All About Mankiewicz (1983)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

, 1983. , . Cinematography by , . Produced by . Film Editing by .

In 1983, director Luc Beraud and interviewer Michel Ciment convinced 74 year-old writer-director to sit for their cameras and give a generous, nearly two hour interview about his career as one of the greatest auteurs of Hollywood’s golden age. Mankiewicz hadn’t directed a film in eleven years when this interview was conducted, now living on a gorgeous ranch outside of New York City where he sits and answers Ciment’s questions with his many accolades (including four Academy Awards) visible behind his seat.

Ciment has no interest in being provocative, there are no scandalous questions about Mankiewicz’s private life, which included affairs with Judy Garland, Joan Crawford and Linda Darnell, and three marriages including to Austrian actress Rose Stradner, who committed suicide and was, according to their son, the main inspiration for Margo Channing (despite what Tallulah Bankhead had to say about it); if information about that side of the man is what you’re after, check out his children speaking about him in various books, documentaries and DVD audio commentaries of his many classics. Aside from a few comments about the rivalry between him and his brother Herman, who was twelve years his senior, the information here is focused on his beginnings in the business and his experiences jumping from screenwriter for hire at Paramount, to producer at MGM and eventually a director at Twentieth Century-Fox, where he really made his mark.

Mankiewicz has a lot to say about both the artistic and commercial sides of the business and is not bitter or jaded about either, he says he began working in Hollywood with no illusions about what he was getting into and never needed to be disillusioned. For the most part he speaks fondly about past projects and the actors he worked with, only briefly mentioning the painful experience of Cleopatra without going into it; the reason he hasn’t made a film since Sleuth, he says, is that nothing else has come along to interest him (he doesn’t long to explore “intergalactic warfare”, he says).

It wouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that the director decided to leave well enough alone and go out on a high, thus avoiding the dismal downturn in quality that his contemporaries Billy Wilder and Vincente Minnelli suffered at the ends of their careers, though it’s worth noting that he doesn’t close the book on the possibility either (he lived another ten years after this interview was shot). Discussion is surprisingly light on Mankiewicz’s most celebrated film, All About Eve, and there is almost no mention of A Letter to Three Wives, but the glimpse into the studio system from someone who saw so many sides of it is undeniably valuable.

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