Archive for Joseph L Mankiewicz

Lipstick on your Killer

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2022 by dcairns

IL ROSSETTO (THE LIPSTICK, 1960) is Damiano Damiani’s first film as director. While Elio Petri’s debut, L’ASSASSINO, seems like a near-remake of Joseph Losey’s BLIND DATE, DD seems to have chosen as his model another British picture, J. Lee Thompson’s TIGER BAY. But he’s changed things more.

His lead is teenager Laura Vivaldi, who has a precocious crush on handsome Pierre Brice. He’s much older and only shows an interest in her when it turns out she can put him at the scene of a recent murder. Now he starts doting on her, while working out what he has to do to keep her quiet…

Vivaldi is great — maybe not the thespian genius Hayley Mills was as a kid, but very affecting and credible. Her mom is played by Bella Darvi, so we know there’s going to be trouble there. Brice’s REAL girlfriend is Georgia Moll, miscast by Mankiewicz as a Vietnamese character in THE QUIET AMERICAN (why didn’t somebody point JLM to Dany Carrel?). And the police inspector who starts honing in on Brice, using young Vivaldi as a wedge to crack him, is Pietro Germi, who did quite a bit of acting alongside his celebrated directing career.

Germi is one of the film’s most interesting creations — structurally, he’s Columbo-like (enter late, slowly take over), but less sympathetic. Damiani is not, I think, enamoured of the cops. Germi has a picture of his own daughter on his desk. He’s very kindly toward Vivaldi and he believes her story. It turns out she’s just the age his own daughter would have been.

When a more cynical cop undermines Germi’s faith in his star witness — and the thing that does it is the fact that she’s known to have experimented with lipstick — the hussy! — he turns against her. Things get very dark indeed, and social critique almost takes over from detective drama. It’s a perfect balance, actually.

Two possible criticisms — the movie could make a great advertisment for suicide attempting as a means to resolve adolescent troubles, which could seem irresponsible — and the resolution of the mother-daughter plot is not too satisfying since Darvi plays the mom’s bad qualities much more convincingly than the good ones — she’s been wrapped up in her own soap opera affairs as a married man’s mistress, and doesn’t seem to earn her happy ending. But really these issues don’t seem as troublesome as they ought to be.

Damiani’s direction is assured and simple, sustaining his beautifully crafted melodrama.

I also took a look at GODDESS OF LOVE (1958), in the wonder of Ferraniacolor and Totalscope — an unusual peplum-thing scripted by Damiani. He did a bunch of these for veteran director Victor Tourjansky, but this one departs from the usual playbook. There are no bulging biceps, and despite some marching armies in the second act, the film is mostly intimate, and genuinely interested in its love story, structured around the sculpting of the Aphrodite of Knidos.

You learn absolutely nothing important or accurate about this significant work of art except that it was chiselled by a bloke called Praxiteles (Massimo Girotti), but Damiani’s feminist side is apparent — Belinda Lee, a voluptuous lass from Devon, is tyrannized from all sides because of her beauty — it’s like THE RED SHOES, only clunky on every level. Praxiteles wants her as model (but secretly is smitten), a wounded Macedonian he shelters (Lithuanian sideboard Jacques Sernas, Il Divo in LA DOLCE VITA) is in simply manly love with her, and the entire Greek army lusts after her for the way she knocks the shape out of a tunic.

Damiani is guilty of some bad radio writing — “Let’s run away from here through this door!” but his story is actually compelling. Tourjansky, once a wild stylist in France in the 20s, has settled into his “mature” period — asleep at the wheel. You don’t need to watch it. But it’s interesting to see DD already mastering story and making something a little more interesting than it needs to be.

Wank with Mank

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2022 by dcairns

I read and enjoyed Walter Wanger’s My Life with Cleopatra, having previously enjoyed The Cleopatra Papers. That movie is so much more fun to read about than to watch. I watched it once and have forgotten almost everything.

The Wanger book — sloppily put together (he keeps changing from present to past tense) but fun, if you enjoy dismay as much as I do — led me to finally pick up my long-ago-purchased copy of Pictures Will Talk, Kenneth L. Geist’s Life and Films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, which I knew was going to be enjoyable from its Acknowledgements page. Geist writes there, “My qualified gratitude to Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who granted me eleven interviews […] My unqualified gratitude to Christopher Mankiewicz, who, unlike his father, has made the many hours in his company constantly pleasurable.”

Geist’s irritation at his subject, no doubt partially justified, is amusing, because we can’t really sympathise — Geist is the one thrusting himself into JLM’s company, not the other way around.

Joe and Mank

As a sample of how much value the book has for the lover of gossip and smut and trash, here’s a story told by JLM about his brother, Herman J., which unaccountably didn’t make it into Fincher’s MANK. It’s more disturbing than funny, possibly.

Herman was a heavy gambler — several entries in his filmography were written purely to pay off his gambling debts to the studio bosses. One home he played at belonged to such a mogul, and came with the disadvantage of the titan of industry’s small son, who would wander into the room where poker was being played, picking up chips, asking questions, generally being a distracting nuisance.

Nobody felt they could tell off the boss’s kid.

Fed up with this, Herman took the kid by the arm and led him away. Came back alone. The other players asked him how he’s managed it — violence, hypnotism, bribery?

“Easy,” said Herman. “I just found a private spot on a back stairway and taught the kid to masturbate. He took to it like a duck to water.”

Mank Bank

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on July 9, 2020 by dcairns

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Strange — I tried watching HOUSE OF STRANGERS once before — it’s Joseph L Mankiewicz, after all — and bailed on it. Revisiting for this fortnight’s Forgotten By Fox, I found it excellent. The thing is, on first viewing I regarded Edward G. Robinson as the main attraction, and he’s a little disappointing here. Most of the fun to be had is with Richard Conte and Susan Hayward and Luther Adler, though I somehow failed to mention the last-named in my piece.

Here.