Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 2007. TLR Productions. Screenplay by David Stenn. Cinematography by Peter B. Good. Produced by David Stenn. Music by Hal Lindes. Production Design by Shawn Berry. Film Editing by Tessa Davis.
In the days when all of Hollywood was run by a handful of studios that operated as kingdoms of entertainment, MGM was the biggest and brightest, turning Louis B. Mayer into the richest man in the country in the middle of the Great Depression. MGM hosted its sales representatives, the people responsible for booking movies into theatres across the nation, at an annual convention that was, from the sounds of it, a giant bachelor party where the booze flowed and the girls were plentiful. The girls, it turns out, were contract players and extras who were usually tricked into attending these events by being told that they were showing up to shoot something, learning upon arrival that they were actually expected to provide companionship since, after all, they want to make it in show business don’t they? The ugliest example that we know of from this gross abuse of economic privilege is the case of Patricia Douglas, who was raped by one of the studio’s salesmen and refused to stay silent about it, taking MGM to court in a highly publicized case that resulted in a textbook example of victim blaming if ever there was one. What followed was a cover-up that was successful for decades before David Stenn, in researching newspaper archives for a book on Jean Harlow, discovered a headline that pushed both Harlow’s death and King Edward’s abdication off the front page. Stenn went on to write an article about the Douglas case and its shameful outcome that he then translates into this tabloid-style documentary that includes his search for Ms. Douglas herself, a woman who in the years after her assault and the subsequent betrayal of people close to her lived a solitary life that included estrangement from her own daughter. There’s a lot of tangents to the story and it’s a shame that Stenn’s film is a shallow experience that plays like the episode of an infotainment show: the culture of Depression-era cinema, the selling of a beautiful dream that was actually full of ugly realities, would make for great context beyond what he shows (the little there is includes the story of Loretta Young and Clark Gable’s love child as contrast to Douglas’s experience, and an example of falsified Hollywood morality, which is awkwardly included). Too many of the individuals interviewed are touched upon briefly before being left behind, but regardless of the film’s raggedy quality, it’s a powerful and devastating story of corporate greed at its lowest.