Joseph L. Mankiewicz - producer, script writer and director
Mankiewicz’s breakthrough film was A Letter to Three Wives (1949), which developed from a women’s magazine story about an unmarried femme fatale who steals the husband of one of her three best friends, then leaves the group in a state of confusion about which of their husbands she has run away with. The film rises above its material, sparkling with perceptive observations about social class and regional distinctions. Its finely detailed characters come to life with snappy dialogue and Mankiewicz’s expert direction. It also offers interesting meditations on the development of mass culture, the dislocations caused by the war, consumer culture, and feminism.
The remainder of his oeuvre is remarkably varied, a series of films that are uniformly literate and engaging, if not visually striking. He achieved notoriety for overseeing the final stages of one of Hollywood’s most notable disasters, Cleopatra (1963), proving that he was no master of the large-scale spectacle.
Mankiewicz’s métier was the witty comedy of manners, and no American has proven more able at the genre. A Letter to Three Wives is an undoubted masterpiece, but All about Eve (1950) has no peers. This backstage drama offers a dark and pessimistic meditation on fame and celebrity, and the ways, often less than hones, in which they can be achieved. Although it deals with Broadway rather than Hollywood, the film seems a slightly wicked comment on the industry with which Mankiewicz, an Ivy League-educated intellectual, was associated. It takes a jaundiced view, perhaps of commercial filmmaking and its obsession with star performers, writers, and directors, of which group Mankiewicz himself was one of the most celebrated for more than a decade. (R. Barton Palmer, 501 Movie Directors, 2007 Quintessence)