Aaron Eckhart who did such a great job in Thank You For Smoking. The ubiquitous Scarlett Johansson plays the shared girlfriend. Be assured that there is no risk here that I will disclose the critical twists and turns of the multi-layered investigation and plot because I didn’t understand it. I think director Brian De Palma had a Chinatown homage in mind, but that movie eventually made sense. This one doesn’t.

Another thing, at least for movies like Black Dahlia, I think that in addition to the no talking/no cellphone admonitions preceding the movie, there should have been a warning to avoid laughing out loud at some serious overacting and scene-chewing by, in particular, Ms. Fiona Shaw and Ms. Hilary Swank. I apologize to all in attendance for my inappropriate guffaws at the 4:15 p.m. Friday showing at The Lake.

Hollywood and the movies are an essential symbol of the American experience. Not everyone can be elected president, but anyone can be a star (ask Brittany Spears). Generations of attractive young men and women like George Reeves and Betty Short have made the long journey to California hoping to find fame and fortune. Most never find it and wind up disillusioned, bitter, alone or even dead like poor Betty. Others, like George Reeves, may temporarily realize their dreams, but as the hair thins and the flesh sags, their dreams fade to sad as well.

Yet knowing all this, there is still something magical about the possibility and the promise of being a movie star. There will be other George’s and Betty’s. There will always be Hollywood.

-John Hubbuch

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