FilmJerk Favorites

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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Alamo, The

By BrianOrndorf

April 7th, 2004

What the new take on "The Alamo" has in its favor is historical reverence and some terrific performances from the cast. This mixture of "Saving Private Ryan" grittiness and (bloodless) violence with "Pearl Harbor" cartoonish villains and historical sweep is easier to digest than John Wayne's nutty 1960 epic take on this event.


The drama can get a little pokey at times, and you won't believe how they depict Santa Anna, but the "The Alamo" is a solid historical epic. What once was intended as a mission, the Alamo became one of the most horrific battle zones in Texas history. In 1836, Mexican Army leader Santa Anna (Emilio Echevarria) lead his troops to the Alamo looking to gain ground in his quest for Texas. But once there, the 200 men who populated the fort, including Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton), James Bowie (Jason Patric), and William Barrett Travis (Patrick Wilson), defended themselves from attack for 13 excruciating days, in which their rations, ammo, and hope were slowly exhausted before their brutal defeat.

Part history lesson, part legend debunker, and part Oscar-baiter, “The Alamo” has finally come back up again in the cinematic hopper of historical events to dramatize.

The story of the Alamo has been covered many times before, most notably in a jingoistic John Wayne picture from 1960 that played a bizarre game of touch football with the facts. The new “Alamo” aims to be a more contemplative and accurate reenactment of the battle, and just by the character assassination alone, I think filmmaker John Lee Hancock (“The Rookie”) has done his job very well.

Hancock’s “Alamo” tries to recreate the event from a truthful, yet still cinematic, perspective. The legends of the era are all represented here, and performed with gusto by the more than willing cast. But in bringing these men to the screen, Hancock redefines their myths, and plays up their future legacies at the same time. Davy Crockett gets the most attention, presented here as a byproduct of his own legend, only failing when trying to live up to his public’s expectations. Billy Bob Thornton portrays Crockett as a man divided between the hero that’s been projected on him for years, and the star that he clearly enjoys being through his wide smiles and fearlessness in achieving the center of attention. James Bowie is now a man dying violently of consumption and without a large role in the battle, but still wielding his namesake knives. And Sam Houston (played by a raging Dennis Quaid) is still a pit bull of a leader, but also a more calculating general who knew better than to charge into the Alamo situation with guns blazing. Instead, Houston waits his turn for revenge on Santa Anna, who isn’t afforded such a respectful portrayal. Depicted here as a screaming, ruthless leader and taker of random virginity, Santa Anna comes across as more of a James Bond villain than a historical portrait, which defuses the respectful tone of the film along with some of its credibility.

The film does take a good 90 minutes to get to the legendary battle sequences, and Hancock uses his time well to mount a feeling of hopelessness and rapidly-depleting bravery amongst the Alamo’s brigade. Fortunately, Hancock isn’t one of the growing number of directors who love to suffocate tension through claustrophobic photography. “Alamo” is a wide-open-spaces film, using its big canvas to detail the brutal situation the men faced and the 13 long days it took them to get to history. The drama can get a little pokey from time to time, since there are a great number of characters to tend to, along with the chess-like precision in setting up the spatial relationships inside and outside the Alamo. But as deeply flawed as the film can be from time to time, it’s a great evocation of the event, and brings a new perspective to well-known history.

The filmmakers get a little nutty in the final act, which tacks on a “Pearl Harbor” climax that has the film going beyond the Alamo just so it can climax on an American victory. This type of silly ending isn’t warranted, and needlessly draws out the film way past its expiration date. The story of “The Alamo” should’ve just stayed at the Alamo, and let the history books tell the rest of the story.

My rating: B