(Joseph L. Mankiewicz, US 1954, 128 min., 35mm)
After Mankiewicz left MGM, he formed his own production company, Figaro, and started work on The Barefoot Contessa, which he had originally conceived of as a novel. Reminiscent of his flashback-heavy successes with A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve (as well as 1946’s The Killers as it looks back on a person’s life through the recounts of others), The Barefoot Contessa is narrated by three men looking back on the life of a great starlet. Ava Gardner fills the role of Maria Vargas, an ingenue brought from Europe to Hollywood. Discovered by director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart in one of his last roles), Maria is shepherded through the process of becoming a star even as she pines for her simpler life back home. Edmond O’Brien won his only Academy Award as one of the three men that tell Maria’s story. This is Mankiewicz’s first color film, and he made the most of the beauty shooting on location in Italy.
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The Other Mank Mankiewicz’s peak came in the late 1940s and early 1950s as he received Academy Awards in back-to-back years for both writing and directing—a feat that has so far never been matched. The first of these films was A Letter to Three Wives, based on a Cosmopolitan short story by John Klempner that was expanded by the author into the novel A Letter to Five Wives before Fox purchased the rights for adaptation.
The Other Mank Mankiewicz finally emerged from his brother Herman’s shadow with All About Eve, which swept the Academy Award nominations (fourteen in all—still a record) and captured six, including Best Picture and two for Mankiewicz as writer and director.
The Other Mank Mankiewicz’s last film under his Fox contract is this dramatization of real-life events in World War II. A valet at the British embassy in neutral Turkey (James Mason) has ambitions to move beyond his station and becomes a spy for the German government, photographing sensitive military documents and selling them.