RIP Tom Mankiewicz

I’m moving this week, and my last two Kubrick Project posts are delayed.  I have big plans to unveil them both on the same day, but don’t quote me on that.  In the meantime, I wanted to take a moment to honor a screenwriter who never got enough credit.

Unfortunately, Tom Mankiewicz isn’t big enough news to hog coverage from oil wells and political wrassling, but if you take a stroll through the movie blog community today, many of us are in mourning. Casual movie fans may not know his name, but trust me when I say Mankiewicz has had a presence in your life.

Mankiewicz, who passed this week at 68, had a prolific career in fantasy action films, most notably in the James Bond series, which obviously has seen a lot of love on this particular blog. When I did the James Bond Project, I treated Bond the character as the auteur, and specifically avoided talking about the Broccoli family or the group of writers and directors that made their mark in the series, but of all the writers who have worked with Bond over the years, Mankiewicz is one of a select group who deserve special attention.  Mankiewicz was a screenwriter and a hell of a good one, perfectly suited to the outsized world of James Bond.  Mankiewicz specialized in the big image, major set pieces that dominated the films they were found in.  Ever seen an action movie and found yourself underwhelmed, unable to remember a single awesome moment to rave about later at the bar?  That was not a Mankiewicz film.  Whatever else he was good at, Mankiewicz knew how to build a moment, and even his weaker scripts are filled with memorable action and iconic dialogue.  Among the movies that Mankiewicz worked on:

Diamonds are Forever (1971)

Live and Let Die (1973)

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

James Bond not your thing?  How about the first modern superhero film?  And of course…

Yes, if you’ve ever joked about kneeling before Zod, thank Mankiewicz.

Also, Ladyhawke (1985).

And he even gave us Dragnet (1987).

And before someone craps on Superman II, keep in mind that Mankiewicz had nothing to do with the Richard Lester edits that turned the movie into a silly mess, and in fact he made the restored “Richard Donner cut” one of his final working projects, helping Donner put the movie back together as Mankiewicz’s screenplay originally laid it out.  And he did all of this after being royally shafted out of his screen credit on both Superman II and the original classic.

All of the movies I posted above are great examples of the big image, and even though there are a lot of flaws represented up there, each of them made a big impact on the fantasy of the movies.  Yes ,”movie magic”.  That was Mankiewicz’s specialty, and that’s who we lost this week.

PS:  Mankiewicz also took a shot at directing and helmed the 1991 John Candy comedy, Delirious.  I love that movie, but I always seem to find myself sipping punch alone at the fan club meeting.  Surely an oversight.

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