F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Hollywood novel The Last Tycoon is an admirable novel about visionary studio boss Irving Thalberg. Thalberg, who more or less invented the producer-centric studio system in his early twenties. Based on Fitzgerald’s stint as a screenwriter in Hollywood, the novel satirically portrays an assistant producer named Jacques Labowitz as a sycophantic yesman who keeps making mistakes . He was based on another boy genius, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who was a screenwriter at MGM when he clashed with Fitzgerald in his twenties. Also producer. (Mankiewicz rewrote Fitzgerald’s dialogue, offending Fitzgerald; he saw its literary value but thought it unsuitable for acting.) In Notes on Fitzgerald’s Fiction Work In, he writes: “Labowitz. Joe Mank—depicts the smell of rotting bananas.”
Perhaps if Fitzgerald, who died in 1940, had lived longer, he would have changed his mind, for Mankiewicz soon distinguished himself from Thalberg in one key respect: he became a director. What’s more, his directorial debut, Dragonwyck, was produced in 1945 and aired on the Criterion channel beginning September 1, instantly identifying him as one of Hollywood’s most original filmmakers one. The directorial debut at the time was starting to matter, thanks to the massive influence of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. (The film was co-written by Mankiewicz’s older brother Hermann (“Mank” in David Fincher’s recent biopic), who brought Joseph to Hollywood in 1929 when he Nineteen.) After Citizen Kane, a generation of young filmmakers made their mark in the industry, making highly personal films that in many cases set the tone for their entire careers .
Based on Anya Seton’s historical novel set in the 1740s, “Dragon Wick” is notable for its mix of chilling gothic melodrama and its take on American politics. and a highly analytical view of society, including the threats to women in American politics and society. Absolute patriarchy. The protagonist is a young woman named Miranda Wells (Gene Tierney), who lives on a farm in Connecticut and is mentored by her religious father, Ephraim (Walter Huston). Severe rule. She’s invited by wealthy distant relative Nicholas Van Raen (Vincent Price) to live with his eight-year-old daughter at his estate in the Hudson Valley. Ephraim is skeptical, but Miranda, who dreams of the grand world beyond the farm, convinces him. The family she joins is not happy – some say there are family curses – but Nicholas, who is elegant, bossy and fun-loving, fascinates her. When Nicholas’ wife dies suddenly, he’s quick to propose to Miranda, who again overcomes her father’s doubts and accepts, but soon discovers she’s married to a monster.
Nicholas was a patron, a descendant of seventeenth-century Dutch settlers in New York, a period when they were still allowed to run their estates under a quasi-feudal system. Instead of owning their own land, the local peasants were tenants who paid rent to big men like Nicholas (nominally aristocrats). Nicholas is proud of this unjust, outdated system and is determined to preserve it. In a most un-American way, he sees his tenants not as fellow citizens but as subjects, and he is obsessed with passing his estate on to his son. (He hasn’t, but hopefully always will.) But the farmers, annoyed by the system, mount a challenge, led by an enthusiastic young doctor, Jeff Turner (Glenn Langan). This part of the plot is modeled on the chain of events known as the “Anti-Rent War”. In 1839, farmers began to organize and hold protests against the tax collectors. Several activists were jailed after a standoff with the county sheriff and the state. Finally, in 1846, anti-renter John Young became governor of New York (his election triumphantly featured in the film), sparking sweeping reforms.
When Mankiewicz made “Dragon Wake,” he had written or co-written dozens of films—he was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for “Skippy” when he was only twenty-two. – As it turned out, he did a fantastic job as a director. Very literary. The film’s dialogue is sharp, rich, and articulate, and Mankiewicz’s direction is attuned to its subtle shifts. He never seemed to just record the actors’ lines; he just recorded the actors’ lines. Instead, his images unobtrusively but authoritatively dissect the dialogue, mirroring its gist with a kind of visual music. Mankiewicz does not hesitate to emphasize important moments with great dramatic effect. When Nicholas arrived at the austere Wells home to propose to Miranda from Ephraim, Mankiewicz photographed his arrival from a high angle, capturing the central pillar of the staircase; Hidden by the dark fabric, which turned out to be part of Miranda’s dress, her face was out of sight as she descended the stairs, calling Nicholas’s name with trembling enthusiasm.
Despite the film’s strong aesthetic, “Dragonwick,” like much of Mankiewicz’s work, is ultimately a film of ideas. Despite its romance, this film is a masterpiece of structuralist cinema. The sequence of people, places, and events is tight and clear. The result is a kind of transparency: Beneath the dramatic surface emerges the anatomy of American life, with all its contradictions and fault lines. Miranda’s fate seems to be plotted on a chart with three axes: moral, political and metaphysical. The Moral Axis contrasts Ephraim’s strict Protestant moralism and austerity with Nicholas’ brash immorality, which is given a flamboyant, quasi-Nietzschean, even Landian overtone. Ephraim mocks ‘everything no one should want’ as he encounters the luxury of New York’s Astor House, while Nicholas gets a virtual aria in which He declares himself an atheist and insists he “will not live by common standards”” and that he is about to shake Matilda’s “God-fearing, farm-bred, prayer-nurtured morals.” (Photo by Mankiewicz A scene in which Nicholas more explicitly proclaimed his amoral philosophy was cut by studio head Darryl F. Zanuck before it was released.)
The political axis of the film lies in how Mankiewicz views this very local historical event and delves into the most basic expressions of the theoretical issues involved. Nicholas explicitly rejects the government’s right to take from him and his family what he considers inviolable; The behind-the-scenes powers that govern the modern state, through constitutional amendments, limit private privileges in the interests of fairer citizens. Order. In short, the key lies in the ideas and ideals of freedom embodied in American history to this day.
Finally, the metaphysical axis is established with the story of the family curse. It is embodied in a harpsichord in the mansion’s vast so-called red room, and a portrait of the original owner, Nicholas’ great-grandmother Asild, that hangs on the back wall of the house. The curse we learn is intimately tied to her life story—the scorn, humiliation, and abuse she endured, and her desperate response to the brutality of the patriarchy—and it highlights the choices Miranda faces, or rather , lack of options. While submitting to her father’s rule, she also endures that of Nicholas, whose apparent adoration masks plans that primarily involve the production of a male heir. The need for a male heir brings us back to the problem of the Van Rijns’ estate: the family curse, though supernatural, actually proves a need to maintain an irrational and unnatural social and domestic order. The main driver of progress was Jeff Turner, a young doctor who was the leader of the protests. (One of the leaders of the actual historical protest was also a doctor named Smith A. Bowton.)