Joseph L. Mankiewicz was a highly regarded director, screenwriter, and producer who worked in Hollywood from the 1940s to the 1970s. He was known for his sharp, witty dialogue, complex characterizations, and masterful storytelling. Here are some of his best films:
“All About Eve” (1950): This classic film stars Bette Davis as an aging Broadway actress and Anne Baxter as a conniving young fan who seeks to steal her fame and fortune.
The film is a biting satire of show business and the cult of celebrity, and features an outstanding cast, including George Sanders and Celeste Holm. “All About Eve” was nominated for a record-breaking 14 Academy Awards and won six, including Best Picture and Best Director for Mankiewicz.
“The Barefoot Contessa” (1954): This romantic drama stars Humphrey Bogart as a washed-up Hollywood director who discovers a beautiful Spanish dancer, played by Ava Gardner, and transforms her into a movie star.
The film explores themes of love, ambition, and betrayal, and features a memorable performance by Gardner. “The Barefoot Contessa” was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay for Mankiewicz.
“A Letter to Three Wives” (1949): This clever drama follows three women, played by Jeanne Crain, Ann Sothern, and Linda Darnell, who receive a letter from a mutual friend informing them that she has run off with one of their husbands.
As they try to figure out which one, the film explores the complexities of marriage and friendship. “A Letter to Three Wives” won the Academy Award for Best Director and was nominated for Best Picture.
“Sleuth” (1972): This suspenseful thriller stars Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine as two men engaged in a deadly game of cat and mouse.
The film features a twisty plot, sharp dialogue, and outstanding performances by the two leads. “Sleuth” was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Director for Mankiewicz.
“Julius Caesar” (1953): This epic historical drama stars Marlon Brando as Mark Antony, alongside an all-star cast that includes James Mason, John Gielgud, and Greer Garson.
The film is a faithful adaptation of Shakespeare’s play and features stunning production design and cinematography. “Julius Caesar” was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Mankiewicz.
Best Joseph L. Mankiewicz Movies
Let’s take a look at Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s top films.
1. All About Eve (1950)
“All About Eve” is a 1950 drama film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, and Celeste Holm. The film follows the story of an aging Broadway actress, Margo Channing (played by Bette Davis), and her young and ambitious fan, Eve Harrington (played by Anne Baxter).
The film explores the themes of aging, ambition, and betrayal as Margo Channing’s career begins to decline and Eve Harrington begins to climb the ranks of the Broadway theater scene.
The story is told through a series of flashbacks and interwoven subplots involving the relationships between the characters, including Margo’s best friend Karen Richards (played by Celeste Holm) and the cynical theater critic Addison DeWitt (played by George Sanders).
“All About Eve” was a critical and commercial success upon its release and is considered a classic of American cinema.
The film was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won six, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. Bette Davis’s performance as Margo Channing is particularly celebrated, and the film’s famous line, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night,” has become an iconic part of American film history.
2. Sleuth (1972)
“Sleuth” is a 1972 British mystery thriller film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on the play of the same name by Anthony Shaffer. The film stars Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, who give outstanding performances in their roles as the two main characters.
The film follows Andrew Wyke (Laurence Olivier), a wealthy writer of detective novels, who invites Milo Tindle (Michael Caine), his wife’s lover, to his country estate to propose a plan that will benefit them both financially.
However, the situation quickly takes a dark turn, as Wyke and Tindle engage in a twisted and dangerous game of one-upmanship, with each man trying to outmaneuver and outwit the other.
As the plot unfolds, the audience is drawn into a web of deceit, betrayal, and psychological gamesmanship, as Wyke and Tindle’s true motives are slowly revealed. The film is notable for its clever and intricate plot, its dark humor, and the outstanding performances of Olivier and Caine, who play off each other brilliantly..
“Sleuth” is a classic film that has been praised for its innovative narrative structure, its complex and fascinating characters, and its exceptional direction and performances.
It is widely considered one of the best mystery thrillers ever made, and its influence can be seen in the many films and television shows that have followed in its footsteps.
If you’re a fan of suspenseful and thought-provoking cinema, “Sleuth” is a must-see film that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
3. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” is a 1947 romantic fantasy film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, and George Sanders. The film is based on the 1945 novel of the same name by R.A. Dick.
The film tells the story of a young widow, Lucy Muir (played by Gene Tierney), who moves into a seaside cottage with her daughter and encounters the ghost of a former sea captain named Daniel Gregg (played by Rex Harrison).
Despite initial tension between them, Lucy and Daniel develop a deep and unconventional friendship, with Daniel providing Lucy with writing inspiration and guiding her through various struggles in her life.
“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” was praised for its unique blend of genres, mixing elements of romance, fantasy, and drama. The film’s performances, particularly those of Tierney and Harrison, were also widely acclaimed.
The movie received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Director and Best Screenplay.
Today, the film is regarded as a classic of American cinema and a romantic masterpiece. It has been adapted into several stage productions and television series over the years.
4. A Letter to Three Wives (1949)
“A Letter to Three Wives” is a clever and entertaining drama film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
The film follows three suburban wives, Deborah (Jeanne Crain), Lora Mae (Linda Darnell), and Rita (Ann Sothern), who receive a letter from a mutual friend, Addie Ross (voiced by Celeste Holm), informing them that she has run off with one of their husbands.
As the three women try to figure out which one of them Addie has run off with, they reflect on their marriages and the events leading up to the letter.
The film is notable for its witty and intelligent screenplay, which was also written by Mankiewicz. The characters are well-drawn and multi-dimensional, with each of the three wives facing their own personal struggles and conflicts.
The film also explores themes of marriage, friendship, and class, and features strong performances from the entire cast, including Thelma Ritter as the women’s witty and wise-talking maid.
“A Letter to Three Wives” was a critical and commercial success upon its release, and was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning Best Director and Best Screenplay for Mankiewicz. The film has since become a classic of the genre and is often cited as one of the best films of the 1940s.
5. 5 Fingers (1952)
“5 Fingers” is a 1952 spy thriller film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring James Mason, Danielle Darrieux, and Michael Rennie.
The film is based on the true story of Elyesa Bazna, a German spy who worked as a valet for the British ambassador to Turkey during World War II.
The film follows the story of Ulysses Diello (James Mason), a suave and sophisticated valet who works for the British ambassador to Turkey during World War II. Unknown to his employer, Diello is actually a German agent who is passing on confidential information to the Nazis.
He becomes increasingly emboldened and greedy, eventually setting his sights on stealing a large sum of money earmarked for the British war effort.
The film is notable for its tense and suspenseful plot, its strong performances from its talented cast, and its beautiful location photography. James Mason is particularly impressive in his role as the charming and cunning Diello, whose motivations and loyalties are constantly in question.
“5 Fingers” is a classic espionage thriller that combines suspense, drama, and historical context in a way that is both thrilling and thought-provoking. The film’s intricate plot and superb performances make it a standout example of the genre, and it remains a favorite among fans of spy films and wartime dramas.
If you enjoy tense and intelligent thrillers, “5 Fingers” is a film that is definitely worth watching.
6. Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
“Suddenly, Last Summer” is a 1959 drama film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, and Montgomery Clift. The film is based on the one-act play of the same name by Tennessee Williams.
The film explores the story of a wealthy Southern family and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the family’s son, Sebastian.
The film focuses on Sebastian’s cousin, Catherine (played by Elizabeth Taylor), who was with Sebastian on a trip to Europe when he died.
Catherine is traumatized by the experience and is committed to a mental institution, where she is questioned by Sebastian’s mother (played by Katharine Hepburn) and a doctor (played by Montgomery Clift) about the events leading up to his death.
The film tackles themes of family, sexuality, and mental illness, and is noted for its controversial and shocking subject matter, which was considered taboo at the time of its release. The performances of Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn were widely praised, and the film received four Academy Award nominations.
Today, “Suddenly, Last Summer” is regarded as a classic of American cinema, noted for its stunning cinematography and thought-provoking themes. It is considered one of the most significant film adaptations of Tennessee Williams’ work and is studied in film and literature courses around the world.
7. House of Strangers (1949)
“House of Strangers” is a dramatic film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and released in 1949. The film stars Edward G. Robinson as Gino Monetti, the patriarch of an Italian-American family in New York City. Gino is a successful banker who has built his fortune through illegal means, and he has four sons who have each grown up to become successful in their own right.
The film centers around the tension and conflict between Gino and his sons, who feel neglected and undervalued by their father. When Gino is betrayed by one of his sons, he is arrested and sent to prison, and his family begins to crumble.
The film explores themes of family, loyalty, and betrayal, and features strong performances from the entire cast, including Susan Hayward as Max Monetti, Gino’s strong-willed daughter-in-law.
“House of Strangers” was well-received by critics and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Richard Conte’s performance as one of Gino’s sons.
The film is notable for its complex characters and nuanced portrayal of the Italian-American experience in the mid-20th century, as well as for Mankiewicz’s skilled direction and storytelling.
8. Julius Caesar (1953)
“Julius Caesar” is a 1953 film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and based on the famous play by William Shakespeare. The film boasts an all-star cast, including Marlon Brando, James Mason, and John Gielgud, and is widely regarded as one of the best film adaptations of Shakespeare’s work.
The film tells the story of Julius Caesar’s rise to power and his eventual assassination by his trusted friend Brutus. The complex political and personal dynamics between the characters are brought to life through Shakespeare’s powerful language and the skillful performances of the talented cast.
The film is notable for its gorgeous cinematography and art direction, which bring ancient Rome to life in stunning detail.
The sweeping battle scenes and intricate court intrigue are masterfully executed, and the film’s themes of power, betrayal, and the dangers of political ambition are as relevant today as they were in Shakespeare’s time.
“Julius Caesar” is a classic film that has stood the test of time and remains a favorite of Shakespeare fans and film enthusiasts alike. Its memorable performances, stunning visuals, and timeless themes make it a film that is not to be missed.
Whether you’re a fan of Shakespeare or just enjoy epic historical dramas, “Julius Caesar” is a film that is sure to leave a lasting impression.
9. Guys and Dolls (1955)
“Guys and Dolls” is a 1955 musical film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, and Vivian Blaine. The film is based on the popular Broadway musical of the same name, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.
The film tells the story of a group of gamblers and their romantic relationships in New York City. Marlon Brando plays Sky Masterson, a suave and charismatic gambler who falls in love with a Salvation Army missionary, Sarah Brown (played by Jean Simmons).
Meanwhile, Frank Sinatra plays Nathan Detroit, a fellow gambler who is engaged to the nightclub singer Miss Adelaide (played by Vivian Blaine) and struggles to find a place for their wedding.
“Guys and Dolls” was well-received by audiences and critics and is widely regarded as one of the greatest musical films of all time. The film’s memorable songs, including “Luck Be a Lady,” “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” and “Adelaide’s Lament,” have become classics of American musical theater.
The film received four Academy Award nominations and won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. Today, “Guys and Dolls” remains a beloved classic, with frequent revivals on stage and screen.
10. Cleopatra (1963)
“Cleopatra” is an epic historical drama film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and released in 1963. The film tells the story of Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, and her tumultuous relationships with Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) and Mark Antony (Richard Burton) during the height of the Roman Empire.
The film is known for its lavish sets, costumes, and production design, as well as its impressive cast, which also includes Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, Roddy McDowall as Octavian, and Hume Cronyn as Sosigenes.
Despite its high production value, the film was plagued by production issues, including numerous rewrites, changes in cast and crew, and ballooning costs, which ultimately made it the most expensive film ever made up to that point.
The film was initially panned by critics and struggled at the box office, leading to major financial losses for the studio. However, in the years since its release, “Cleopatra” has become a cult classic and is often regarded as a visually stunning and entertaining spectacle.
The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won four, including Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction.
3 Characteristics of Joseph L. Mankiewicz Films
There are several characteristics that are often associated with Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s films, but here are three of the most prominent ones:
Smart and sophisticated writing: Mankiewicz was known for his clever, witty, and often sophisticated writing, which was evident in many of his films.
His dialogue was often sharp and incisive, and his characters were well-rounded and complex, with nuanced motivations and conflicts.
Complex, multi-layered plots: Mankiewicz’s films often had intricate and multi-layered plots that combined elements of drama, suspense, and even comedy. He was known for his attention to detail and his ability to weave together complex storylines that kept audiences engaged and guessing until the very end.
Strong performances from talented actors: Mankiewicz was known for his ability to draw out exceptional performances from his actors. He worked with many of the most talented actors of his time and was able to bring out their best work. His films often featured powerful and memorable performances that were a testament to his skill as a director.
Overall, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s films were characterized by their intelligence, sophistication, and complexity. His films often tackled weighty themes and were known for their powerful performances and intricate plots.
3 Reasons Why You Should Watch Joseph L. Mankiewicz Films
Strong Screenwriting: Joseph L. Mankiewicz was known for his sharp and sophisticated screenplays, which often tackled complex social issues and human relationships. His films are known for their well-crafted dialogue, memorable characters, and intricate storylines, making them a great choice for viewers who appreciate nuanced and thought-provoking cinema.
Stellar Casts: Mankiewicz worked with some of the biggest stars of his time, including Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Bette Davis, and Katharine Hepburn.
His films often showcased brilliant performances from his actors, which were enhanced by his deft direction and writing. Fans of classic Hollywood cinema will enjoy the chance to see some of their favorite stars in top form in Mankiewicz’s films.
Classic Filmmaking: Mankiewicz’s films are considered classics of American cinema, and are noted for their stylish cinematography, inventive storytelling, and strong sense of artistry.
His films are a window into a bygone era of Hollywood filmmaking, and offer a glimpse into the styles and sensibilities of a time when cinema was at its peak. For viewers who appreciate the craft of filmmaking and the history of cinema, Mankiewicz’s films are a must-see.
Best Joseph L. Mankiewicz Films – Wrapping Up
Joseph L. Mankiewicz was a talented and accomplished filmmaker who made many classic films throughout his career. Some of his best-known and most highly-regarded works include:
“All About Eve” (1950) – A biting and witty drama about a young actress who becomes a rival to an aging Broadway star.
“A Letter to Three Wives” (1949) – A clever and entertaining drama about three suburban wives who receive a letter from a mutual friend informing them that she has run off with one of their husbands.
“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” (1947) – A charming and romantic fantasy film about a widow who moves into a seaside cottage that is haunted by the ghost of a former sea captain.
“House of Strangers” (1949) – A dramatic film about a successful banker and his four sons, who become embroiled in a web of tension and conflict.
“Julius Caesar” (1953) – A powerful adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play about the rise and fall of the famous Roman dictator.
Mankiewicz was a skilled director and screenwriter who was known for his complex and multi-dimensional characters, sharp dialogue, and insightful exploration of relationships, power dynamics, and societal issues. His films have left a lasting impact on the world of cinema, and continue to be celebrated and studied by film buffs and scholars alike.
My very favorite film is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It would great to see his other outstanding films on Turner Classic Movies.