The tragedy of George Reeves' life, according to the badly-titled new film Hollywoodland, is not that he failed to parlay his small role in Gone with the Wind into a bankable film career. It's that, following rejection, he demeaned himself by turning to television. "Take the job. Cash the check," his sweaty agent tells him, and with head hung low, Reeves heads off to a shades-drawn casting office from which we expect to see a woman come running, holding her top on. He is offered the lead role in a silly kids' show about an alien with a bulletproof torso who pranks everyone into thinking he's a human named Clark Kent. Smelling disaster, Reeves, played by a bulky and subdued Ben Affleck, puts up a small fight. "I see myself as more of a villain," he mutters. But it's too late. They have their mark. He's quickly fitted into Superman's traditional gay matador-looking outfit -- stone-gray, instead of blue and red, since there's no need to waste on color -- and pushed in front of a nation of cowboy-hatted children. To his horror, they fall in love with him.

Hollywoodland seems giddy over the fact that it's beaten James Ellroy to the punch on a story that would fit snugly into his peek-under-the-skirt-of-post-war-L.A. milieu. That special gin of seediness and sadness that abounds in Ellroy's L.A. Quartet has been mixed with care here, and it fills every nook and cranny of the movie's L.A., from the dysfunctional suburban outliers to the simmering streets of inner Hollywood. It's a town where everyone you meet has "contents under pressure" stamped on their forehead. The pool in the center of a cheap, wrap-around motel seems built for drowning someone in. The only person standing near it is a man with a tangerine-colored tan, grimacing as he lifts weights alone in the hot sun. Inside one of the motel's rooms is Louis Simo, who's having an impenetrable three-way conversation with a man in a suit and a young lady. Simo, it turns out, is exactly the kind of private dick who meets strangers in low-rent motels like this one, to pour out and pick through their dirty laundry.