(Joseph L. Mankiewicz, US 1953, 120 min., 35mm)
Mankiewicz’s first film back at MGM was also the first Shakespeare adaptation out of Hollywood in nearly twenty years. The film was produced by John Houseman, who had also produced Orson Welles’s stage adaptation in 1937, but Mankiewicz opted for a more traditional approach, eschewing the modern-dress interpretation of the theatre production. Essentially a drama of men caught in the complex dilemma of political power and tyranny, Julius Caesar combines dynamism and subtlety in both its politically textured narrative and fluid aesthetic. Mankiewicz’s use of black and white instead of color inscribes the film with the feel and urgency of a newsreel rather than a costume epic, and the lack of on-screen physical violence—confined to the assassination of Caesar—is compensated by the intense expressions portrayed by a notable cast including Marlon Brando and James Mason.
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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.