Review by Frank Plowright
Is it strange that Ed Brubaker titles the segments of his 1948 Hollywood crime drama after the structure of a play when he could have opted for the three reels comprising a complete film feature in those days?
Resorting to trivial comments like that is the result of trying to find anything wrong with The Fade Out’s middle section. Act One introduced film writer Charlie Parish. He’s come to terms with no longer being able to write since returning from war duty, coming to an arrangement with drunken, blacklisted writer Gil Mason, but is increasingly upset at the murder of actress Valeria Sommers being sold to the press as suicide. It’s one of a number of items brushed under the carpet to ensure the myth of Hollywood prevails, and a couple more are acted on by Victory Studios enforcer Phil Brodsky, violence never far from his preferred method.
There are just so many touches to admire. Sean Phillips delivers the people and their environments perfectly, having designed over a dozen cast members to be easily distinguished, and enjoys himself throwing in a few cameos from the Hollywood celebrities of the era. He switches from past to even further past to screen moments such as the sample page, and there’s a never a point where you’d wish he’d done anything differently.
Pretty much the same applies to Brubaker, who slips so many clever writing techniques into the script for a fuller plot. There are layers within layers for the sample page’s dialogue, followed by an outstanding and deliberately wooden follow-up when the rewritten scene has to be re-shot with a different actress. Brubaker also enjoys the art of juxtaposition for extra meaning, one highlight being Gil recalling a conversation about what drink does to a person while Phillips shows Charlie acting out an example.
That’s all window dressing, though, as the main plot concerns the ramifications of Valeria’s death. The studio consider it’s all been swept convincingly under the carpet, nor will there be any revelations about what now senile studio co-founder Al Kamp got up to in a remote ranch twenty years previously. However, what happens when someone who’s been screwed by the system decides they have nothing to lose by fighting back? Charlie realises the truth about that by the end of Act Two, setting up the finale in Act Three very nicely indeed. Or you could just head for The Fade Out as a thicker volume collecting the entire story instead.