Joseph Mankiewicz


(Copyright © 1999-2020 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

6.0 Dragonwick (1946)
6.0 Somewhere in the Night (1946)
5.0 The Late George Apley (1947)
6.0 The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947)
5.0 Escape (1948)
6.9 A Letter To Three Wives (1949)
5.0 House of Stranger (1949)
6.5 No Way Out (1950)
7.5 All About Eve (1950)
7.0 People Will Talk (1951)
5.0 Five Fingers (1952)
5.0 Julius Caesar (1953)
7.0 The Barefoot Contessa (1954)
6.0 Guys And Dolls (1955)
6.0 The Quiet American (1958)
6.0 Suddenly Last Summer (1959)
4.5 Cleopatra (1963)
5.0 The Honey Pot (1967)
7.4 There Was a Crooked Man (1970)
7.2 Sleuth (1972)
Links:

If English is your first language and you could translate my old Italian text, please contact me. Dopo un periodo di apprendistato a Berlino, Joseph Mankiewicz (USA, 1909) si trasferi' ad Hollywood e dal 1920 al 1945 fu sceneggiatore e produttore. Nel 1946 diresse il suo primo film, Dragonwick, based on a novel by Anya Seton, In 1844 a family who lives in a humble farm receives a letter from a wealthy cousin whom they have never met. He invites one of their daughters to come and stay with him and his wife to take care of their little daughter. The elder daughter, Miranda, is excited at the opportunity and convinces her stern and religious father to accept. The father accompanies Miranda to New York, where their cousin Nicholas has booked a luxury suite for them. The father is pleased by Nicholas' serious manners. Nicholas takes Miranda to his mansion, that looks like a castle, Dragonwick. Miranda meets his wife Johanna, who seems indifferent to what goes on as long as she gets to eat, and the little Katrine, who looks unhappy. The old housekeeper scares Miranda with stories of the past, particularly of Nicholas' great-grandmother, and predicts that some day Miranda will regret she ever came to Dragonwick. Katrine is a strange child, who openly admits she doesn't love her parents. Miranda meets a young doctor, Jeff, who clearly despises the arrogant and haughty Nicholas. One day Miranda witnesses the spectacle of Nicholas demanding rent from his tenant farmers. For 200 years his family has owned that land and the peasants have been forced to pay rent to his family. A farmer refuses to pay the tribute, claiming that Nicholas has no right to treat them like slaves. Nicholas cruelly orders him evicted, and Jeff tries in vain to change his mind. Nonetheless, Miranda is falling in love with the wealthy aristrocratic cousin. At a social ball she is despised by the other ladies for being the daughter of a poor farmer, but Nicholas asks her to dance with him. Miranda hears the ghost of Nicholas' great-grandmother singing in the mansion. Nicholas' wife Johanna dies suddenly. The doctor is puzzled, as she only had a cold. Nicholas does not waste time to propose to Miranda: he did not love his wife, who had failed to bear him a son, thus imperiling the 200-year old dynasty. Miranda is delighted to become his wife, bypassing the good doctor who has also been romancing her, but soon finds out the cruelty of both her godless husband (who despises the cripple she has hired as personal maid out of compassion) and his friends (who refuse to attend their parties on account of her being the daughter of a farmer). When she gets pregnant, Nicholas behaves like a maniac, obsessed about the health of the child, but indifferent to the fate of the mother. He even summons Jeff, his old rival, to make sure everything goes well. Unfortunately, the child is born with a malformed heart and dies after a few days. Nicholas confines himself to the tower room. Miranda defies his orders and enters the room. Nicholas confesses that he has become a drug addict, desperate for the loss of his son. He too hears the ghost singing. As Nicholas is going mad, Jeff returns to accuse him of murder: Jeff has finally realized that Johanna died because of a poisonous plant that Nicholas had placed in her room. Jeff takes Miranda to safety and then returns with the authorities to arrest Nicholas. Nicholas tries to resist but is killed. The dynasty has ended, the slaves are free. And Miranda is a widow, who leaves to return to her village, but gives Jeff a chance that they might have a future together.

After the film noir Somewhere in the Night (1946) and an adaptation of a John Marquand novel, The Late George Apley (1947), came the gothic tale The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947). Racconto pacato ed elegante, delicato e preciso. Il passare del tempo ha un sapore "Bennettiano".

Una giovane vedova decide di vivere da sola con la figliolina in una casa sul mare, benche' cio' sollevi apprensioni e ire nella madre e nella sorella. Sceglie un cottage che l'agente locale le consiglia perche' tutti i precedenti inquilini sono scappati di corsa: il cottage apparteneva ad un capitano suicida. Il suo fantasma si aggira ancora nella casa e confessa di essere morto accidentalmente. E' un burbero, brusco e inospitale, deciso a spaventarla come ha fatto con i precedenti. Il film diventa una commedia sofisticata centrata sul solito battibecco maschio-femmina. L'affetto che la donna dimostra per la sua casa e la sua determinazione a restarci lo convincono a lasciarla stare, ma a patto che lui possa "vivere" nella camera da letto, la stessa dove dorme lei, tanto lui e' uno spirito. Soltanto lei lo puo' vedere e sentire, e soltanto lei sa pertanto che e' lui a disturbare i visitatori. Lui le da' comunque sicurezza e fiducia nel futuro. Le detta le sue memorie per scrivere un libro. Un famoso scrittore di fiabe, affascinato dalla sua bellezza la aiuta ad incontrare un editore intrattabile, il quale accetta di pubblicare l'opera. Lo scrittore la corteggia sfacciatamente. Il fantasma la segue dappertutto, ne e' geloso. La corte del fatuo scrittore fa breccia e la vedova medita di sposarlo. Il fantasma decide di andarsene, scomparire, per non ostacolare la sua felicita', lasciandole credere che sia stata tutta una allucinazione. Presto pero' lei scopre l'amara verita': il suo fidanzato e' un cinico seduttore ed e' gia' sposato! Gli anni passano, la figlia si fidanza e torna a trovarla con il fidanzato. Allora le rivela che da bambina lei parlava con il fantasma, ma che era stato soltanto un sogno...ma tutto combacia alla perfezione, non puo' essere una coincidenza. Passano tanti altri anni: lei ora e' vecchia e malata e muore. Il fantasma ricompare e la chiama a se'.

Then came the war movie Escape (1948), the simple drama A Letter To Three Wives (1949), and the melodrama House of Stranger (1949).

No Way Out (1950) e` un potente film anti-razzista.

A bright young black man, Luther (Sidney Poitier), who has just graduated in Medicine and obtain his license as a doctor is assigned to the prison ward. His first case is the case of two brothers who have been shot in the legs by the cop who caught them during a robbery, The doctor quickly realizes that something is seriously wrong with one of the two brothers but cannot prevent him from dying. The other brother, Ray (Richard Widmark), who is viciously racist, accuses him of being a murderer. When the doctor asks permission to perform an autopsy that would prove some preexisting condition, Ray, as the nearest relative, denies the request. The chief of the hospital is worried that the case might escalate into a scandal because of the race of the doctor. Ray is determined to take his revenge, despite the fact that the very same doctor removes the bullet from his leg. The doctor is still feeling that he needs to clear his name. When his boss finds out that the dead brother had a wife, they both visit her to obtain the permission for an autopsy. Edie, who lives in the middle of the racist white neighborhood, is reluctant to cooperate, but eventually she accepts to visit Ray. While Luther is treated by his family to a royal dinner because they are trying to impress his potential future employer (although he would prefer to stay at the prison ward), Edie visits Ray: she hates him because he seduced her and they cheated on Ray's brother. She still feels guilty. However, Ray's sweet talk works his magic again on her: he convinces her that the black doctor killed the brother and that the doctors now want to autopsy not to find out the truth but to fix the cadaver so it will look like the cause was something else. When she leaves the room, he smiles, satisfied. Edie reports back to the kids of the white neighborhood, whose leader, Rocky, is as racist as Ray, and organizes a raid on the black neighborhood, "Niggertown". When the boys leave and he's alone with Edie, Rocky makes a pass on her, another good white boy who does not hesitate to insult the memory of the dead friend. At the hospital Luther learns from the black elevator boy that a riot is about to erupt. He tries in vain to talk peace: the blacks are organizing their own posse, and Luther's brother-in-law John is among them. Luther makes a phone call hoping to prevent the attack but it's too late: the army of blacks has already surrounded the warehouse where the white fanatics are organizing their army. Edie, feeling both guilty and disgusted, walks drunk into the house of Luther's boss. At the hospital Ray is disappointed to learn that it's not the whites who attacked the black neighborhood but viceversa. Luther helps out when the scores of wounded are brought in, but a white woman spits on him when she sees that he's taking care of her son. Luther stops and walks out. Later Luther's wife visits Luther's boss while Edie is still at his house. The news is that Luther, after agonizing all night, has decided that the only way to clear his name from Ray's accusations is to confess to the murder of Ray's brother: this will force an autopsy on the cadaver. His plans works: Edie, Ray, Luther and Luther's boss are informed that the autopsy confirmed Luther's suspicion that Ray's brother died of a brain tumor. Ray does not accept the verdict and swears revenge. Edie is all on the doctors' side now but, helped by his mute and deaf brother George, a limping Ray manages to escape and enter her house. Ray gets drunk and beats up Edie until she accepts to make a phone call to Luther to lure him into his boss' house. Ray is getting weaker because of the wound and keeps drinking. While Ray goes to the appointment with his victim, Edie finds a way to get rid of the deaf brother: she turns on the radio to the point that the neighbors tear down the door. She runs to the telephone to alert the police. that Ray is planning to kill Luther in his boss' house. She then takes a taxi herself. Luther arrives to the house and is confronted by a delirious Ray in pain and armed with a gun but Edie arrives a few minutes later just in time to make sure Ray misses and only wounds Luther. The pain on the leg is making Ray scream. Edie tells Luther to let Ray bleed to death, but Luther explains that he cannot kill a man, no matter what. Edie helps Luther (whose arm is incapacitated by the wound) to relieve the pain on Ray's leg. Ray starts crying like a baby, afraid of dying. Luther sarcastically tells Ray that he is not going to die, while the sirens annouce the arrival of the police.

Poi venne il suo primo capolavoro: All About Eve (1950). All About Eve fu per il teatro cio' che Sunset Boulevard fu per il cinema; Letter e Eve sfoggiano dialoghi vertiginosi, crudelta' di descrizione ambientale, struttura narrativa alla Welles (serie di flash back, diverse voci narranti).

Margo (Bette Davis) e' una celebre attrice, un po' viziata e corteggiata da un cinico pretendente. Una povera ragazza va a tutte le sue performances: aspirante attrice, ne ha fatto il suo modello. Una amica di Eve gliela presenta e Margo, dopo aver ascoltato la sua patetica storia di vedova di guerra, la accoglie con benevolenza e la assume come governante. Fedele e obbediente, la ragazza studia ogni suo gesto, ipnotizzata dai suoi successi. I capricci e la gelosia distruggono lentamente la diva, che perde prima il fidanzato e poi il posto; alla prima occasione (un ritardo dovuto ad un sospetto serbatoio di benzina vuoto) la sostituiscono con la ragazza che impressiona favorevolmente un critico influente. Diventa la protetta del critico, fa carriera in fretta. Sempre umile, e' dispiaciuta nei confronti dell'antica padrona, ma e' pronta a ricattare l'amica che la presento' a Margo: sa che lei ha una relazione con il fidanzato (tornato a confortarla) e in cambio del silenzio chiede la parte di David in una commedia importante. Ma non c'e' bisogno del ricatto, perche' davis decide di dedicarsi di piu' alla sua vita privata e rinuncia alla parte. Il critico continua a farsi manipolare dalla ambiziosa, perfida e ipocrita ragazza; e la ragazza continua a tramare senza scrupoli. Ma il critico le presenta il conto: deve sposarlo, altrimenti lui raccontera' la vera storia della sua vita (ladra e non vedova) che ha scoperto indagando per proprio conto. Le rinfaccia anche la sua ingratitudine nei confronti della diva che l'ha salvata dal marciapiede e le ribadisce che adesso lei appartiene a lui. Il successo e' garantito. Ma un giorno la ragazza, ormai diva, trova una sua ammiratrice in camerino e la accoglie con benevolenza...

People Will Talk (1951) e' la prima commedia di rilievo.

Praetorius (Cary Grant) e` un medico e insegnante modello di una prestigiosa universita`. Purtroppo e` oggetto di invidia da parte di un collega malvagio, che sta scavando nel suo passato per scoprire se abbia davvero studiato mediciana o se si tratti di un impostore.
Un giorno Praetorius riceve una giovane che e` rimasta incinta. La giovane e` disperata, in quanto il padre e` partito per la guerra prima di poterla sposare, e tenta di suicidarsi. Non appena la ragazza si rimette, per fugare ogni altro desiderio di suicidarsi, le fa credere che si e' trattato di uno sbaglio, che non era incinta. Poi va a trovarla nella fattoria del padre. Lei si innamora di lui e in breve si sposano.
Praetorius incuriosisce la gente per il suo comportamento stravagante: dirige con allegria la locale filarmonica, si accompagna sempre a un silenzioso signore che si comporta come un suo maggiordomo, e coltiva l'amicizia di un bizzarro scienziato con cui gioca ai trenini. Nessuno, neanche lo scienziato amico, conosce il passato di Praetorius e soprattutto come inizio` a praticare.
L'invidioso e meschino collega dell'universita' assolda un detective. Il detective scopre il passato del misterioso amico e il collega ha buon gioco a mettere in cattiva luce Praetorius. La moglie lo difende a spada tratta, ma in realta` anche lei e` all'oscuro del suo passato. Ha pero` capito che Praetorius l'ha sposata per legittimare il figlio. Lei era davvero incinta, e lui ha inscenato tutto perche` lei non avesse motivo di disperarsi mai piu'.
L'inchiesta del malvagio burocrate costringe l'amico misterioso di Praetorius a raccontare la sua storia. Venne condannato a quindici anni di carcere per un omicidio che non aveva commesso, anche se il cadavero non era mai stato ritrovato; rimesso in liberta', trovo` la presunta vittima e, in un impeto di rabbia, lo uccise; condannato a morte, venne impiccato. Il boia fece dono del cadavere a un giovane studente di medicina, che era Praetorius, il quale scoperse che l'impiccato non era morto e lo salvo'. Da quel giorno l'ex galeotto divenne il suo angelo custode.
La persecuzione del maligno e l'interrogatorio fanno riferimento al mccartismo.

Il mediocre spy thriller Five Fingers (1952) e` ispirato al caso di una vera spia.

During World War II at a diplomatic reception in still neutral Turkey, a French countess, Anna, who has fled Poland after the invasion and lost her husband and all her possessions begs the German ambassador for money. She offers to work for the Germans, but the ambassador is not interested. Later one of his staff, Moyzisch, probably in love with the countess, tries to convince him, but the ambassador has even less patience for him. As he enters his residence, Moyzisch is approached by an aggressive man with a British accent, Ulysses, who introduces himself as a professional spy with top British secrets to sell to the Germans for a huge sum. The mysterious man leaves and heads for the nearby residence of the British ambassador, where he works as the valet for the ambassador. The ambassador likes to confide in him, and discusses that day's party, in particular the countess who needs money. The ambassador trusts Ulysses, who is an impeccable servant. The Germans accept Ulysses' deal and assign it the code name "Cicero". Ulysses delivers photographs of top-secret documents, cashes the money and then heads for the countess' place. He used to be her husband's valet. He offers money to the countess in return for help in conducting a lucrative business and eventually move to South America, although he doesn't tell her what his business exactly is. She confesses that she dismissed him at her husband's death because she was attracted to him, which he already knew. The German ambassador is disappointed and angry that the information he acquired from "Cicero" is ignored by his superiors in Germany. He is also surprised to learn that the countess has suddenly become rich and is throwing a party. In the meantime the British ambassador has figured out that someone must be leaking secrets to the Germans. Britain dispatches special agent Colin to investigate, while the Germans dispatch their own secret agent, disguised as a Swiss business-man, to investigate how reliable "Cicero" is. Colin suspects the countess. The Swiss business-man is introduced to Ulysses/Cicero as his new intermediary. They meet at the countess' party. Ulysses has become more arrogant and demands more money. The perceptive countess notices that the Swiss business-man behaves like a German official. She has now become the lover of Ulysses. German intelligence is still reluctant to act on Cicero's intelligence because they fear it might be a British trap. Ulysses learns that Colin suspects the countess. Colin tells the ambassador that the code name of the spy is Cicero. In the meantime the "Swiss business-man" is growing more and more skeptic of Cicero because of how easily he can provide any top-secret document, as if the British wanted him to. Ulysses has decided that it is time to quit. He asks the countess to obtain two false passports for them and is ready to leave with her for South America. However, he soon learns that she fooled him: Colin tells him that she has left for Switzerland with all of her money, which was the money they made off the Cicero operation. To make matters worse, he has smelled her perfume in a letter that the embassy has just received: she may have written to the ambassador to incriminate him. Ulysses walks to a public telephone, realizing he is been followed. He tells the Germans that the next delivery will be in another city. He returns to the embassy, opens the safe and takes photographs as usual. He also takes the letter that the countess sent the ambassador. When he closes the safe, the alarm goes off. Colin was beginning to suspect him and now, as he sees him run away, he has the proof. On the train he is hunted by both the British, who want to kill him, and the Germans, who want to obtain the documents before the British kill him. He reads the countess' letter that he took from the safe, in which she gently informs the ambassador that he, Ulysses, is Cicero the spy. Ulysses tries to outsmart both the Germans and the British. He successfully delivers the documents to the Germans for a huge amount of money in a restaurant while the British wait outside, powerless to use violence in neutral Turkey. But then the Germans receive a letter from the countess, exposing Cicero as a British spy. The British are desperate that Ulysses sold the Germans the plans for the invasion of France, but the Germans are desperate that they bought worthless documents that probably amount to a British trap. The Germans lose the war for believing the countess and not Cicero. Ulysses moves to Brazil and buys a villa with the money of the last delivery. The Brazilian police, however, arrest him because the money was counterfeit: the Germans had always paid him with fake money. He realizes that the countess in Switzerland is ruined too, and goes to jail launghing.

Dopo una trasposizione del Julius Caesar (1953) di Shakespeare, diresse un film complesso, The Barefoot Contessa (1954), un film noir triste e fatalista, percorso fin dall'inizio dal senso della morte.

The Barefoot Contessa (1954) is a complex film, a bit too verbose, a melancholy and fatalistic film noir, marked from the beginning by the smell of death. We know from the beginning that the protagonist will die. The film is the story of how she died. We watch her live and we are watching a corpse. The story is told by the men who knew her, in flashbacks. She is a Hollywood star, but the opposite of a sex symbol: she is a virgin who seems to feel no carnal attraction to men. She is only attracted to fairy tales. On the other hand there are a couple of scenes in which she seems to have secret lovers. Her sex life remains a bit clouded in mystery. The ending too is not particularly credible: the characters don't look shocked at all by the death.

The film begins at Maria's funeral. Harry, a film director and scriptwriter, starts narrating how he met her. A flashback shows us Harry, his boss Kirk and his right-hand man Oscar at a dinner in Spain. They came to see the show of a famous dancer, Maria, but came too late. Kirk wants to talk to her. The club's manager tells him that it's impossible because she never sits at the table of a customer. Kirk is an arrogant tycoon and orders Oscar to go backstage and pick her up. Oscar fails to convince her. Kirk is annoyed. When his blonde girlfriend curses, he slaps her and kicks her out. Then he forces Harry to go and fetch Maria, otherwise he may cancel his contract. Harry finds Maria hiding with a man behind a curtain. She is barefoot. She tells him that the man is her cousin. She recognizes him: she has seen his films. And so she follows him to the table. Kirk promises her a role in the movie that he is funding and that Harry will direct, but his arrogant tone puts her off. She leaves abruptly. A furious Kirk orders Harry to find her. Harry tracks down Maria's family. Maria hates her mother. Maria also tells Harry that she's always afraid, ever since the civil war. He convinces her to do the audition in Rome. Harry invites competing producers to see the audition. At the end of the test everybody is impressed. Kirk asks why the competitors were invited. Harry tells him that he wanted to make sure that he, Kirk, wouldn't destroy Maria's career even before it started. Harry is afraid that Kirk hates Maria who insulted him by walking away on him. The test was so good that now all the competitors want to sign Maria: Kirk has no choice but to sign her and go through with producing the film. Henry (at the funeral) then tells us that she became a famous star. Oscar takes over the narration: the opening night was a big event and a big success. Maria broke the rules of show business by arriving alone, with no male companion, following Harry and his wife Jerry (a woman with a man's name). Maria's career was in danger when her father murdered her mother. The case was heavily publicized. Maria took her father's side. She hired the best lawyer and testified herself at the trial, but this only increased the publicity around the trial. Oscar was afraid that this would destroy her reputation. Instead the ordeal made her even more famous. Her father was acquitted.
A Southamerican tycoon and playboy, Alberto, meets her at a party. Kirk and Alberto get into a loud argument. Alberto invites Maria to leave with him. Kirk makes the mistake of forbidding Maria to accept, and so Maria accepts. Alberto even hires Oscar away from Kirk. Kirk vows to destroy Maria's career but Maria has become too big. Outside the house Harry finds Maria's shoes: she likes to walk barefoot when she makes important decisions. Alberto cannot make Maria his lover but he's happy that everybody thinks that she is his lover. Alberto gives her a luxurious life. They travel to Cannes for the festival and mingle with the jetset, spending their time between casinos and beaches. Henry tells us that she showed neither pain nor pleasure. One day Alberto gets angry at her at the casino, accusing her of stealing money from him and cursing her. An Italian count, Vincenzo, slaps him and walks away with Maria. Oscar tells us that she married the count and he never saw her again. Now Vincenzo, who is also at the funeral, narrates how he met her. He was driving from his Italian town to Cannes when he stopped near a gypsy camp. He witnessed Maria dancing with them, barefoot. Then he saw her again at the casino. He saw her take money from Alberto and throw it to a gypsy boy (this is never explained, just like the cousin is never explained). Then he saw Alberto making a scene to her, accusing her of being a jinx. Vincenzo doesn't watch movies so doesn't know her. He takes her to his palace, where he lives with his widowed and childless sister Eleonora. After a few days, Eleonora can see that Maria is madly in love with Vincenzo and is jealous and worried. Henry tells us that he read in the newspapers of her coming wedding. He travels to Italy for work and is invited to the wedding. He is worried about Maria's happiness because she behaves like a child reading a fairy tale, and his sixth sense tells him that something is wrong. A few days later she comes to see him at his hotel. She is unhappy and crying. A flashback (within the flashback) shows us what happened on the wedding night: Vincenzo told her that he was injured during the war and is impotent; he loves her very much but cannot have sex. She admits to Henry that she has a lover, but tells Harry that she knows what would make Vincenzo happy: a heir. Therefore she got pregnant to give him a heir. She is going to tell Vincenzo. When she leaves, Henry sees from the window that a car follows her. Harry drives to the palace but arrives too late. He hears two gunshots and then sees Vincenzo carrying the dead Maria in his arms: he has killed both her and her lover. Vincenzo calmly tells Harry that he has known for a while. He doesn't know that she was pregnant, though. Vincenzo calls the police to come and arrest him for the double murder. Now we are back to the funeral which has just ended. Vincenzo is escorted away by two policemen.

Guys And Dolls (1955) e' un musical ambientato nei bassifondi di New York, una satira sia dei gangster film sia dei bigotti, in cui i personaggi parlano uno slang pittoresco.

Brando scommette con Sinatra che riuscira' a portare fuori l'integerrima verginella dell'Esercito della Salvezza; conduce cosi' un lungo corteggiamento e convince persino i suoi gangster a recarsi in massa ad una assemblea dell'Esercito, facendole fare bella figura davanti ad un superiore. In cambio ottiene la cena, ma se ne innamora anche e viene redento.

The Quiet American (1958) adapted Graham Greene's novel, and Suddenly Last Summer (1959) adapted Tennessee Williams' play.

Cleopatra (1963) e` un super-kolossal di 4 ore, originariamente di 6.

The Honey Pot/ Masquerade (1967), based on the old plot of Ben Jonson's play "Volpone", is a mediocre comedy and thriller in which a millionaire fakes a terminal illness to get rid of his numerous girlfriends.

Cecil (Rex Harrison) is a wealtchy British eccentric who pays for a private staging of Ben Jonson's play "Volpone" in Venice's main theater and doesn't even watch it to the end. He is a man on a mission. He hires a cynical and arrogant male actor from the USA, William, to play the role of his butler and to help him organize a little charade. He writes to three former girlfriends telling them that he is dying and wants to see them one last time, implying that this visit might decide how he is going to write his will. Hollywood movie star Merle, French princess Dominique and Texas primadonna "Lone Star", who travels with a private nurse, Sarah. The three women arrive and William escorts them to their rooms in Cecil's palace. The three begin competing for the attention of the man, not sparing any sexy tricks. Lone Star informs the others that she is the legal wife of Cecil, and therefore the legitimate heiress. One night, as Lone Star is sleeping alone and her nurse is taking a walk with William, the other two women plot to kill Lone Star and provide an alibi to each other. William leaves Sarah alone at a cafe for a while because he has to make a phone call. They then spend the rest of the night on a romantic gondola cruise. The following morning Sarah finds Lone Star dead. An empty bottle of sleeping pills seems to indicate suicide, but her death is too convenient for the other two women, who accuse each other of having carrying out the murder that they only spoke about. The charming middle-aged Italian inspector believes neither, knowing that each woman would be left the only heiress should the other one be arrested. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, Cecil has planned a shocking ending: his will leaves everything to William, and William will read it when they stage Cecil's fake death. The real investigation takes place in Sarah's mind. She fears that William killed Lone Star because the sleeping pills were harmless and William paid the cafe and the gondola with the same coins that have disappeared from Lone Star's purse. Those are actually the coins that William won at poker from Cecil, but Sarah cannot know it.
Cecil plays with the good Sarah by telling her the truth: that he is not dying at all and that it is all a practical joke on the women. Sarah at first wants to believe that William is innocent, because he knows that it is all a joke, but then, suddenly she has an intuition: that William has turned the tables on Cecil and now the joke is on Cecil, who will be the next one to be murdered by William (and William will inherit everything as per the will). Sarah does not tell the inspector, out of love for William, but feels her duty to prevent the murder. First she confronts William who, losing his temper, tells her to stay in her room and keep her mouth shut or she too will be in danger. Then she escapes and goes to warn Cecil, who is dancing around his room like he's celebrating something. Cecil is annoyed by her good and naive heart: she is all about love and decency, the exact opposite of Cecil's brutal view of life as survival of the fittest. Eventually he is won over by her kindness and sends her back to her room/jail.
Finally Cecil dies. William reads the will to the princess and the actress: he (William) is the sole heir. Just then the inspector and Sarah walk in (William has unlocked her door). William reveals that Cecil died penniless: the palace is mortgaged, the servants have never been paid, he himself will receive nothing. The whole charade was actually a desperate attempt to get money from the three ladies, not viceversa. Nonetheless Sarah knows that Cecil was not ill and still suspects that William murdered him before finding out that he was penniless. William then tells everybody that both the princess and the actress have lost all their money. Therefore Cecil's target was truly Lone Star, a very wealthy woman. Cecil killed Lone Star to inherit her money. Then celebrated in his room until Sarah showed up and told him about the coins. The coins actually incriminated him, Cecil, not William. Cecil had only three choices: kill Sarah, go to jail or commit suicide. Sarah's goodness broke his heart and he preferred to commit suicide.
Later the inspector and William discover that Cecil died a glorious death: he packed each sleeping pill with gold dust from a precious hourglass. We hear Cecil from the otherworld boast about having died swallowing gold. However, the princess opens a case and shows the real hourglass: Cecil had only a copy, and what he swallowed was just sand. Cecil, from the otherworld, doesn't mind, as long as the script ended badly. He hates happy endings. Sarah asks for a souvenir and has William will Cecil's worthless estate to her. William does, but then the inspector mentions to him that Cecil is inheriting Lone Star's much bigger estate, that will be enough for Sarah to pay Cecil's debts and still be very rich. Cecil rejoices in the otherworld that Sarah turned out to be an evil greedy person. William is disgusted and yells at her. She, however, has a proposition, that reveals her fundamental goodness: she will marry him if he completes his law studies. William refuses and Cecil congratulates him from the otherworld. But minutes later William runs after Sarah and the movie does get its happy ending, and we hear Cecil's lament in the otherworld.

Un altro capolavoro e' There Was a Crooked Man (1970), il suo unico western, beffardo e amaro, sarcastico e blasfemo, cinico e volgare, che e' anche un apologo sull'umanita'. Azione rapida es essenziale. Molti riferimenti al sesso (anche Fonda verso Douglas? il comportamento dello sceriffo e' proprio quello dell'amante tradito). Apologo sulla corruzione e sull'intransigenza dei finti giusti.

Banditi capitanati dall'occhialuto e spiritoso Douglas irrompono nell'abitazione di un riccone all'ora di cena e gli svuotano la cassaforte; prima che se ne vadano pero' il padrone e il figlio imbracciano il fucile e gli sparano addosso; cadono uno ad uno sotto lo sguardo divertito di Douglas, che si incarica di persona di sparare alle spalle dell'ultimo. Quando tutti i complici sono morti, prende le sacche con i soldi e se ne va; nasconde le sacche in un covo di serpenti a sonagli.
Il riccone va a consolarsi in un bordello e da un foro nella parete riconosce Douglas a letto con due sgualdrine. Si arma e lo arresta. Condannato a dieci anni, Douglas la prende con filosofia.
In una sala da biliardo un giovane sta facendo l'amore con la figlia del proprietario, quando entra il padre in pigiama e fucile; per difendersi il giovane scaglia una palla contro ilvecchio, che cade morto.
Un imbroglione viene colto sul fatto dalla giustizia: spaccia un suo complice per sordomuto e chiede soldi al pubblico, ma il sordomuto si scotta contro una stufa e caccia un urlo.
In una cittadina lo sceriffo Henry Fonda, vecchietto distinto, ferreo e orgoglioso viene ferito da un armadio di delinquente a cui ha intimato di consegnare la pistola in un saloon, affrontandolo disarmato.
I cinque vengono trasferiti in un carretto al penitenziario.
Quattro episodi veloci e spiritosi, crudi e spigliati, che convergono.
Con loro e' anche un cinese, e finiscono nella stessa cella del piu' famoso rapinatore di treni del West, un vecchietto dall'aspetto innocuo..
Lo sceriffo Fonda ha sempre tenuto in pugno la citta', ma i suoi metodi liberali e umanitari, fondati sull'autorita' della legge piuttosto che su quella delle armi, non convincono piu' i concittadini, ora che e' vecchio e zoppo.
Nessuno e' mai riuscito a fuggire da quella prigione, ma Douglas comincia subito a fare i suoi piani e tente di convincere il vecchietto (condannato all'ergastolo si e' rassegnato e nei momenti di depressione sogna una sua immaginaria fattoria).
I sorveglianti, brutali e omosessuali, controllano i detenuti che spaccano pietre.Confrontare la vita del campo con quella di "I am a fugitive"; ma nello stesso cervello che fiuta la liberta'; qui macchiette: l'imbroglione e il complice che litigano, l'ex-rapinatore in pensione, il ragazzo tormentato da un sorvegliante omosessuale, il piccolo e onesto pittore di angeli, il cinese d'acciaio.
Douglas le prende di santa ragione (e' furbo ma debole, subdolo ma inerme) senza sapere perche'; ma gli basta lisciare un po' il feritore dello sceriffo per trovare un valido protettore.
Il mandante dei picchiatori e' il direttore stesso, che sa del bottino nascosto e vuole estorcergli il segreto o, perlomeno, convincerlo a spartire.; Douglas rifiuta e finisce in isolamento. Quando il sorvegliante frusta il ragazzo perche' non accetta le sue offerte, scoppia la rivolta e il cinese ammazza il direttore.
Il nuovo direttore e' lo sceriffo Fonda,che ha chiesto di entrare nella fossa dei ladri, convinto che non debbano essere trattati come animali. Vuole istaurare un rapporto piu' umano con i prigionieri. Nella cella di isolamento trova Douglas, dotato di tutti i comforts, che gli spiega il tentativo di corruzione attuato dal predecessore, al quale aveva rifiutato solo apparentemente: in realta' la rivolta ha fatto fallire il loro piano di fuga e spartizione. Douglas tenta di corrompere Fonda, che ridacchia divertito.
Attento studioso della psicologia dei suoi compagni, Douglas ricomincia a sedurli. Fonda abolisce i lavori forzati per tutti meno che per lui; quasi lo sfida a tentare la fuga. Fonda, bandito dai suoi concittadini, deve deve riconquistare la stima di se' stesso e degli altri andando a dirigere un penitenziario che nessuno vuole dirigere e sfidando il piu' intelligente dei detenuti. Sfida tutto cio' che e' disposto ad accettare ad accettare una sfida da un vecchietto zoppo (sic!).
Douglas sfrutta il suo ascendente sul cinese per creare una nuova armonia tra i carcerati.
Puritano al massimo grado, integerrimo, Fonda manda a spaccare pietre l'imbroglione che stava cercando di vendere disegni pornografici. Il suo complice dipinge angeli nell'arsenale e serve al piano di Douglas. Mentre Douglas progetta la fuga, Fonda allestisce mensa e ospedale per i detenuti, e guarda gia' con soddisfazione la nuova vita del campo...che una fuga rivelerebbe fasulla; Fonda si illude di aver cambiato i delinquenti in tanti omini di casa (e forse ci sarebbe riuscito se non fosse per l'influenza maligna di Douglas). I prigionieri lavorano sotto la direzione di Douglas alla costruzione del refettorio.
Lotta fra angelo e demone per le anime degli uomini.
Douglas spinge l'imbroglione a convincere il disegnatore di angeli, ma per riuscirci deve arrivare ad impiccarsi davanti all'amico, che ovviamente accorre in aiuto dell'imbroglione e accetta di portar fuori dall'arsenale un po' di dinamite.
All'inaugurazione della mensa, che e' una sfida contro i borghesi corti di mente, che vorrebbero ancora applicare i metodi brutali del passato, Fonda invita personalita' e critici, affinche' vedano il trionfo dei suoi metodi umanitari. Fonda assapora il primo successo nei confronti dei suoi critici, ma la rivolta scoppia nel bel mezzo dell'inaugurazione: Douglas gli infligge la doppia umiliazione di fuggire e di mandare a monte il suo trionfo. Douglas ovviamente non si cura delle conseguenzae del suo gesto, che compromettera' tutte le migliorie apportate dal nuovo direttore al sistema di vita carcerario; d'altronde, usa i suoi compagni come diversivo, li espone al massacro mentre lui fugge da tutt'altra parte con gli amici di cella. Ma sacrifica il ragazzo, mandato anche lui a creare un diversivo suicida. Dal carcere evadono in tre: Douglas, il cinese, il feritore dello sceriffo; ed e' lo sceriffo ad intercettarli per primo. Lo sceriffo uccide il cinese, ma viene stordito; Douglas uccide l'altro ed e' di nuovo solo, al galoppo nel deserto verso il suo bottino.
L'imbroglione e il pittore di angeli, truffati da Douglas, rientrano mestamente in cella, l'uno petulante, l'altro pieno di buon senso.
Fonda si getta personalmente sulle tracce di Douglas che, raggiunto il nascondiglio, stermina i serpenti e si riappropria dei soldi; ma dentro una sacca e' rimasto un serpente, che lo morde al collo.: "che fregatura!". Fonda arriva tardi; non gli resta che riportare dietro il cadavere. Giunto davanti al cancello l'incorruttibile manda avanti il cavallo e parte al galoppo con i soldi verso il Messico.

La piu' atroce delle sue commedie amare e' Sleuth (1972), adattamento di una commedia di Anthony Shaffer del 1970, tour de force di due uomini messi uno di fronte all'altro in un singolare "jeu de massacre", tratto dalla commedia di Anthony Shaffer. Troppo parlato e troppo "recitato", ottimo per il teatro ma un po' lungo e lento per il cinema.

L'anziano scrittore di thriller Andrew invita l'amante della moglie, Milo, alla sua villa di campagna. Quando Milo arriva, sente la voce di Andrew provenire da un labirinto del giardino, ma non riesce a trovarlo perche' soltanto Andrew conosce l'ingresso. Milo spiega al rivale che ha deciso di sposare sua moglie. Andrew e` un fanatico del puzzle, nonche' campione di scacchi, e ha trasformato la villa in una gigantesca trappola, piena di automi. Andrew convince Milo a sottostare a una serie di trovate intellettuali, e Milo no sa resistere alla sua perversa logica. Lo convince a travestirsi da clown come se fosse penetrato di nascosto in casa. Ma di colpo Andrew impugna una pistola e gli rivela il suo piano: ucciderlo in maniera che nessuno sospetti un omicidio. E poi gli spara. La pistola e` carica a salve, ma Milo e` stato umiliato, e Andrew si e` preso la sua vendetta.
Una sera, mentre Andrew sta brindando da solo, qualcuno e` fuori e suona il campanello: e` un uomo che si presenta come un detective, ma e` semplicemente Milo travestito, che adesso si diverte a giocare con Andrew. A parti invertite, Milo mette alle strette Andrew e lo incrimina dell'omicidio. Quando Andrew si sente spacciato, Milo svela la messinscena. Andrew non si scompone e sostiene di aver recitato anche lui. Milo gli comunica allora di essersi vendicato anche in un'altra maniera: mentre lui era fuori, era penetrato in casa per piantare le prove dell'omicidio, la sua amante Thea era venuta a cercarlo, Milo l'aveva sedotta e poi strangolata. Non solo: ha fatto in modo che la polizia sospetti lui, nascondendo nella villa quattro oggetti che lo incriminano. Andrew ha soltanto mezz'ora di tempo per trovarli prima che la polizia arrivi, e Milo gli offre un solo tipo di aiuto: altrettante sciarade. Andrew, terrorizzato, riesce a fatica a trovare tutti gli oggetti. Milo gli rivela allora che si e` trattato di uno scherzo per umiliarlo. Thea e` viva, e si e` prestata a punirlo. Adesso e` Andrew a essere umiliato. Andrew impugna la pistola e decide di uccidere davvero Milo. Milo non e` spaventato, perche' ha raccontato alla polizia l'accaduto e Andrew verrebbe subito incriminato dell'omicidio. Ma Andrew non gli crede piu` e gli spara davvero. In quel momento arrivano le auto della polizia... questa volta Milo aveva detto la verita`. Andrew spegne le luci e finge che nella villa non ci sia nessuno, ma prima di spirare Milo trova la forza di afferrare il pulsante e mettere in azione tutti gli automi della villa.

Dal cinismo delle origini al "jeu de massacre" di Honey Pot e Crooked Man, il suo cinema e' all'insegna dell'individualismo anarchico.


Permission is granted to download/print out/redistribute this file provided it is unaltered, including credits.
E` consentito scaricare/stampare/distribuire questo testo ma a patto che venga riportata la copyright