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A group of unique directors and the essential works that you've got to see.

||| Joseph L. Mankiewicz |||
Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Mankiewicz directed 20 films in a 26-year period, and was very successful at every kind of film, from Shakespeare to western, drama to musical, epics to two-character pictures, and regardless of the genre, he was known as a witty dialogist, a master in the use of flashback and a talented actors' director.

The 1950 Oscar for Best Picture and Screenplay brought Mankiewicz wide recognition as a writer and a director, with his sardonic look at show business glamour and the empty lives behind it. This well orchestrated cast of brilliant and catty character actors is built around veteran actress Bette Davis and Anne Baxter as her understudy desperate for stardom.

One of Mankiewicz’ more intimate films, this highly regarded and major artistic achievement is a spirited romantic comedy set in England of the 1880’s about a widow who moves into a haunted seashore house and resists the attempts of a sea captain specter to scare her away. This is a pleasing and poignant romance that is equally satisfying as a good old ghost story.

Mankiewicz wrote and directed this witty dissection of matrimony that has three women review the ups and downs of their marriages (with all its romance, fears and foibles) after receiving a letter telling them that one of their husbands has been unfaithful. Once again Mankiewicz deftly utilizes the skills of a well-chosen ensemble, which includes a young Kirk Douglas at his dreamiest.

Recommended by CarrieSpecht

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The Singing Detective

By BrianOrndorf

November 6th, 2003

The new 'Singing Detective' is mainly a stylistic exercise, and not all that engaging, which has become director Keith Gordon’s unfortunate specialty of late.


Stuck in a hospital bed, suffering from a debilitating and disfiguring skin disease that leaves him unable to express his creativity, 1940s dime-store detective novelist Dan Dark (Robert Downey Jr.) is slowly losing his mind. Dark imagines himself a character in one of his own novels, chased by hired goons (Adrien Brody and Joe Polito), trying to sort out a mystery involving a dame who looks just like his real-life wife Nicola (Robin Wright Penn), and spending his days singing bouncy songs in a shadowy nightclub. As Dark’s paranoia mounts slowly, the hospital brings in therapist Dr. Gibbon (Mel Gibson) to help the afflicted writer sort it all out before he goes mad.

Director Keith Gordon loves to explore the fractured mind. In his past films, “Waking The Dead” and “Mother Night,” the filmmaker spent a consider amount of screen time trying to disrupt the moviegoing experience with elaborate plotting and shifting perspectives. So it shouldn’t come as any great shock that Gordon was drawn to “The Singing Detective.” Probably the most kaleidoscopic of any recent silver screen head games, “Detective” is loosely based on the novel by Dennis Potter, with Gordon returning to Potter’s original screenplay for this new adaptation. To many, the 1986 BBC production of “Detective” ranks as one of the best word-to-celluloid adaptations of all time, leaving Gordon with quite a load to bear. The previous “Detective” also ran over 6 hours, with the new film’s 108 minute running time small potatoes in comparison.

Because there isn’t as thorough an investigation of the material this time around, Gordon’s trademarked techniques of misdirection and pretension stand out all the more. Gordon has fun building the dream world that Dark attempts to live in; getting his rocks off on the neon noir, smoldering-cherry cigarettes, and gangster elements that define this story, as well as staging lip-synched musical numbers to classic songs like “At The Hop” and “Poison Ivy.” Gordon also makes sure the audience knows every inch of Dark’s skin disease, shown in all its extreme close-up glory. The little asides, which are entertaining and interesting, add up, but the main body of the film suffers. Irritatingly, the comedy rarely works since the audience has to spend time trying to sort all the psychosis out. And a crucial plot thread, about Dark and Nicola arguing over Dark’s missing screenplay, is a muddled mess even when it’s handled directly by Gordon.

Even though Gordon ultimately fails him, it is great to see Robert Downey Jr. back on the screen. After a nearly three-year hiatus from film work due to unfortunate circumstances, Downey finds a role in “Detective” that fits him like a glove. Utilizing his gifts for comedy, pop acting, and smoky gumshoe, Downey is the only reason “Detective” is praiseworthy at all. Even under the gobs of peeling, scabby makeup, Downey is the beating heart in Gordon’s stone cold film.

I would qualify “The Singing Detective” as a disaster if only compared to the 1986 version. On its own, the picture is merely a misfire, though an persistently indulgent one.

My rating: D+