McFarland and Company continues to release affordable softcover editions of their hardcover library-bound books of the past, with "Joseph L. Mankiewicz: Critical Essays with an Annotated Bibliography and a Filmography." The title explains the text, as the book contains essays discussing various aspects of the director-writer-producer's work. Mankiewicz is one of those filmmakers whose work offers the sort of diversity that allows for greater insight by examining his process. Authors Cheryl Bray Lower and R. Barton Palmer provided essays on a myriad of cinematic subjects pertaining to the filmmaker, including Mankiewicz's Dark Cinema, The Mankiewicz Woman, Filmed Theater, and Literary Adaptions. Notes, an annotated bibliography, a filmography, and appendices offering unrealized projects, festivals, and awards are also included. Film noir is a staple of Mankiewicz's work, his screenplay for "Fury" (Fritz Lang, 1936) among the precursors of the genre. When discussing his dark cinema, author Palmer examines this film, including discussing how its themes relate to later projects. Palmer discusses several directorial efforts in this chapter, but it is the section on "House of Strangers" (1949) that is especially interesting. This psychological drama was created by screenwriter Phillip Yordan from only a few pages of the Jerome Weidman novel "I'll Never Go There Any More." While Yordan did his best under the circumstances, Mankiewicz had to rework much of the screenplay to make it filmable. The result was a strong movie with fine performances, but Spyrous Skouras, head of the New York branch of Fox, the film's studio, believed the character played brilliantly by Edward G. Robinson was mocking his thick accent and immigrant status. The film received poor distribution as a result and failed at the box office. Cheryl Bray Lower's essay on the Mankiewicz woman examines such important films as "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" (1947), "A Letter to Three Wives" (1949), "People Will Talk" (1951), "Cleopatra" (1963), and "The Honey Pot" (1967). Lower states: "Mankiewicz's films are good material for feminist analysis because he created strong women who were more complex than the one dimensional stereotypes that abounded in Hollywood films of the forties and fifties." The only drawback of this book is that is does not discuss Mankiewicz's work writing comedy films, including such quirky, offbeat subjects as "Million Dollar Legs" (1932) and "Diplomaniacs" (1933), both of which offer humor that is wittier and quirkier than most films of their era, each having political insight that remains relevant in the 21st century. This book is highly recommended to libraries and research centers.
May 7, 2014