Joseph L. Mankiewicz - Rotten Tomatoes

Joseph L. Mankiewicz



Like his older brother Herman J. Mankiewicz, American producer/ director/ writer Joseph Mankiewicz displayed a streak of brilliance from an early age. Before he was 20, the younger Mankiewicz was the assistant Berlin correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and an English translator for the subtitles of German-made films. Brother Herman, already ensconced in Hollywood as a high-priced screenwriter, invited Joseph to try his luck in Tinseltown in 1929.



Mankiewicz's first assignment at Paramount was composing subtitles for the silent versions of the studio's sound pictures. He also concocted special comedy material for Jack Oakie movies, which led to several years of employment on such nonsensical film farces as Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey's Diplomaniacs (1933) and W.C. Fields' Million Dollar Legs in 1932. (Fields paid Joseph 50 dollars for the lifetime rights to the phrase "My little chickadee.") Mankiewicz moved to MGM in 1934, where he expressed a desire to direct; MGM head Louis B. Mayer told him "You have to learn to crawl before you can walk," and made him a producer instead. For the next six years, Mankiewicz produced such enduring films as Fury (1936), The Philadelphia Story (1940), and Woman of the Year (1942). Realizing that Mayer would never let him direct, Mankiewicz switched to 20th Century Fox in 1944, where he made his directorial debut with Dragonwyck that same year. His films' scripts during the Fox period were distinguished by a high level of literacy and wit, most notably evidenced in A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950), both of which won Mankiewicz Oscars for Best Writer and Best Director. While his cameramen praised his visual sense, however, his directorial style tended to be flat and perfunctory, with dialogue given precedence over staging and characterization. Still, it was superb dialogue, even when there was way too much of it (as in People Will Talk [1952]).



Leaving Fox in 1952 to freelance, Mankiewicz directed one of the all-time best Shakespeare films for MGM, 1953's Julius Caesar, its appeal heightened by the offbeat (and effective) casting of Marlon Brando as Antony and Edmond O'Brien as Casca. The Barefoot Contessa the following year contained all the virtues and vices of the Mankiewicz's technique: on the plus side, a complex, involved story and memorably etched individual characters; on the minus side, an excessive running time, interminable dialogue sequences, and too many arbitrarily inserted author's messages. (Was a three-minute diatribe about greedy oil companies really necessary in the middle of a romantic drama?) Curiously, when Mankiewicz had an opportunity to make a truly volatile political statement in The Quiet American (1958), he muffed it by totally altering the message and the denouement of Graham Greene's original novel. Willing to tackle any subject matter, the director made the 1955 film version of Guys and Dolls and tried valiantly to bring coherence to the troubled 1963 version of Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor. After that debacle, Mankiewicz's movies became fewer and extremely uneven in quality. He was back in the groove with his last film, however: Sleuth (1972), a marvelous cat-and-mouse affair starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.



The recipient of dozens of industry awards, Mankiewicz spent his last decade in semi-retirement, regaling TV talk show and college-lecture audiences with his erudite (and admittedly self-aggrandizing) anecdotes of the Hollywood of old. Mankiewicz was the father of screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, and the uncle of two other writers of note, Don and Frank Mankiewicz.

Filmography

MOVIES

RATING TITLE CREDIT YEAR
No Score Yet Cleopatra 50th Anniversary
  • Screenwriter
  • Director
2013
89% Somewhere in the Night
  • Screenwriter
  • Director
2003
No Score Yet Spencer Tracy Legacy
  • Actor
1987
No Score Yet George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey
  • Himself
1984
96% Sleuth
  • Director
1972
No Score Yet King: A Filmed Record...Montgomery to Memphis
  • Director
1970
100% There Was a Crooked Man
  • Producer
  • Director
1970
No Score Yet The Honey Pot
  • Producer
  • Screenwriter
  • Director
1967
No Score Yet Carol for Another Christmas
  • Director
  • Producer
1964
55% Cleopatra
  • Director
  • Screenwriter
1963
69% Suddenly, Last Summer
  • Director
1959
No Score Yet The Quiet American
  • Screenwriter
  • Director
  • Producer
1958
90% Guys and Dolls
  • Director
  • Screenwriter
1955
100% The Barefoot Contessa
  • Director
  • Screenwriter
  • Producer
1954
95% Julius Caesar
  • Director
  • Screenwriter
1953
100% 5 Fingers
  • Screenwriter
  • Director
1952
No Score Yet People Will Talk
  • Screenwriter
  • Director
1951
83% No Way Out
  • Director
  • Screenwriter
1950
100% All About Eve
  • Screenwriter
  • Director
1950
80% House of Strangers
  • Director
1949
94% A Letter to Three Wives
  • Screenwriter
  • Director
1949
No Score Yet Escape
  • Director
1948
71% The Pirate
  • Screenwriter
1948
100% The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
  • Director
1947
No Score Yet The Late George Apley
  • Director
1947
No Score Yet Dragonwyck
  • Screenwriter
  • Director
1946
No Score Yet The Keys of the Kingdom
  • Producer
  • Screenwriter
1944
No Score Yet Reunion in France
  • Producer
1942
No Score Yet Cairo
  • Producer
1942
90% Woman of the Year
  • Producer
1942
No Score Yet The Feminine Touch
  • Producer
1941
100% The Philadelphia Story
  • Producer
1940
75% Strange Cargo
  • Producer
1940
No Score Yet The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn
  • Producer
1939
100% A Christmas Carol
  • Producer
1938
No Score Yet The Shining Hour
  • Producer
1938
100% Three Comrades
  • Producer
1938
No Score Yet Shopworn Angel
  • Producer
1938
No Score Yet Mannequin
  • Producer
1937
No Score Yet Double Wedding
  • Producer
1937
No Score Yet The Bride Wore Red
  • Producer
1937
80% Love on the Run
  • Producer
1936
No Score Yet The Gorgeous Hussy
  • Producer
1936
100% Fury
  • Producer
1936
No Score Yet I Live My Life
  • Screenwriter
1935
No Score Yet Forsaking All Others
  • Screenwriter
1934
100% Our Daily Bread
  • Screenwriter
1934
85% Manhattan Melodrama
  • Screenwriter
1934
No Score Yet Alice in Wonderland
  • Screenwriter
1933
No Score Yet Emergency Call
  • Screenwriter
1933
No Score Yet Diplomaniacs
  • Screenwriter
1933
No Score Yet If I Had a Million
  • Screenwriter
1932
100% Skippy
  • Screenwriter
1931

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