Joseph Leo Mankiewicz (February 11, 1909 – February 5, 1993) was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. Mankiewicz had a long Hollywood career, and won consecutive Oscars for both Best Director and Best Screenplay for A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950), the latter of which was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won six. Comfortable in a variety of genres and able to elicit career performances from actors and actresses alike, Mankiewicz combined ironic, sophisticated scripts with a precise, sometimes stylized mise en scène. Mankiewicz worked for seventeen years as a screenwriter for Paramount Pictures and as a producer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer before getting a chance to direct at Twentieth Century Fox. Over six years he made 11 films for Fox. During his over 40-year career in Hollywood, Mankiewicz wrote forty-eight screenplaysas well as producing more than twenty films
Mankiewicz got a contract to work as a writer at Paramount in 1928, through his brother Herman J. Mankiewicz (best known for co-writing Citizen Kane with Orson Welles). Herman was one of the writers on The Dummy (1929), on which Joseph wrote titles. He also did titles for Close Harmony (1929) and The Man I Love (1929) with Jack Oakie, The Studio Murder Mystery (1929), Josef von Sternberg’s Thunderbolt (1929), The River of Romance (1929), The Saturday Night Kid (1929) with Clara Bow, The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929), and Victor Fleming‘s The Virginian (1929) with Gary Cooper.
He started to be credited on screenplays for films like Fast Company (1929) with Oakie and Slightly Scarlet (1930) and he did work on the script for The Light of Western Stars (1930) with Richard Arlen and Paramount on Parade (1930). He wrote The Social Lion (1930) with Oakie, Only Saps Work (1930), The Gang Buster (1931) with Arlen, Finn and Hattie (1931) with Oakie, and June Moon (1931) with Oakie. He also did the scripts for Skippy (1931) with Jackie Cooper, Dude Ranch (1931) with Oakie, Newly Rich (1931), and Sooky (1931), a sequel to Skippy. This was followed by This Reckless Age (1932), Sky Bride (1932) with Arlen and Oakie, Million Dollar Legs (1932) with Oakie and W.C. Fields, Night After Night (1932) (uncredited), and If I Had a Million (1932). He was borrowed by RKO for Diplomaniacs (1933) and Emergency Call (1933). He returned to Paramount for Too Much Harmony (1933) with Oakie and Bing Crosby, Meet the Baron (1933) (uncredited), and the all-star Alice in Wonderland (1933).
Mankiewicz signed a long term contract with MGM. He wrote Manhattan Melodrama (1934) which was a huge hit. He was loaned out to King Vidor to work on Our Daily Bread (1934). At MGM he wrote Forsaking All Others (1934) with Clark Gable, Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery and did uncredited work on After Office Hours (1935) with Gable and Constance Bennett, Reckless (1935) with Jean Harlow and William Powell, Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935) and I Live My Life (1935) with Crawford.
He was promoted to producer with Richard Boleslawski’s Three Godfathers (1936), starring Chester Morris, Lewis Stone, and Walter Brennan. On most of his films as producer he would work uncredited on the script. Mankiewicz had a commercial and critical success with Fury (1936), the first American film directed by Fritz Lang. Mankiewicz produced a series of films starring Crawford: The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), Love on the Run (1936), The Bride Wore Red (1937), and Mannequin (1937).
Mankewicz also produced Double Wedding (1937) with William Powell and Myrna Loy; Three Comrades (1938), with Margaret Sullavan and Robert Taylor and director Frank Borzage, famously rewriting F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Shopworn Angel (1938) with Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart; The Shining Hour (1938) with Sullavan and Crawford, directed by Borzage. He also did some uncredited writing on The Great Waltz (1938), and the script which became Vincente Minnelli film The Pirate (1948), starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly.
He produced A Christmas Carol (1938); The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939) with Mickey Rooney; and Strange Cargo (1940) with Gable and Crawford, directed by Borzage. He had a huge hit as producer with The Philadelphia Story (1940) directed by George Cukor, starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Stewart. It was followed by The Wild Man of Borneo (1941), and The Feminine Touch (1941), then he had another big success with Hepburn, Woman of the Year (1942), her first teaming with Spencer Tracy. Mankiewicz’s final productions at MGM were Cairo (1942) with Jeanette MacDonald and Reunion in France (1942) with Crawford and John Wayne.
Mankiewicz had a huge success with A Letter to Three Wives (1949), which he wrote and directed, winning Oscars for both; Sol Siegel produced. He and Siegel collaborated again on House of Strangers (1949), on which Mankiewicz did some uncredited writing. Mankewicz wrote and directed No Way Out (1950), which launched the career of Sidney Poitier; Darryl F. Zanuck was credited as producer. Zanuck also took that credit on Mankiewicz’s next film, All About Eve (1950), starring Bette Davis; which quickly became regarded as a classic. He then made People Will Talk (1951), also produced by Zanuck, though not highly acclaimed. He did some uncredited work on the script for I’ll Never Forget You (1952), then made one last film under his contract with Fox, 5 Fingers (1952).
In 1951 Mankiewicz left Fox and moved to New York, intending to write for the Broadway stage. Although this dream never materialized, he continued to make films (both for his own production company Figaro and as a director-for-hire) that explored his favorite themes – the clash of aristocrat with commoner, life as performance and the clash between people’s urge to control their fate and the contingencies of real life. In 1953 he directed Julius Caesar for MGM, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play produced by John Houseman. It received widely favorable reviews, and David Shipman, in The Story of Cinema, described it as a “film of quiet excellence, faltering only in the later moments when budget restrictions hampered the handling of the battle sequences”. The film serves as the only record of Marlon Brando in a Shakespearean role; he played Mark Antony, and received an Oscar nomination for his performance.
Mankiewicz set up his own production company, Figaro. Its first production was The Barefoot Contessa (1954) which he produced, wrote and directed; starring Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner. Sam Goldwyn hired him to write and direct the film version of the musical Guys and Dolls (1955), with Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, and Vivian Blaine. This was a huge hit but not highly regarded critically.
In 1958 Mankiewicz wrote and directed The Quiet American for Figaro, an adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1955 novel about the seed of American military involvement in what would become the Vietnam War. Mankiewicz, under career pressure from the climate of anti-Communism and the Hollywood blacklist, distorted the message of Greene’s book, changing major parts of the story to appeal to a nationalistic audience. A cautionary tale about America’s blind support for “anti-Communists” was turned into, according to Greene, a “propaganda film for America”. The film was a critical and commercial disappointment. That year Figaro produced Robert Wise’s I Want to Live! (1958) though Mankiewicz had relatively little to do with it. He directed Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) for producer Sam Spiegel, from a script by Gore Vidal and a play by Tennessee Williams. Elizabeth Taylor, Hepburn and Montgomery Clift starred. It was a big hit.
20th Century Fox were looking for a director for Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor. She would only approve two men, George Stevens or Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz accepted a lucrative contract, which he came to regret. The film consumed two years of Mankiewicz’s life and ended up both derailing his career and causing severe financial losses for the studio, Twentieth Century-Fox, which were not fully recovered until Rodgers and Hammerstein’s popular and acclaimed The Sound of Music was released two years later.
Mankiewicz produced and directed Carol for Another Christmas (1964) for television. He wrote and directed The Honey Pot (1967), with Rex Harrison, Susan Hayward, and Maggie Smith; and produced and directed There Was a Crooked Man… (1970), as well as doing some uncredited work on the documentary King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis (1970). He garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Direction in 1972 for Sleuth, his final directing effort, starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.
Each review will be linked to the title below.
(*seen originally in theaters)
(**seen rereleased in theaters)
- The Dummy (1929) – titles; silent
- Close Harmony (1929) – titles; silent
- The Man I Love (1929) – titles; silent
- The Studio Murder Mystery (1929) – uncredited titles; silent
- Thunderbolt (1929) – titles; silent
- The River of Romance (1929) – titles; silent
- The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929) – uncredted titles; silent
- Fast Company (1929) co-writer
- The Virginian (1929) – uncredted titles
- Slightly Scarlet (1930) co-writer
- The Light of Western Stars (1930) – uncredited co-writer
- Paramount on Parade (1930) – writer
- The Social Lion (1931) – uncredted writer
- Only Saps Work (1931) – co-writer
- The Gang Buster (1931) – writer
- Finn & Hattie (1931) – writer
- June Moon (1931) – co-writer
- Skippy (1931) – co-writer
- Dude Rance (1931) – uncredted additional dialogue
- Newly Rich (1931) – co-writer
- Sooky (1931) – co-writer
- This Reckless Age (1932) – co-writer
- Sky Bride (1932) – co-writer
- Million Dollar Legs (1932) – story
- Night After Night (1932) – uncredited writer
- If I Had A Million (1932) – anthology; segments: China Shop, Three Marines, Violet – uncredited writer
- Diplomaniacs (1933) – co-writer
- Emergency Call (1933) – co-writer
- Too Much Harmony (1933) – story
- Meet the Baron (1933) – uncredted writer
- Alice in Wonderland (1933) – co-writer
- Manhattan Melodrama (1934) – co-writer
- Our Daily Bread (1934) – dialogue
- Forsaking All Others (1934) – writer
- After Office Hours (1935) – uncredted writer
- Reckless (1935) – uncredited writer
- Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935) – uncredted writer
- Redeads on Parade (1935) – uncredited writer
- I Live My Life (1935) – writer
- Two Fisted (1935) – uncredited writer
- Three Godfathers (1936) – uncredited writer
- Love on the Run (1936) – uncredted writer
- The Bride Wore Red (1937) – uncredited writer
- Mannequin (1937) – uncredited writer
- Three Comrades (1938) – uncredited writer
- The Shopworn Angel (1938) – uncredited writer
- The Great Waltz (1938) – uncredited writer
- The Shining Hour (1938) – uncredited writer
- The Keys of the Kingdom (1944) – co-writer
- Dragonwyck (1946) – director, writer
- Somewhere in the Night (1946) co-writer
- The Late George Apley (1947) – director
- The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) – director
- Escape (1948) – director
- A Letter to Three Wives (1949) – director, writer
- House of Strangers (1949) – director, uncredited writer
- No Way Out (1950) director, co-writer
- All About Eve (1950) – director, writer
- People Will Talk (1951) – director, writer
- 5 Fingers (1952) – director, uncredited writer
- Julius Caesar (1953) director, uncredited writer
- The Barefoot Contessa (1954) – director, writer
- Guys and Dolls (1955) – director, writer
- The Quiet American (1958) – director, writer
- Suddenly Last Summer (1959) – director
- Cleopatra (1963) – director, co-writer
- A Carol for Another Christmas – director; TV movie
- The Honey Pot (1967) – director, writer
- King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis (1970) – co-directed with Sidney Lumet – docuemntary
- There Was a Crooked Man (1970) – director
- Sleuth (1972) – director