The Mank Behind The Masterpiece

The Mank Behind The Masterpiece

Citizen Kane is lauded by many as the greatest film ever made. An envious accolade, especially considering it was a directorial debut for its producer, co-screenwriter, director and star, Orson Welles. While Welles is quite literally the face of the film, he isn’t the whole story.

Welles’ screenwriting counterpart was the explosive Herman J. Mankiewicz. A writer who was no novice (keep scrolling for his full filmography), and, had contributed to over 70 scripts, screenplays and treatments before being recruited by Welles to work alongside him for his inaugural feature. As many old Hollywood fables go, artistry is stalked by anguish, and Mankiewicz’s life is full of heady heights and dismal lows. Now, much of the drama around Mankiewicz’s contribution to Citizen Kane is being retold in David Fincher’s Mank.

[I]n the canon of films about film-making, there are few as textured, as committed and as suffused with real appreciation for the craft as Mank.

Wendy Ide, The Guardian

Starring Gary Oldman as the titular scribe; a reputedly derisive writer and fervent drinker, accompanied by Amanda Seyfried, Charles Dance, and, Tom Burke as Orson Welles. Fincher captures the Hollywood of the 1930s in fitting noir tones and smoky fadeaways; while not ignoring the American Depression and the looming clouds of World War II. There is another presence that Fincher does well to focus on in his telling of the making of Citizen Kane, the candidacy of Left-leaning Upton Sinclair for the governorship of California, which sees the tinsel town gang up against him. As Sinclair is portrayed as promoting “anti-American” values, with MGM lending its might to a campaign that would now be described as fake news, Mank is forced to confront his own compromises and little lies.

Netflix’s tale of the alcoholic screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz and the making of Citizen Kane is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

Mank’s hardships are political, professional and personal, and in a nod to the screenplay he’s writing, it’s all told in a non-linear, overlapping way. Herman J. Mankiewicz may not be the most hard-done-to, the most jaded or the most egocentric character to be found in old Hollywood, however, he is certainly flawed with glimmers of compassion, ultimately garishly human.

We see the accumulation of bitterness that would eventually lead Mank to find himself jobless in Hollywood, particularly after his decision to take on William Randolph Hearst with Welles’ backing. It would also lead him to Citizen Kane – while on the bed with a broken leg, away from friends and family and fighting for a drink despite alcohol slowly claiming him – as well as his only Oscar.

[A] clear-eyed, warts ’n’ all love letter to Hollywood, alive to both the glamour and messy realities of the film industry and the act of creation itself — all wrapped in some of the most gorgeous filmmaking craft imaginable.

Ian Freer, Empire

Throughout, the dialogue is fast and slick with discourse being the main vehicle to navigate through toe-to-toe sparring matches, shows of comradery and not-so-secret affairs. The soundscape is a time appropriate score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – a pairing who previously won both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Original Score for the Fincher’s 2010 film, The Social Network.

The usually daring Fincher handles the screenplay with a certain delicacy, possibly taking a more reverent approach due to the fact that it was written by Fincher’s late father Jack. In this sense, Mank really does feel like a collaboration between the two, not just a love letter to Hollywood, but an ode to movie-making and the creatives behind the scenes who make films possible by putting pen to paper.

Mank continues to screen here at Abbeygate Cinema, with Citizen Kane being shown later in December.


An exhaustive list of the films Herman Mankiewicz contributed to:

The Road to Mandalay 1926

Stranded in Paris 1926

Fashions for Women 1927

A Gentleman of Paris 1927

The City Gone Wild 1927

Honeymoon Hate 1927

The Gay Defender 1927

Two Flaming Youths 1927

Love and Learn 1928

The Last Command 1928

Something Always Happens 1928

A Night of Mystery 1928

Abie’s Irish Rose 1928

His Tiger Lady 1928

The Dragnet 1928

The Magnificent Flirt 1928

The Mating Call 1928

The Water Hole 1928

Take Me Home 1928

Avalanche 1928

The Barker 1928

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 1928

Three Weekends 1928

What a Night! 1928

The Love Doctor 1929

The Canary Murder Case 1929

The Dummy 1929

The Man I Love 1929

Thunderbolt 1929

The Mighty 1929

The Vagabond King 1930

Men Are Like That 1930

Honey 1930

Ladies Love Brutes 1930

True to the Navy 1930

Love Among the Millionaires 1930

Laughter 1930

The Royal Family of Broadway 1930

Salga de la cocina 1931

The Front Page 1931

Every Woman Has Something 1931

Man of the World 1931

Ladies’ Man 1931

Monkey Business 1931

The Lost Squadron 1932

Dancers in the Dark 1932

Girl Crazy 1932

Million Dollar Legs 1932

Horse Feathers 1932

Another Language 1933

Dinner at Eight 1933

Meet the Baron 1933

Duck Soup 1933

The Show-Off 1934

Stamboul Quest 1934

After Office Hours 1935

Escapade 1935

Three Maxims 1936

Love in Exile 1936

John Meade’s Woman 1937

The Emperor’s Candlesticks 1937

My Dear Miss Aldrich 1937

It’s a Wonderful World 1939

The Wizard of Oz 1939

The Ghost Comes Home 1940

Comrade X 1940

Keeping Company 1940

The Wild Man of Borneo 1941

Citizen Kane 1941

Rise and Shine 1941

This Time for Keeps 1942

The Pride of the Yankees 1942

Stand by for Action 1942

The Good Fellows 1943

Christmas Holiday 1944

The Enchanted Cottage 1945

The Spanish Main 1945

A Woman’s Secret 1949

The Pride of St. Louis 1952

Lux Video Theatre: The Enchanted Cottage 1955