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.

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A Love Song For Bobby Long

By BrianOrndorf

January 13th, 2005

As sludgy as the tired New Orleans locations that pepper the film, “Love Song for Bobby Long” is a television production that some how lucked into becoming a theatrical presentation. The performances save the film, even when they reach parody. Quite an unremarkable debut for writer/director Shainee Gabel.


Upon hearing of her estranged mother’s death, aimless Pursy (Scarlett Johansson) travels from her trailer park in Florida to New Orleans to attend the funeral. When she arrives, she finds two men living in her mother’s house: Bobby Long (John Travolta), a former college professor turned alcoholic, and his teaching assistant turned alcoholic, Lawson Pines (Gabriel Macht, “The Recruit”). The two drunks manage to con their way into staying at the house, but in doing so, they allow Pursy to complicate their lives through her post-mortem soul searching. In the process, the three become a semi-family, which the distant and self-medicating Bobby cannot handle.

I’m convinced that New Orleans life is one of the hardest experiences to capture correctly on film. Most filmmakers tend to overcompensate, reveling in the sludgy drawl, the red-beans-and-rice atmosphere, and the heavily covered French quarter area. The legendary location is a powerful lure, no doubt, and “Bobby Long” is the latest film to become caught up in the details if the region, but not the heart of it.

Taken from the novel by Ronald Everett Caps, “Bobby Long” is a character piece about life in the slo-mo world of New Orleans, and an unremarkable one at that. Written and directed by newcomer Shainee Gable, it’s mean to classify “Bobby Long” as television production quality, but unfortunately that’s what the picture resembles. Gable can only attack the material in a pedestrian way, which does nothing to spark this loosely wound drama. Gable has difficulty luring the audience in with her direction or her screenwriting, leaning heavily on a supposed “whopper” of a twist ending which, while endearing and sweetly performed, can be seen coming from a mile away. Sad to say, I thought this was the point for a large portion of the film, only to realize that Gable wanted her climactic reveal to shock her viewers. She missed the boat on that one.

Another problematic element in the film is Gable’s treatment of the lower-class stereotypes that parade around her story. It’s one thing to try the capture that elusive feel of the impoverished and drunk in New Orleans, but did one of characters have to sit barefoot in a dry kiddie pool nursing a beer? And are we to believe that Pursy, in Scarlett Johansson form, sits around all day eating spoons of peanut butter dipped in M&Ms (apparently the definitive white trash treat)? This side of “Bobby Long” comes off as cartoonish and insulting. It also successfully neuters the significant emotional work that Gable attempts to build in the film’s second half.

If “Bobby Long” is worthwhile for anything it would have to be the performances. Teetering on the edge of parody, John Travolta barely passes by with his thick Naw’lins accent. Travolta becomes more comfortable with the script as the film rolls along, and his portrayal of an educated drunk, while incredibly odd at first, starts to feel organic at just the right moment. Travolta is good here, but he’s lucky to survive Gable’s anvil touch. Scarlett Johansson fares much better, if only because she isn’t saddled with the self-conscious burden of having to portray a boozehound. The chemistry between the two actors is agreeable, and they deliver the pathos required to make the ultimate connection between them. Without their pleasing but mild work this film would be instantly forgettable.

My rating: C-