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Laramie Movie Scope: Mank

More on the legend of Citizen Kane

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 5, 2021 – Arguably the greatest movie of all time, “Citizen Kane” has itself been the subject of numerous other films, and this is another one. This film is a half true, half fabricated story about the man who co-wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane, Herman J. Mankiewicz.

Mankiewicz is played by Gary Oldman of “Darkest Hour” while Herman's brother, Joe Mankiewicz (who became even more famous in Hollywood than his brother) is played by Tom Pelphrey of “Crazy Alien”). Herman's long-suffering wife, Sara Mankiewicz is played by Tuppence Middleton of “The Imitation Game.”

This black and white film features a Who's Who of Hollywood's elite characters from the 1920s and 1930s. The timeline of the movie features many flashbacks, which are actually labeled like flashbacks in a screenplay, complete with the dates they represent. Mank features a number of historical details from these time periods, although the history depicted in the film is untrue about half the time (see this video for an explanation).

Briefly, the thesis of the film is that Mankiewicz wrote the Citizen Kane screenplay the way he did because of political and personal animosity against newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (played in the movie by Charles Dance of “The Imitation Game”). At the same time, he was good friends (according to the movie) with Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies (played in the film by Amanda Seyfried of “The Art of Racing in the Rain.”

The movie tries to tie this antipathy for Hearst to the 1934 California gubernatorial campaign between Upton Sinclair (played by Bill Nye, of all people) and incumbent Governor Frank Merriam. Hollywood's role in the election is a key plot element in “Mank.” This part of the film is particularly historically inaccurate

Herman Mankiewicz co-wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane with Orson Welles (Tom Burke of “The Souvenir”). In this movie, it appears that Herman wrote the bulk of the screenplay while Welles added some touches of his own. This is in line with the views of some critics, most notably Pauline Kael, but this view is often disputed by others. Nobody really knows the truth.

This film is well-acted, especially by Oldman, Seyfried and Middleton. The screenplay by Jack Fincher (father of the film's director, David Fincher) is full of great one-liners and witticisms. Although the timeline of the film is greatly disjointed and the history is flawed, the witty dialog provides constant entertainment.

It is altogether fitting that a movie about a writer have great dialog, and this one does. It falls apart at the end, however, when a lengthy, rambling, drunken spiel by Mankiewicz in which he insults Hearst, and Hearst insults him right back, is used to try to justify the film's entire central thesis. It is awkward, overlong and unconvincing.

As a writer, however, I loved all the great one-liners and the witty dialog of the film, so I will give it a pass, even though it should definitely not be taken as a history lesson. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2021 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]