Joseph L. Mankiewicz

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domino harvey
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Re: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

#26 Post by domino harvey » Sat Feb 04, 2017 3:53 pm

Apparently you all forgot Kirk Douglas' rant against radio in A Letter to Three Wives!

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ando
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Re: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

#27 Post by ando » Sat Feb 04, 2017 9:03 pm

Letter is one I haven't seen. It's next! Revisiting Julius Caesar tonight. Again, a pretty good script! What I'm trying to discern, of course, is what Mank brings to the table that any other fairly intelligent director could not. And this IS a production where the soundtrack, given the vocal talents, is arguably its strongest point. Just for the hell of it I'm enjoying it without the visuals. Course, the Mankiewicz contribution may disappear altogether (I read somewhere that Gielgud, along with his contribution as Cassius, was an overseeing vocal coach).
Michael Anderegg from [i][b]Cinematic Shakespeare[/b][/i] wrote: Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar in such a way that only a perfect balance of skillful performers would achieve his intended effect. The play's stage history suggests that this balance has seldom been achieved or even desired. If the company's lead actor chooses to play Antony, the chances are good that it will be Antony's play. To claim that Shakespeare balances the main characters is not to say that he fails to take sides. The balance is a dramatic device that allows Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, and Antony to have powerful theatrical moments where they can count on the audiences sympathies. [John] Houseman's and director Joseph Mankiewicz's casting strategies were clearly defined to construct such a balance, but rather through contrast than equivalence. This is achieved in part through contrasting styles of performance, in part through an emphasis on the extremes each character exhibits.
This is not only a strategy but the strongest director decision as far as I can tell. Framing the performances seems to be of uppermost concern to Mank, far more so than any pointed visual strategy designed to make political, moral or artistic points. Some of the players in the film production, including Houseman, were in the decidedly political Republic Company/Orson Welles Broadway production which made those legendary Third Reich allusions. But none of the ingenious stage effects of that production are repeated here. Bosley Crowther of the NYTimes at the time of the film's initial release put it well:
Crowther wrote:Actually, Shakespeare wrote this drama to be observed within the confines of a fairly modest theatre and to be absorbed in large measure through the ear which, of course, was the physical necessity with all of his eloquent plays. And thus, any faithful translation from the written text to the screen must perforce be confined and conditioned by the exigencies of the play. It is much to Mr. Mankiewicz's credit that he had captured his characters at close range and staged the whole drama, with few elisions, from an intimate point of view.

Blessed with a cast of actors that conspicuously includes John Gielgud. as the lean and hungry Cassius; Marlon Brando, as Mark Antony; James Mason, as the conscientious Brutus, and Louis Calhern, as Caesar, who is slain. Mr. Mankiewicz has got most of his impact out of the words that surge hotly from their throats and from the subtleties of their expressions and the violence of their attitudes.
It's funny; though the team behind the art/set decoration won an Oscar for their work it seems more of a backdrop to the proceedings than integral part of the film. The capitol environs, in particular, look like sets. Luckily, the strong performances draw your eyes away from background - dramatic action is almost always in the foreground. When the players leave the sets at the end of scenes the suddenly desolation looks deliberately plastic. I'm not sure what Mank was after with these impressions.

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ando
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Re: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

#28 Post by ando » Mon Feb 06, 2017 1:23 am

One effective - and ironic - use of scenery is in the juxtaposition of frames composed, first, of a worried Calpurnia, who believes that her dream of Caesar's demise is a sign to warn him against going to the Capitol to be killed, overlooking the senators amidst a calm and beautifully composed terrace shot above the hills of Rome.

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Second, it's followed by a disregarded Calpurnia, retreating to her private room that houses a statue of the Egyptian goddess, Bastet, who was protectress of the pharaoh and the supreme god, Ra.

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Why is Calpurnia worshipping a foreign god? Bast certainly wasn't Roman. Egyptian gods were ridiculed by Romans of the Republican era. Calpurnia's exertions fail, despite embracing the protectress god, and the sequence is curiously - and effectively - ambiguous as to which side of the domestic argument Mank stood. But her ineffectiveness is visually underlined with this curiously amusing shot.

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ando
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Re: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

#29 Post by ando » Thu Feb 09, 2017 1:09 am

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All About Mankiewicz (1983) French doc streamer that was more revealing than I expected.

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ando
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Re: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

#30 Post by ando » Mon May 29, 2017 12:10 am

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Main cast of All About Eve

Ran into a lovely streamer (MOD NOTE: Link to stream of commercially available film deleted) and thought I'd share it. It's still one of the best scripts ever filmed and, unfortunately, one I know by heart. Haven't been to one of those midnight cult showings (not sure if I'd dig the whole Rocky Horroresque treatment) but I do watch it whenever it crosses my path. Celeste Holm (Karen) was the last of the stars from this film to pass away - she did indeed have the last laugh.

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ando
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Re: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

#31 Post by ando » Mon Jun 24, 2019 2:33 am

domino harvey wrote:
Tue Feb 23, 2010 11:05 pm
To be fair, I can't really think of a Western comedy I enjoy, but There Was a Crooked Man... is just so wrongheaded that I can't even wrap my head around it. The film's tone is utterly at odds with the action depicted-- Kirk Douglas' trajectory is pitch black, brutal, and cruel and the film's score, pacing, and timing is played for comedy. This might've made an interesting little straight Western but-- wait, speaking of straight, the film spends an inordinate amount of time on an old pair of queens, one half of which is Hume Cronyn in a Little Dutch Boy haircut and the less said about the the Glenn Beck doppelganger guard who tries in vain to lure the blonde-haired farmboy, the better. For the life of me, I cannot figure out what Mankiewicz is after here-- why all the gratuitous nudity from both sexes? Why the wholly inappropriate and persistent musical score? The disconnect between how the film spends the first 100 minutes and how it winds down the pitch is gaping.
SpoilerShow
The tone shift of the prison escapees just blindly killing everyone in their path, including each other, is ludicrous in context and playing it without the present lightness would have made this such a more memorable "prison escape" film. No comraderie, just chaos. That the whole buddy-buddyness of the film is revealed to have been a con, well, that's material you can work with. But it's clumsily handled here and again, there's nothing charming or fun about any of it
Ah, dh, I readily agreed with you - initially. Unfortunately, I had to cut my viewing of it (TCM has it On Demand this month) halfway through because of... a domestic emergency. But when I resumed my viewing I found it wildly entertaining. By the time I got back to it I had simply abandoned any expectation that this film would adhere to a smidgen of the worn-out Western tropes and that, if they appeared, they would be at service of Mank's larger design. Most of his films deal with characters who take advantage of people living within moral codes. Why should Mankiewicz, as a filmmaker, behave differently toward his audience? This is a crooked film. And loads of fun if you like your shoot em ups very heavy on the irony.

Oh, All About Eve is also a TCM On Demand feature this month.

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therewillbeblus
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Re: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

#32 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Jun 30, 2020 12:57 am

Finishing off my unseen post-50s Mank (as well as revisiting what I have seen) I watched the four-hour cut of Cleopatra. Somewhere in the middle I realized I had seen it before, but no matter, because whatever I found forgettable on a first watch was transcended this time, as I found it to be a solid epic.

In his most lavish production, Mank unapologetically flaunts his characters in the direction he intends, whether arrogant, weak, impulsive, sensual, pathetic, cunning- they wear their personalities on their sleeves. Harrison’s entrance that belittles his verbal sparring partners with “et cetera” statements undoes the royal norms in favor of engaging wit. However, after a brief acclimation to Mank’s unique spin on his milieu, the motives become enticingly duplicitous if not mysterious as the games of deception begin.

For all the production issues, the final product is strikingly masterful in execution. Taylor’s star power is used well, and Rex Harrison steals scenes as Caesar, but it’s Mank’s comprehension of staging, shooting exciting spats of dialogue, and seamlessly constructing a smoothness of forward momentum, that make this captivating throughout. Even though this in theory doesn’t play to his strengths of filming enthralling dynamics in close-quarters, a lot of the early action does take place in enclosed spaces, relying on his skills for theatrical style and amusing banter. Hell, the choreography of spectacle is impressive too, with Taylor’s parade into Caesar’s kingdom absolutely jaw-dropping.

Unfortunately the second half doesn’t match the first’s pleasures, in part because of the story, but also Burton’s Antony isn’t as stimulating a character as Harrison (or as much as he could be.. given his riveting shades in the Bard’s play- and Brando’s perf in Mank’s adaptation no less!) The back half has its moments though, and is at its best when exhibiting Mank’s theme of fading confidence, as Antony becomes self-conscious and Cleopatra suppresses any position of instability with antisocial poise, ranging from emotionless to artificial, overdramatic manipulation before settling on authentic surrender and allowing passionate woes to take hold.

There are more extravagant wide-shots, in both outside and indoor areas, as well as increased layering of fashion to compensate for the powerlessness and mortality of even these dangerous agents of change. Their miniature scale when paired against the fleets, architecture, and giant swarms of people, all aid in an uneasy truth that they are just dust in the wind, but as each party senses vulnerability, they square-off in power-plays designed to feed hungry egos just as much as to acquire superficial means, wealth and territory. I know this is generally ranked low for Mank, but while it’s not his best work it’s a thoroughly enjoyable historical epic- and since I admittedly don’t love that genre, I think it’s one of the better.

A Carol for Another Christmas is an all-star retelling of the Dickens' story, also scripted by Rod Serling(!) and it shows. The early back and forth with Hayden and Gazzara is sharp and raw exposure of Hayden’s character, and the ensuing music combined with score as Hayden finds his way to the first ghost is reminiscent of the creepy mixture of diegetic and non-diegetic music of contrasting moods used in many modern horror movies. The atmosphere is occasionally noirish and surreal, though Serling’s didacticism, especially feeding into the current political philosophies of the period, can get to be a bit overstated at times and ground us to the present moment. Sellers’ wild incendiary is a real treat though, and the celebration of individualism descends into horror in a very fun, insightful direction that recalls Welles’ Kafka adaptation.

Apparently, Mank’s wife stated that Cleopatra’s production and release history was traumatic in diminishing his confidence in later works. This shows in The Honey Pot, a manufactured theatre-combo that worked better than I expected. Yet for all the wavering strengths in dialogue, none of the male performers seem to know what to do with the material, while the women inconsistently delivered some impressive force. The tempo maintains an unexpected low-energy, occasionally silly vibe, that didn’t help my interest as the content seems to demand. The middle sections with Maggie Smith’s calm disclosures conversing Robertson on the night-in-question are in step with the rhythm and thus the best moments of the film. The ending is bizarre with a distracting voiceover to only emphasize the absurdity of the narrative, and not in a good way.

King: A Filmed Record...Montgomery to Memphis is an excellent tribute doc on MLK that sees Mank teaming up with Lumet. The piece feels very ‘hands-off’ for both filmmakers, allowing the footage and content to speak for itself. While this comes highly recommended, There Was a Crooked Man… does not. This eccentric western cannot decide whether it wants to be a farce or a revisionist tale, but it doesn’t work as anything despite all the talent involved. How do you screw a movie like this up? These kinds of westerns are hit-or-miss for me, but usually I’m willing to give them some rope. This one didn’t earn a lick though, and even the wacky misadventures are dull. When Warren Oates shows up and the movie doesn’t even get slightly better, you know you’re in trouble. Kirk Douglas seems to be having fun though in his late-career, so that was nice to see. Thankfully, Mank made another picture and went out with a bang.

Even if I didn't hate The Honey Pot, I’m inevitably going to compare a late-career play-adaption by Mank to Sleuth, one of my childhood favorites that is still just as good- maybe even better- when seen as an adult. A recent revisit a few months ago solidified its status as one of his best, and one of the better theatre-adaptations ever. The more I see it, the more I believe that both halves are equal in their impact, splitting acid-tongued wit with a power play of performance, sensitive to a vulnerable slack line veering between confidence and paranoia. An all-around genius exercise firing perfectly on all cylinders- and this one has a phenomenal ending! It's also an exciting ending to a thrilling career.

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knives
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Re: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

#33 Post by knives » Tue Jun 30, 2020 6:20 am

I absolutely love There Was a Crooked Man, but I love really bad comedies, just look at my recent attempt to temper my adoration for Polanski's Pirates, so that makes a sense.

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therewillbeblus
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Re: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

#34 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Jun 30, 2020 8:15 am

I usually do too, hence my confusion at how it possibly failed to amuse me, but sadly it didn’t seem to have the drive to place its energy in any idea full-tilt with confidence. This perceived ‘lacking’ on my part made more sense when I read up on Mank and how Cleopatra apparently permanently wounded his own confidence professionally for the rest of his career, as reflected in pictures that appear risky but practice restraint.

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