Welles is the theme to begin with (Citizen Kane), without seeming to try.
The portrait of a New Orleans lady is an arresting example of American painting known in the trade as “folk art”.
Mankiewicz has a Ruysdael to supply a fork in the road.
Jane Eyre, The Magnificent Ambersons, Glenn Langan’s resemblance, all to portray a patroon (Vincent Price) who’ll kill any wife to have a son, Henry VIII he ain’t.
Somewhere in the Night
The cream of all the films noirs, an allegory of the war.
It is completely surreal, which disarmed Bosley Crowther and sent him reeling.
You may watch this as you like, the pistol in the Union Station locker is the same one retrieved in Eastwood’s Pale Rider, Dr. Oracle is Dr. Mabuse, six months later the line about Conroy’s insanity recurs in Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (the nightmare sequence).
Det. Lt. Kendall’s hat proves the movies were right all along.
The Late George Apley
The point was made when Bosley Crowther displayed half a mind to rebuke the film in his New York Times review for radically altering the fictional character in Marquand’s book and play.
Mark Twain addressed the Brahmins in a humorous lecture that has come down to us. Mankiewicz has the ferocity of Pound, but lets his man off with a wink.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
Compare it to Cukor’s Little Women for an extensive range of metaphors appertaining to the writer’s life.
The temptation offered is Uncle Neddy, Beckett’s “good housekeeping”, and kindly observe the skill with which he is revealed at his London flat.
Herrmann’s “sublime partition” (as a French critic has it) is a major force of composition, and so is Gene Tierney’s shape of phrase and mien.
Whitman in Borges’ translation of him (“what do you see, Walt Whitman?”) is the main point of reference, pivoting on the joke, “I am the captain of my soul”.
Hyde Park, a bitter whore, a gentleman, a heavy-handed flatfoot.
An analysis of Hitchcock on the surface of The 39 Steps and the essence of Blackmail, “original sin”.
For Britmovie, a “pedestrian remake” of Basil Dean’s film, though it is hardly pedestrian. A.W. of the New York Times liked it well enough, “adult drama”, he called it.
Halliwell’s Film Guide takes a dim view, “wholly artificial, predictable and uninteresting remake”.
House of Strangers
It is America, with liberty and justice for all, and not the Old Country.
Variety thought the title was “weak”, not perceiving this. Crowther in the New York Times also did not perceive it, and blamed Mankiewicz. The Village Voice imagines that it “reimagines King Lear”.
This is the trip from the Old World to the New, and it never leaves Little Italy, until it meets an American girl and flies West.
No Way Out
The theme is a variant continuing House of Strangers. The young Negro physician is almost a resident, he faces gross opposition.
This is the middle term, the summation is All About Eve.
Latter-day critics describe it as a film noir and disparage its deficiencies in that regard.
All About Eve
Talented heartless sycophantic shits are so many you can’t help stepping on them everywhere you go, this is their story.
Mankiewicz has the Huston touch from The Maltese Falcon, where Brigid O’Shaughnessy or Iva Archer is as much the model for Eve Harrington as Kasper Gutman or Joel Cairo for Addison DeWitt. It’s in the new setups to continue a scene, a fresh inspiration on a major point in the dialogue.
Crowther spoke of Broadway looking to its laurels, he must refer to the boundless naïveté of its leading lights as represented, only the vaudevillian Birdie sees Eve coming, the artistes shoe her in.
Mankiewicz’ logic is so impeccable, however, that after No Way Out this too is House of Strangers.
It begins with the fanfare from Lloyd Richards’ Aged in Wood (his other plays include Remembrance and Footsteps on the Ceiling).
People Will Talk
Christ the Chief Musician, Chief Physician, and Chief Dispatcher of Model Railroad Trains.
A proper study will notate the extent of adaptation from Curt Goetz’s play (and film), and the relation of both to Holy Writ.
The dazzling virtuosic performance of this is The Gospel According to Mankiewicz, the sort of thing you don’t mind paying good money for, even if they’re not giving out free dishes at the theater.
How many soldiers and civilians must have said, after the great war to end Nazi slavery, life must be better for them now that they had brought the bad news to Hitler.
Mankiewicz deals in velocity as a standard of his writing. Here the German ambassador to Turkey, a military man, describes his own government as “paranoid juvenile delinquents”. The ending is an allusion to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Brutus as Saul, the rest follows at an intermediate dispatch regulated by the author, who couldn’t care less about political assassination per se, presumably, but likes the story of a literary man slain by envious rivals (the cobbler’s joke, and the way to s’introduire).
A singular example of direction by casting, at first glance, all the actors chosen for some feature that would reveal itself perforce, Marlon Brando’s heroic intellect, John Gielgud’s capacity for rapid speech, James Mason’s ideal technique (and Deborah Kerr’s), Louis Calhern’s lovableness (of all things), and so forth right along the cast list.
All of which makes for a very cinematic Shakespeare without footnotes. Caesar’s entry with an audience looking on near the camera becomes Christ on the Via Dolorosa in Wyler’s Ben-Hur. Caesar’s body goes a progress from a Daumier or Manet view and Hitchcock’s Rope (the sustained perspective) to Fellini’s Satyricon (the corpse eaters).
The unsettling resemblance of the Roman eagle to the American (with naught but arrows in its talons) is presumably deliberate. “I had rather be a dog, and bay the moon, than such a Roman.”
The Barefoot Contessa
“...poesy which goes naked on its feet of reed, on its feet of pebble...” (René Char)
Wall Street buys Hollywood and the Government, loses its prick with the Fascists in North Africa, and leaves only a statue of the title character, along with three films.
The point is simply to understand a few things, how these things get along, what finally happens to them.
The Quiet American
He is betrayed to the Communists by a Britisher over a girl.
There are many ramifications and details, but that is the gist of it, a case of jealousy and snobbism, in Mankiewicz’ telling.
And there is nothing more to it, which is the astounding thing, except that the Britisher is “a bloody fool”.
The title character is not the loud variety of Yank, which is the point, only religious, and faithful, and democratic, and an importer of plastics for New Year’s toys.
This is enough, though critics at the time weren’t quite satisfied that the author had been done justice.
The Human Factor (dir. Otto Preminger) records a British view of this affair, some time after the fact.
Suddenly, Last Summer
Tennessee Williams is a great poet, this is his cinematic Dunciad, a professional obligation to excoriate a poetaster.
The poet himself is a neurosurgeon working under primitive conditions, “I’m not a witch doctor,” he is obliged to profess.
Mrs. Venable has all the money in town, she wants a memorial to her son, who wrote annual verses on their summers together. She wants his pretty cousin lobotomized to prevent the girl from telling an awful story about the scribbler’s death.
The monumental affectation in the mother’s viewpoint is countered by the truth and beauty in the cousin’s.
A mock-heroic epic, a close relation to The Barefoot Contessa.
In spite of all the legendary vicissitudes, Mankiewicz created a superbly effectual dimension of beauty that, like the great poem it really is, culminates in a deathless image.
An incalculable masterpiece except to Mankiewicz, who year after year prospered in it. Egypt, ancient repair of kings. The monstrously witty screenplay has only Shaw and Shakespeare to contend with, but then it is only a screenplay or libretto with music in the filming. Interiors are mainly treated as “speaking frescoes”, massive exterior scenes are laid in Rome and Alexandria, the Battle of Actium is depicted.
Egypt is a source of wealth in grain and gold, the Civil War ends at Pharsalia in the opening scene, Pompey’s head is presented to Caesar at the port of Alexandria. A deliberate parallel is constructed with Cleopatra wrestling for the throne against her brother Ptolemy. The burning of the Library is nothing, though it contains “Aristotle’s manuscripts... the Testament of the Hebrew god,” and so forth. Mighty Caesar is an epileptic like the city’s founder kept visible in a coffin made of alabaster. “Conquer the world through Egypt,” says the Queen. That cannot be, Caesar has a son by her instead, goes to Rome and seeks to overcome Senate opposition to his civic improvements by receiving the odious title of emperor.
Mark Antony quells the conspirators, the triumvirate needs money, he goes to Egypt reluctantly. “One world... one people” await him as conqueror, he prefers to drink and woo. Octavian leads an army against “Antony and his whore”, the note is perceptibly taken from King Vidor’s Solomon and Sheba.
Virtuous Octavian is no fool of women, they do not entice or entrap him. To Antony his own sword, to Cleopatra an asp.
Both Variety and the New York Times were quite well aware that Mankiewicz had heroically prevailed in a very great undertaking. The magnitudes of invention include the subtle aging of Caesar, the panoply of Cleopatra’s response to Roman influence, and the gradual solidification of Octavian (an ephebe with a “key-cold embrace”) after the falling sickness and the drunkard.
The influence on Fellini is manifest in Caesar’s triumph drawing Cleopatra into Rome on the forepaws of a giant sphinx, Mark Antony looks on in a slight up-angle with the tragic or passionate mask of classical sculpture, while Caesar smiles and the city behind him registers the barbaric spectacle and a stone lion roars in reply.
Great Alexandria on the sea is a subset of this, Cleopatra herself is Macedonian though her style is Egyptian or Roman as the situation warrants. Catullus is rendered into English rhyme for her court, Caesar admires those verses too.
Antony is wedded to Octavian’s widowed sister, she is no Egypt. Mankiewicz follows Dunne & Koster in demystification, his Cleopatra is a lettered ruler and no minx, a wife and consort. The volumes that can be said of her are written by Mankiewicz’ camera.
A feminine city, Alexandria, a court of women where Romans become men and juvenile Ptolemy returns as Octavian to restore the film to its initial terms. The great sea battle has fire thrown by catapults through the air, toy boats on a table of precious stone are moved about or torched as fired. Cleopatra’s immense barge sets sail for Egypt on false intelligence of Antony’s death, he sees this and departs in her wake.
Two years in planning, two years in production, terribly costly and after all by report abridged to four hours from Mankiewicz’ original six, a length finally achieved by Zeffirelli in Jesus of Nazareth. The great maker of drawing-room comedies and satires (and Julius Caesar) went some way out of his way to make this, and it was well worth all his trouble (he takes minute notice of Ben-Hur in the sea battle, for instance), an homage to DeMille.
Carol for Another Christmas
Mankiewicz has this from the outset as a preparation for The Honey Pot, Serling a corollary to Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May, just to show how a masterpiece is made.
Scrooge in the Cold War, just this side of Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Serling the magician, Mankiewicz the great showman, score by Henry Mancini, producer and settings each nominated for an Emmy. Wyler has him at the lunch counter in The Best Years of Our Lives, reading the paper and expatiating on suckerdom.
Rimbaud’s “dead of ‘92” et al., the Ghost of Christmas Past. “I’m just suggesting that we are standing in the middle of what was once a city.”
“Shall I now tell you how many times you’ve stuffed yourself while two-thirds of the world starved in a cage?” Dickens’ long argument, carried through the twentieth century.
“It seems we reached a moment in time when talk became superfluous, so now your town hall is past tense. But then again, if you step outside you will note that most of what you see is past tense, or rather most of what you don’t see.”
“How far in the future am I?”
“It is a Christmas Eve, a night of December the twenty-fourth, the year is not important, calendars are past tense now, also.”
After the United Nations, “the Imperial Me... the Non-Government of the Me People!” Not since Capra such a last man (It’s a Wonderful Life), not since Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), “The Obsolete Man” (The Twilight Zone, dir. Elliot Silverstein). “I may be all the sanity that is left. I may be all the conscience that remains on Earth. I can’t let you kill me!”
Marley the late son, killed in action. Question of an academic exchange, cf. Stoppard’s Professional Foul (dir. Michael Lindsay-Hogg). “It’s a good sound, kids’ voices.”
The Honey Pot
There never was a finer film, unless Mankiewicz and a few other directors outdid themselves. Mankiewicz deals out passages taken from Ophuls and Hitchcock with the utmost ease, almost unnoticeably and quite beyond the ken of any critic. Neither did anyone observe that Edie Adams’ portrayal of a rags-to-riches movie star is an impression of Marilyn Monroe (the beautiful cruelty of Mankiewicz’ female portraits here caused one critic to conclude that Capucine was being insulted, and another to insult Susan Hayward).
The structure is famously founded on Jonson’s Volpone, but only up to a certain point, until which time (about halfway through the film) Cliff Robertson lies rather doggo as McFly, Mankiewicz having then ostentatiously given up the façade, when it becomes evident that the real source of the form is Robert Wise’s The Haunting or perhaps one of the two plays cited additionally in the credits.
The position is concurrent with Chaplin’s A Countess from Hong Kong, which was not admired either, yet some critics were aware that Mankiewicz wasn’t running a bluff (not Crowther of the New York Times, who said he couldn’t figure out the title, even). Rex Harrison and Maggie Smith complete the picture.
There was a crooked man...
“Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
This corresponds to the Territorial Prison under Warden LeGoff and then Warden Lopeman, a snake pit followed by a reform laboratory.
The outlaw Paris Pitman, Jr. is in the end not wise as serpents, but upright Lopeman leaves off doing harm and enters Paradise on Earth.
The film can be precisely situated between Hathaway’s True Grit (for the snakehole, whose provenance is the same director’s contribution to How the West Was Won) and Aldrich’s Ulzana’s Raid, which likewise concludes with the rolling of a cigarette.
The latter film with its fine and even perfect analysis was not available to Mankiewicz’ critics, their reviews faltered.
“I have a lady to my mistress,” says Kean.
The lord and the lover enact estrangement, murder and arrest amid the realities.
La Règle du jeu for the games and toys, really the basis.