Jack Starrett’s HOLLYWOOD MAN is an exploitation film about making an exploitation film. It’s also a grubby crime picture that features a terrific villain and an ending to die for. This 1976 flick is definitely of the shoestring variety and it features a screenplay by-committee, with cinematography by Robert C. Jessup and a recurring title track sung by Tony Chance that gives the whole thing a hokey but troubled feel. It runs at times like a made-for-TV jaunt, but there’s an ugly streak that is straight drive-in movie.
William Smith is Rafe Stoker, an actor/filmmaker in the business of making biker movies. He’s run out of support in Hollywood, as his films have become passé. Rafe turns to the mob and puts his assets up as collateral for the green he needs. The mob gives him a time limit and sends the malicious gangster Harvey (Ray Girardin) and his cronies to make sure the flick isn’t made on time. Harvey becomes obsessed with Rafe and tries all sorts of things to shut down production, while his crazy girlfriend (Jennifer Billingsley) and co-dependent henchman (Jude Farese) are along for the ride.
Starrett may be in the director’s chair here, but HOLLYWOOD MAN is Smith’s baby. He’s the star and one of many producers and writers, which gives his character a personal touch. Rafe is deeply invested in the production of his movie within the movie. It is his desperation and love for filmmaking that puts him in debt with the mob in the first place and the final scene underscores just how far the tendrils of crime and money can reach.
HOLLYWOOD MAN also benefits from Girardin’s striking performance as Harvey. His character is a creep, to put it kindly. He is a psychotic man who cuts a bloody swath across the country. His girlfriend is a mad accessory who romps in the surf wearing a pinched wedding dress and seems internally broken in just about every way. She’s tragic, as is Farese’s Rhodes. Together, they illustrate how destructive Harvey’s world is and how magnetic his personality can be. HOLLYWOOD MAN sets Harvey’s alluring neurosis on a collision course with Rafe’s frantic skill and the results are dirty, cheap and strangely fascinating.