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At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Cleopatra’ , 8 August 2013

... or Wyler’s Ben-Hur (1959). It’s too intelligent for one thing: its director is, after all, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who had made not only Julius Caesar (1953) but also All About Eve (1950) and The Barefoot Contessa (1954). What he couldn’t do here was get the actors to rise to some of the wit in the lines, and so what ...

My son has been poisoned!

David Bromwich: Cold War movies, 26 January 2012

An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War 
by J. Hoberman.
New Press, 383 pp., £21.99, March 2011, 978 1 59558 005 4
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... out to be McCarthy’s last crusade; in a formal and spectacular sense, his career ended when Joseph Welch, a Boston lawyer and counsel for the army, replied to the ascription of Communist connections to a young lawyer on his staff: ‘Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.’ McCarthyism had been ...

Traffaut’s Heroes

Richard Mayne, 4 September 1980

The Films in My Life 
by François Truffaut, translated by Leonard Mayhew.
Allen Lane, 358 pp., £6.95, May 1980, 0 7139 1322 3
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... including that of filming in England, with uneasy backing and a perhaps too-pat idea. Tirez sur le pianiste, his second full-length feature, had actually been enrichedby mixing slapstick, melodrama, romance and tragedy, whatever some reviewers wrote at the time. And although La Chambre Verte (1978), at last to be seen in ...

I’m not an actress

Michael Newton: Ava Gardner, 7 September 2006

Ava Gardner 
by Lee Server.
Bloomsbury, 551 pp., £20, April 2006, 0 7475 6547 3
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... she saw in Sinatra, a ‘hundred-and-nineteen-pound has-been’. Ava blandly replied: ‘Well, I’ll tell you – nineteen pounds is cock.’ Broadly speaking, Ava Gardner’s life is that of a small-town girl who became a Hollywood star, then a hard-drinking rabble-rouser, and finally a grand and rather sad old lady with a corgi and a maid living in one of ...

Say thank you

Clive James: Witty Words in Pretty Mouths, 23 May 2002

Fast-Talking Dames 
by Maria DiBattista.
Yale, 365 pp., £19.95, June 2001, 0 300 08815 9
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... chap is the same fluent character we see on the big screen.) When talking about the films of Joseph Mankiewicz and Preston Sturges, both of whom she admires – two more testaments to her acumen – DiBattista is obliged to concede in each case that the writer-director is the shaping spirit. But in most other cases you would swear she believed that ...

A Little Holiday

Geoffrey Wheatcroft: Ben Hecht’s Cause, 23 September 2021

A Child of the Century 
by Ben Hecht.
Yale, 654 pp., £16, April 2020, 978 0 300 25179 1
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Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures 
by Adina Hoffman.
Yale, 245 pp., £10.99, April 2020, 978 0 300 25181 4
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... In​ the early 1920s, Herman J. Mankiewicz (‘Mank’) and Ben Hecht were not very successful writers in New York. Then Mank ventured west, the first of what was to become an exodus of literary talent to the Hollywood movie studios. In 1925, Mank summoned Hecht to join him with an offer of $300 a week to write for Paramount Pictures: ‘Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots ...

People shouldn’t be fat

Zachary Leader, 3 October 1996

Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu 
by Simon Callow.
Cape, 640 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 224 03852 4
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Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles 
by David Thomson.
Little, Brown, 460 pp., £20, September 1996, 0 316 91437 1
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... not suggestions: ‘Orson only knew one way and that was “Now everybody keep quiet and I’ll tell you what to do.” That was his only way of working. He simply didn’t know any other.’ He was not much good at sharing either, as Howard Koch, Herman Mankiewicz, John Houseman and others discovered to their ...

Business as Usual

J. Hoberman: Hitler in Hollywood, 19 December 2013

Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-39 
by Thomas Doherty.
Columbia, 429 pp., £24, April 2013, 978 0 231 16392 7
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The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler 
by Ben Urwand.
Harvard, 327 pp., £19.95, August 2013, 978 0 674 72474 7
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... both on and within the industry (his previous books include a study of the Hollywood censor Joseph Breen). He concludes, with some generosity, that when it came to dealing with the Nazis, Hollywood was ‘no worse than the rest of American culture in its failure of nerve and imagination, and often a good deal better in the exercise of both’. Urwand ...


David Bromwich: This was Orson Welles, 3 June 2004

Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life 
by Peter Conrad.
Faber, 384 pp., £20, September 2003, 0 571 20978 5
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... band in the Meridian Room of the Park Plaza Hotel, playing, with numbing tediousness, a tango, ‘La Cumparsita’, sodden at half-tempo, followed by a sleepwalk through that ‘perennial favourite, "Stardust"’. The music was interrupted once for a bulletin, something about an atmospheric event on Mars, a series of pulses each ‘like a jet of blue flame ...

How do you see Susan?

Mary Beard: No Asp for Zenobia, 20 March 2003

Cleopatra: Beyond the Myth 
by Michel Chauveau, translated by David Lorton.
Cornell, 104 pp., £14.95, April 2002, 0 8014 3867 5
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The Roman Mistress: Ancient and Modern Representations 
by Maria Wyke.
Oxford, 452 pp., £40, March 2002, 9780198150756
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... Rome under Augustus leading into two chapters on Cleopatra movies from the early 20th century to Joseph Mankiewicz’s 1963 ‘Lizpatra’, as the Taylor/Burton epic was nicknamed. The first essay makes it clear why Chauveau’s attempt to ‘exorcise the myth’ of Cleopatra and concentrate only on the ‘facts’ was doomed to be so short. Very little ...

A Rumbling of Things Unknown

Jacqueline Rose: Marilyn Monroe, 26 April 2012

... was attuned to this is again an understatement. In 1950, a mere starlet with a walk-on part in Joseph Mankiewicz’s All about Eve, she took the autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, the original muck-raking journalist, onto the set. All about Eve is another of her films about the lengths to which an actress will go to make it. Steffens is famous for ...

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