Those who can't make it to Hollywood for the second annual TCM Classic Film Festival later this month can be transported to the sidewalk outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre by this amateurish mystery. Fair warning, though. Set in the vicinity of the landmark movie palace where Robert Osborne and company will unspool Golden Age gems, and where stars of yesteryear pressed their hands and feet into wet cement, the barely coherent Footprints seems bent on erasing any nostalgia one might have for Hollywood's heyday. Less insightful and aesthetically pleasing than a bus tour of stars' homes, its theatrical run and ancillary afterlife combined should last one short, lost weekend.
Writer/director Steven Peros penned The Cat's Meow, the stage play about a 1924 death aboard William Randolph Hearst's yacht, as well as the script for Peter Bogdanovich's 2001 screen version. Echoing similar themes minus similarly compelling characters or situations, Footprints is a trite attempt to remind us that during the studio era the film industry ruthlessly used and discarded human beings. With a mix of bitterness and wistful nostalgia, Footprints tips its hat to Hollywood's output from the perspective of the average (struggling) actor, journeyman techie and earnest fan. But because Footprints is atrocious when judged by most every filmmaking standard, it doesn't hold a candle to any fondly-remembered B or C picture, let alone to any beloved classic of the silver screen.
The mystery, which includes fantasy elements one is loathe to describe as magical realism, surrounds the identity of a woman (listed as "Our Gal" in the press notes and played by Sybil Temtchine) who wakes up one morning outside Grauman's sprawled across Doris Day and Charles Laughton. Has she been attacked? Did she pass out? Is she hoping to be discovered? Rather than ask for directions to Schwab's drugstore, she utters two words: "Fountain Boy." Mike (Charley Rossman), a Good Samaritan tour guide, gingerly makes inquiries, and realizing she's lost her memory he leads her to a nearby café. There she encounters an older gent named Victor (H.M. Wynant) who, instead of taking her to a clinic or summoning the police, tries to jog her memory by regaling her with Hollywood lore and sharing tidbits about the unhappy private lives of screen sirens Gene Tierney and Rita Hayworth.
After Victor suddenly disappears, our raven-haired amnesiac is left to wander along Hollywood Boulevard; every now and then she sees a man in a raincoat glowering at her menacingly. Soon she's recruited to wear a Wonder Woman suit and have her picture taken by tourists in front of Grauman's. Then a Scientology auditor administers a stress test on the sidewalk outside the church's building. With no clues to her identity forthcoming, she chats with Genevieve (Pippa Scott), an elegant older woman waiting in line at the Theatre for an oldie that will be showing later that evening. And she pays a visit to a memorabilia store down the block. The key to Our Gal's identity and the plot is eventually discovered in a vacant lot across from a once-swanky apartment building with a name that sounds like "Fountain Boy."
The viewer's hopes and sympathies are killed by the camera's glacially slow pans and dolly shots that are seemingly propelled by a grip using a walker. Rather than evoke a more sophisticated period and style, Christopher Caliendo's flute-heavy score grates, and the gauzy special effects the production essays are beyond parody. Yet these are minor flaws compared to the confusingly facile story, cornball dialogue and community-theater acting. The best bit in Footprints is a homeless man's harangue about how, judging by the location of their slabs in the pavement outside Grauman's, movie stars of color continue to be discriminated against.
Rather than being a gimlet-eyed valentine to Hollywood, Footprints comes off as a good-natured gripe about squandered opportunities and dashed dreams that the film industry doesn't have a patent on, despite what the movies often purport. Among Victor's bromides ("The strangest things happen in Hollywood in the middle of the night," "Hollywood is like a black hole sometimes") is this observation, seconded by Genevieve: "Memory isn't all it's cracked up to be." This is Peros's way of saying the past wasn't as rosy as we're apt to believe. And he's right. Here's to forgetting Footprints and letting it disappear into that black hole called Hollywood.
Cast: Sybil Temtchine, John Brickner, H.M. Wynant, Catherine Bruhier and Pippa Scott
Director and Screenwriter: Steven Peros
Producers: Steven Peros and John Peros
Running time: 83 min.
Release date: April 15 NY/LA