Joseph L. Mankiewicz makes the list in spite of directing Cleopatra (1963).

Joseph L. Mankiewicz makes the list in spite of directing Cleopatra (1963).

Joseph L. Mankiewicz

  • Born:  1909
  • Died:  1993
  • Rank:  81
  • Score:  523.75
  • Awards:  2 Oscars / 2 DGA / NYFC  (also won 2 Oscars and 2 WGA for screenplays)
  • Nominations:  4 Oscars / 3 DGA / 2 Golden Globes
  • Feature Films:  20
  • Best:  All About Eve
  • Worst:  Cleopatra

Top 5 Films:

  1. All About Eve – 1950
  2. Sleuth – 1972
  3. A Letter to Three Wives – 1949
  4. No Way Out – 1950
  5. House of Strangers – 1949

Top 10 Director Finishes  (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1949 – 3rd – A Letter to Three Wives
  • 1950 – 3rd – All About Eve
  • 1972 – 3rd – Sleuth

Mankiewicz started in the same way that many did in the 30’s:  first he was a screenwriter, then became a director who wrote his own scripts and became a multiple Oscar winner, the same path taken by Billy Wilder and John Huston before him.  He finally started directing in 1946, kind of backing into the role when no one else was available to do it, though, Dragonwyck, his first film, was not of a level indicative of his future.

By the late 40’s, he had become a major director, following John Ford as one of only two directors to win back to back Oscars and the only person to win back to back directing and writing Oscars.  Through the 50’s, he was a major factor on film and stayed as such until the disaster of Cleopatra, a film that took up several years.  After that he made very few films, finishing up his career with Sleuth, earning him one final Oscar nomination.

Cleopatra – the worst film of 1963

I was stunned when, of the 2000+ hits on my Best Pictures Ranked post, more people complained about how low I ranked Cleopatra than how low I ranked Nashville.  I had taken it for granted by this time that Cleopatra is considered a bad film.  And let’s face it, it is a bad film.  It features the worst performances of both Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s careers.   It had a horrible muddled script.  It is far, far too long.

I can give it credit where credit is due.  The look of the film is very impressive, though for the money that was sunk into it, I would hope it would look impressive.  And Rex Harrison and Roddy McDowell are good (though McDowell lost his shot at an Oscar nomination when a snafu listed everyone in the cast of thousands as a lead instead of supporting).

The stranger aspect is the Oscar history.  Oscars are often given to films because their studios push for it.  The Academy, after all, is a part of the industry.  But Cleopatra almost destroyed 2oth Century Fox.  It would have done so had The Sound of Music not been so amazingly successful.  And Cleopatra was nominated instead of Hud, which is a great film and had been nominated for Director, Screenplay and three acting Oscars.

If you really want a good book on film, read The Studio by John Gregory Dunne.  While he is remembered more today for being the dead husband mourned in Year of Magical Thinking, his book is a great inside look at 20th Century Fox in 1967, after the fiasco of Cleopatra and the saving grace of Sound of Music.

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