The Mystery of Natalie Wood (2004)
The mystery refers to the circumstances surrounding Natalie Wood’s drowning, of which the last thirty minutes of the biopic is dedicated to. Preceding this prolonged death scene are two hours of a fairly competent biopic which is immeasurably lifted by the unique inclusion of filmed interviews with those who knew the late actress.
Significantly missing from the line-up of family, lovers, co-stars and childhood friends is Robert Wagner, who refused to cooperate with the author of the book that this biopic is partly based on. Though his character is not trashed to the extent it was in that book, he does nevertheless come across as insecure husband who is jealous of his wife’s success. However the character most harshly dealt with is Maria Gurdin, who is depicted as the stage-mother from hell. Not only does she actually pull the wings off a butterfly to get her daughter to cry on cue, Maria perpetuates many of the star's phobias, including a fear of dark water.
The performances range from spot-on (Matthew Settle as Warren Beatty) to downright embarrassing (Sophie Monk as Marilyn Monroe). Perhaps the hardest co-star of Wood’s to portray was the frequently impersonated Christopher Walken. Though Malcolm Kennard half-attempts the familiar clipped speech pattern, he ultimately misses the mark.
Original photos and footage of Natalie Wood shown throughout the biopic provide more of a glimpse into her romance with Wagner than depicted elsewhere in the film.
Natalie’s mother tearing wings off a live butterfly to get the child to cry on cue occurred while she was filming Tomorrow Is Forever, not during her screen debut in Happy Land.
Biopic features a scene in which Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner discuss their upcoming plans to film Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in England. Mention is made of Wagner returning to Hart to Hart at the film’s completion. Yet, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was made in 1976, whereas Hart to Hart didn’t start until 1979. Wagner did star in a TV series at the time, but that was the lesser known Switch.
Unlike most biopics, The Mystery of Natalie Wood uses actual footage from the star’s film career. Nevertheless, there are also some backstage scenes from Miracle on 34th Street, Rebel Without a Cause, West Side Story and Gypsy, as well as scene recreations from Happy Land, The Ghost and Mrs Muir, The Green Promise and Splendor in the Grass.