Casanova in Greeneland

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I’ve been looking at Mankiewicz, Joseph L, as the New York Film Fest is doing a retrospective and I was asked to write something for The Forgotten, which you can read about on Thursday. As part of my viewing, I was startled to discover that Fellini stole the opening of CASANOVA from Mankiewicz’s THE QUIET AMERICAN.

TQA is a Graham Greene adaptation set in Viet Nam, photographed by Robert Krasker (THE THIRD MAN) in inky b&w, whereas CASANOVA is a carnivalesque biography of the Italian libertine, poet, diarist and spy, so the two would seem pretty far apart. But both begin with celebrations, and what Mankiewicz and his team make of Chinese New Year in Saigon seems to have strongly influenced Fellini’s take on the Venice Carnival. Obviously, both events have certain elements in common — Mankiewicz centres his scene on a canal (he loved Venice, and filmed there), and there are masks and fireworks and bells and singing and chanting. It’s not surprising that the Fellini scene would contain all those features.

And it is POSSIBLE that the way veteran editor William Hornbeck fragments Mankiewicz’s scene, with near-subliminal flash-cuts of firecrackers exploding against the night sky, suggested itself to Fellini and his editor, Ruggiero Mastroianni independently. And the jumbled, jangled soundtrack, so very reminiscent, certainly owes something to what these celebrations naturally sound like, though Fellini’s is more elaborately layered and stylised.

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But when a Chinese dragon’s head fell from a bridge and floated down the canal, I felt a distinct deja vu. The image of Venus rising from the waters like Martin Sheen in APOCALYPSE NOW has a precedent in Fellini’s work — the top half of a vast statue’s head is carried through the streets in a moment in SATYRICON, so it was a partial image in the maestro’s mind already. But I think the combination of similarities is fairly overwhelming — nothing is proven, you understand, but direct influence seems to me more likely than not.

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And I’m still surprised — Mankiewicz influencing Fellini?

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10 Responses to “Casanova in Greeneland”

  1. Mankiewicz influenced Godard, so why not Federico?

    I don’t think it’s entirely that similar to Casanova, the effect in the Fellini is, I don’t know more intense and powerful. It’s very similar in composition however.

  2. Fellini, with his cartoonist’s eye, makes everything bigger and more intense.

  3. Mankiewicz clearly influenced Fellini with Cleopatra,/I> — which was filmed right in his lap, forcryingoutloud.

    When it came to Graham Greene as lovely as the film is Monkeybitch choked. The title is deeply ironic. The American in Greene’s book is a CIA advance man up to no good. Monkeybitch makes him nice sweet little Audie Murphy. Phillip Noyce’s remake is utterly faithful to Greene. Brendan Frasier is a monster whose death we welcome. Noyce doesn’t however have George Moll who Godard cast in Contempt as part of that masterpiece’s Mankiewicz homage (it “samples” The Barefoot Contessa frequently). Mankiewicz is to Godard what Hitchcock was to Truffaut, and it’s high time that screamingly obvious fact was acknowledged.

    (The first movie Godard reviewed was House of Strangers)

  4. Always saw Satyricon as a kind of anti-Cleo, but certainly Fellini would have been aware of Mank.

    Yes, the ending — spoiler alert! — which would have been intolerable to Hollywood in the 50s — is bowdlerized, but rather skillfully. Greene wants his character tormented by guilt, so making Murphy innocent actually increases this. The odd thing is that his squeaky-clean performance is just as irksome as if he were guilty. We want him to be guilty, right along with his rival.

    How they got the new ending past the censor would be interesting to hear. Redgrave may not profit from his role in murder, but he goes unpunished.

  5. Right on !- as usual, David E. Recent research has revealed that Edward G. Lansdale was closely involved in “Moneybitch’s” film especially in his various black propaganda operations one of which did involve producing a pro-South Vietnamese film which he proudly exhibited elsewhere. Unlike Noyce’s version which gave “The Quiet American” back to Graham, Greene, Mank’s version is a CIA controlled propaganda exercise/

  6. None of which seemed to bother Godard!

    What impressed me, knowing that the ending was going to be a kind of travesty, was how smoothly it was achieved. The Catholic guilt is left intact, maybe even strengthened, even as the political meaning is reversed.

  7. “Mizyear Fowlair, zey hav made a bluudy fool of you!

  8. Claude Dauphin is one of a whole series of similar characters in Mankiewicz films: the wistful detective figure. Professional, dogged, melancholy, observing the quirks and insanities of mankind. Kind of the author in disguise.

  9. As a matter of casual interest, Greenbriar Picture Show talks about “People Will Talk” today (10/3). As usual he highlights the economics and the contemporary response to the film:
    http://greenbriarpictureshows.blogspot.com/

  10. Thanks! That’s one I have caught the end of on TV numerous times. I need to finally see it from the beginning.

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