(Joseph L. Mankiewicz, US 1959, 114 min., 35mm)
Tennessee Williams’s gothic play (adapted by Gore Vidal) is given the big-screen treatment with a typical Mankiewicz touch. Patrician southern widow Mrs. Venable (Katharine Hepburn) summons newly arrived neurologist Dr. Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) to her home to talk about her niece, Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor), who appears to have gone mad after the death of Venable’s son. Venable sees lobotomy as a quick fix, while Cukrowicz has his doubts. As he treats Holly and digs deeper into her past, family secrets are revealed that Venable would rather keep hidden. The fusion of Williams and Mankiewicz (both known for their dialogue) brings sizzling intensity to this surprising psychological drama. Hepburn earned her eighth Academy Award nomination and Taylor her third in a row for their performances.
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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.