The Organ Grinder’s Monkey

Mank

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Tom Burke, Ferdinand Kingsley, Arliss Howard, Charles Dance, Lily Collins, Tuppence Middleton, Toby Leonard Moore, Monika Gossmann, Joseph Cross

This Film is only available on NETFLIX

The Social Network director David Fincher returnswith the unbelievably brilliant story of the screenwriter Herman Mankiewizc in the 2020 film about 1930’s Hollywood Mank starring Oscar winner Gary Oldman as the erudite, heavy drinking screenwriter who become extraordinarily famous when he won the best original screenplay for the most iconic film ever made, director Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) inspired by the real life story of American media billionaire William Randolph Hearst and his illicit romance with the gorgeous silent screen film star Marion Davies, 30 years his junior.

Fincher cleverly frames every alternate scene in Mank with the formatting for writing screenplays, however what really dazzles is the superb script written by Fincher’s father Jack Fincher.

What is especially thrilling to watch is Gary Oldman delivering another superb performance as the tortured screenwriter who after breaking his leg in a car accident is confined to a ranch in California to finish the original screenplay for the demanding Orson Welles played by Tom Burke.

Oldman’s performance is a companion piece to his Oscar winning turn as Sir Winston Churchill in 2017’s film Darkest Hour. The frame of his character is the same. Mank has young women assisting him, in this case Rita Alexander played by Lily Collins and Fraulein Frida played by Monika Gossmann. Then there is Herman Mankiewizc’s long suffering wife Sara, wonderfully played by British actress Tuppence Middleton (The Imitation Game, The Current War).

Amanda Seyfried as silent screen actress Marion Davies

What is so masterful about Mank are the fabulous flashback scenes to Mank’s platonic enchantment with the dazzling silent screen diva Marion Davies, superbly played by Amanda Seyfried, who loves to make an impressionable exit especially out of a studio lot.

In these brilliantly executed scenes, Mank and Marion are seen conversing amidst drinks and cigarettes on Hearst’s massive estate, on his bankrolled film sets and more significantly in the social shadow of William Randolph Hearst’s friendship with studio executive Louis B. Mayer who founded Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or better known as MGM studios a rival to Paramount.

Hearst is played with a regal elegance by famed British character actor Charles Dance (White Mischief) while Mayer is played with an unrecognisable talent by Arliss Howard. Toby Leonard Moore plays David O. Selnick, the producer of Gone with the Wind.

By far the most extraordinary scene in Mank is the fancy dress dinner party in 1937 whereby Mank, utterly drunk, storms into the lavish setting and proceeds to lambast the most important guests at the table including Hearst, Mayor and Marion Davies.

Hearst after Mank’s tirade coolly escorts the inebriated screenwriter out of his mansion reciting the story about the organ grinder’s monkey, alluding to what Mank really is: a clown in a major larger circus. That circus is and always will be show business.  

Any aspiring filmmaker or film analyst studies Citizen Kane, and Mank is a very specific film, a cineaste’s tribute to the Golden age of Hollywood in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It’s best to research the period between 1934 and 1942 in Hollywood to appreciate Mank’s extraordinary elegance and cleverly crafted story.

Mank is sumptuous, intelligently told and Gary Oldman holds the entire film together in his witty and cantankerous fashion giving Mankiewizc a quality of genius bordering on the tragic.

Mank gets a film rating of 8.5 out of 10 and is a film lover’s tribute to cinema, ironically streaming on Netflix and not available in cinemas.

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