The Mystery of Natalie Wood

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The Mystery of Natalie Wood
TheMysteryofNatalieWood.jpg
Directed byPeter Bogdanovich
Produced byRichard Fischoff
Randy Sutter
Written bySuzanne Finstad (novel)
Warren G. Harris (novel)
Elizabeth Egloff
StarringJustine Waddell
Michael Weatherly
Matthew Settle
Colin Friels
Elizabeth Rice
and Alice Krige
Music byRichard Marvin
CinematographyJohn Stokes
Editing byScott Vickrey
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Original channelABC
Release date
  • March 1, 2004 (2004-03-01)
Running time172 minutes
 
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The Mystery of Natalie Wood
TheMysteryofNatalieWood.jpg
Directed byPeter Bogdanovich
Produced byRichard Fischoff
Randy Sutter
Written bySuzanne Finstad (novel)
Warren G. Harris (novel)
Elizabeth Egloff
StarringJustine Waddell
Michael Weatherly
Matthew Settle
Colin Friels
Elizabeth Rice
and Alice Krige
Music byRichard Marvin
CinematographyJohn Stokes
Editing byScott Vickrey
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Original channelABC
Release date
  • March 1, 2004 (2004-03-01)
Running time172 minutes

The Mystery of Natalie Wood is a two-part 2004 made-for-TV biographical film directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Partly based on the biographies Natasha: the Biography of Natalie Wood written by Suzanne Finstad and Natalie & R.J. written by Warren G. Harris, the film chronicles the life and career of actress Natalie Wood, from her early childhood in the 1940s until her untimely death in 1981.

Plot[edit]

Part 1[edit]

The film opens on November 28, 1981 on Catalina Island, California, where 43-year-old Natalie Wood (Justine Waddell) falls off her boat called 'Splendour' and drowns. Years earlier, in 1943, in Santa Rosa, California, 5-year-old Natasha (Grace Fulton) grows up in a violent household with an overbearing mother, Maria Gurdin (Alice Krige), who goes to extremes to make her daughter a star. When one day a film is shot in town, Maria arranges a role for Natasha, and kills a butterfly in order to get her to cry in front of the camera, which is required. Her crying impresses the director, Irving Pichel (John Noble), and a year later she reluctantly moves to Hollywood to focus on her career, with her mother standing by her at every step, and with a new name: Natalie Wood. By 1946, Natalie is working on three films at a time, and is not allowed to enjoy any spare time with her friends. Three years later, now a teenager (Elizabeth Rice), she can do nothing as her older sister Olga (Leanne Simic) leaves the home because she feels neglected by her mother. Around this time, she is working on the set of The Green Promise one day, when an accident causes her to break her wrist. Fearing that her daughter will not get any roles if she has it treated, Maria dismisses any medical help, and Natalie's wrist does not heal properly as a result.

While in high school, 15-year-old Natalie falls in love with school friend Jimmy, and starts to rebel against her mother, who does not allow her to see Jimmy Williams (Jason Smith) because she fears that Natalie will get pregnant. Maria manipulates Natalie into giving up her plans to marry Jimmy, and after breaking off the engagement, Jimmy shoots himself, leaving Natalie heartbroken. Afterwards, Natalie severs all ties with her mother and focuses on her career. By the mid-1950s, she (Waddell) and her friend Margaret O'Brien (Sophie Mentis) decide that she should play the female lead in Rebel without a Cause opposite James Dean (Nick Carpenter). In order to get the role, she allows herself to be seduced by director Nicholas Ray (Robert Taylor). Following a car accident caused by Dennis Hopper (Jarrod Dean), she is cast in the film. Simultaneously, she auditions for director Roy Tremaine (Andy Rodoreda) to please her mother, but he rapes her. Fearing that it would destroy her career, she does not report the crime. Instead, she focuses on Rebel, which turns out to be a great success. Natalie reaches star fame and becomes romantically involved with many Hollywood men. Worried about her many boyfriends, Maria sets her up with Robert Wagner (Michael Weatherly), an actor who she adored since she was a child.

Shortly before they are married, Natalie promises her mother that she will not have any babies with Robert, even though she wants to have them. By 1959, she starts to estrange herself from Robert and meets up with her therapist often to discuss her troubled childhood and her wish to have a baby. Meanwhile, she heads out to New York City to work on a new film with Elia Kazan (Christopher Pate): Splendor in the Grass. The film requires her to take off her clothes and show the camera her sprained wrist, which upsets her. In a later scene, she has to swim in the water, for which she has a terrible fear because her mother told her as a child that she would one day drown. She eventually overcomes her fear and celebrates with her co-star Warren Beatty (Matthew Settle), which makes her husband grow more jealous of her interaction with other men. As she becomes more occupied with filming West Side Story, Robert announces that he wants to divorce Natalie because he never sees her anymore, and has trouble accepting her rise to great successes, while he has trouble obtaining film roles.

Part 2[edit]

The film continues to reflect on her marriage with Robert Wagner, as well as her relationship with Warren Beatty. Natalie's nightmare of drowning comes true, when in 1981 she falls off a boat and drowns in the freezing water.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Director Bogdanovich was initially reluctant to produce a biopic, because he was unsatisfied about being the subject of a biopic himself, in Star 80 (1983).[1] He explained: "I didn’t know if I wanted to do it, because I knew the people a little bit. I’d met Natalie a few times, nodded at her at parties, and same thing with Robert Wagner. I also knew I didn’t like being portrayed in the films about Dorothy Stratten. But then I decided: Somebody’s gonna do this, and I thought I’d be more sensitive because of my experiences. Besides, by then I had fallen in love with Natalie and her work. In ‘Love With the Proper Stranger,’ ’Inside Daisy Clover,’ ’This Property Is Condemned,’ her performances are brilliant, really brilliant. I realized she was really underrated as an actress — and that, up until then, I had been one of the people who underrated her."[1]

The film was shot in early 2003.[1]

Reception[edit]

Slate magazine called the film a "standard" production, and criticized Bogdanovich for using real-life interview footage in the film: "Bogdanovich layers in archival material like newspaper headlines and stills of the real Wood, as well as talking-head interviews with her surviving relatives and friends, a choice that brings little to the proceedings, since whatever stories the witnesses tell are subsequently presented in painfully literal tableaux." Its reviewer praised the cast, though, for its performances: "Justine Waddell is competent and appealing; she's no Judy Davis, but she avoids the biopic trap of overly mannered impersonation. Indistinguishable Ken dolls Michael Weatherly and Matthew Settle offer uncanny vocal impressions of Robert Wagner and Warren Beatty, while Alice Krige (Star Trek's Borg Queen) is perfect as Maria, Natalie's monstrous, self-mythologizing Russian mother, who pulls the wings off butterflies to get little Nat to cry on cue."[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Bogdanovich focuses on Natalie Wood". NBC News. February 25, 2004. Retrieved 2012-09-25. 
  2. ^ "Fallen Star". Slate. March 2, 2004. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 

External links[edit]