To give credit where it’s due, Footprints makes a game attempt at creating a love letter to a place that may be inherently unlovable: Hollywood Boulevard, in all its faded glory and present-day Hooters/Hard Rock Cafe tackiness. The film opens in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where amnesiac protagonist Sybil Temtchine wakes up sprawled across celebrity hand- and shoeprints, and it rarely strays from the famous street. Over the course of a day, Temtchine wanders through old landmarks, tourist traps, and shameless monologues on nostalgic showbiz hokum, searching for clues to her identity. Footprints is the sort of film in which a character trying to help Temtchine regain her memory tells her anecdotes about Rita Hayworth and asks if she’s seen The Heiress instead of taking her to the hospital.
Footprints is the second feature from writer-director Steven Peros, best known for scripting Peter Bogdanovich’s weekend-on-William-Hearst’s-yacht drama The Cat’s Meow. Peros obviously has a taste for Tinseltown mythology, but the would-be whimsy of his premise, with a protagonist who isn’t sure whether she’s dreaming and may be a figure out of a dream herself, ends up instead making the whole enterprise seem like a downmarket David Lynch knockoff, right down to a mysterious glowering man who occasionally appears out of nowhere. Temtchine makes a somnambulant lead, staring blankly at everyone she encounters and intoning her limited dialogue with so little inflection that the eagerness with which the characters she meets instantly take her under their wing becomes a joke—Hollywood, the most outlandishly friendly place on earth! Tour guides take her out for coffee, celebrity impersonators recruit her to pose for photographs in costume, strangers invite her to pool parties, and retired starlets bring her to repertory screenings.
Pippa Scott, who played Lucy Edwards in The Searchers, and stage star H.M. Wynant, who narrated the classic Twilight Zone episode “The Howling Man,” serve as guides for the befuddled Temtchine, while doubling as forgotten artifacts of the studio system. But neither they nor the ultimate reveal of Temtchine’s identity are as lively or memorable as the opening scene, in which a homeless man stumbles across the newly awakened Temtchine and takes advantage of his captive audience to rant about the lousy placement of black actors in the Chinese Theatre’s courtyard. Now there’s the Hollywood we know and love.