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20 Movies to Watch After David Fincher’s ‘Mank’

We recommend 20 movies to watch after you see the Netflix biopic about the writing of ‘Citizen Kane.’
Movies To Watch After Mank
By  · Published on December 5th, 2020

The Great Depression: “We Have a Plan” (1993)

Technically, this is an episode of a TV series. Produced and directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Lyn Goldfarb, part four of the seven-part PBS documentary The Great Depression is titled “We Have a Plan” and covers Upton Sinclair’s 1934 campaign for the California governorship through its fifty-three-minute runtime. With narration from actor Joe Morton, you’ll get a fuller picture of that election, which is a major part of Mank, and even get to see a lengthy clip of one of the manipulative newsreel attack ads remade in Mank.

“Oh Father” (1989)

I consider the music video to be a kind of short film, so I’m including this early black and white work by Fincher. It’s a Grammy-nominated video for Madonna’s song “Oh Father,” and it opens with an obvious nod to Citizen Kane with its shot of a girl playing in the snow that pulls back through a window with a person standing beside it. Our own Anna Swanson included more about the video in her recent write-up of Fincher’s works that most relate to Mank. “Although conceptually driven by Madonna’s personal experiences,” she writes of the video, “it’s notable that Fincher was the one who convinced her to release [the song] as a single.”

All the President’s Men (1976)

Certainly, this Watergate-focused drama is better recommended to watch after you see Fincher’s best film, Zodiac, but until we retroactively create that list, All the President’s Men deserves a mention here. One of Fincher’s favorite movies of all time, Alan J. Pakula’s adaptation of Woodward and Bernstein’s book is also about the struggle of writers as they go up against very powerful figures. It’s just about journalists — of which Mank screenwriter and Fincher father Jack Fincher was first and foremost — rather than screenwriters.

Mankiewicz was also a newspaper man before becoming a screenwriter, by the way, as were some of his friends that he brought to Hollywood, like Ben Hecht. He contributed a tiny part to the screenplay for The Front Page, another one of the best movies about journalists. It’s interesting that even though Kane is a takedown of a Hearst-like newspaper mogul, the protagonist of the movie is still a reporter.

All About Eve (1950)

Herman Mankiewicz’s little brother Joe has a minor part in the story of Mank, but he would go on to be a bigger deal in Hollywood. Joseph Mankiewicz was actualy even an Oscar nominee before Mank, for the 1931 film Skippy. He then won his first two Oscars for writing and directing A Letter to Three Wives, then won his third and fourth Oscars a year later for writing and directing All About Eve (the same year, he was nominated for writing No Way Out and he was nominated three more times in the next twenty-two years, the last time for directing Sleuth). This is one of the best and most iconic movies about show business. Anne Baxter plays a manipulative young acting hopeful who latches onto Bette Davis’ Broadway star Margo Channing and eventually becomes her professional and social rival.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) and The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

Outside of Citizen Kane, what movies written by Herman Mankiewicz are worth seeing? Any of them really, though most are collaborative efforts and/or uncredited works so it’s hard to say what all is predominantly his words. The contribution he made in adapting The Wizard of Oz, however, is pretty well-known despite his lack of credit. He was first on the job, and he’s responsible for so much of the movie taking place in Kansas in the beginning section as well as for the idea to go from black and white to color once Dorothy gets to Oz. The film is also referenced in Mank as being something he worked on just before Kane.

For somehthing he wrote soon after Kane, I’m partial to The Pride of the Yankees, my being a Yankees fan and all. But it’s also a classic sports movie, and if we’re to call Kane a biopic of sorts, this one is so very different. It’s a positive tribute to Lou Gehrig and had the support of him, his team and teammates (including Babe Ruth, who plays himself), and his wife. Mankiewicz co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Swirling, adapting from a story by Paul Gallico, and the most famous speech in the movie came from Gehrig himself, albeit in a different order of wording. Mankiewicz received his only other Oscar nomination for the work.

Marie Antoinette (1938)

There is a lot of talk about this MGM biopic in Mank. Mostly about how it should have starred Davies. The project began as a vehicle for her by Hearst (one of many things for his mistress’ career that he tried to push that does align with the portrayal in Kane even if Davies herself isn’t the true inspiration for Kane’s mistress) but wound up shepherded by Irving Thalberg as his last baby before his death. He and MGM head Louis B. Mayer cast Thalberg’s wife, Norma Shearer, in the title role instead. It wasn’t the first time Shearer got a part intended for Davies, and as seen in Mank, Davies left MGM in response.

Shearer earned an Oscar nomination for the performance — something Davies never achieved, despite Hearst’s efforts to get his lover recognized by the Academy over the years. Hollywood legend has it that Shearer wore a grand, imposing costume from Marie Antoinette to a party thrown by Hearsts and Davies, which seems pretty malicious. You might picture the costume party seen in Mank but with Shearer the cause of Davies’ annoyance instead of Mankiewicz. But while the story goes that Hearst was livid about the gesture, Davies reportedly found it to be hilarious.

When Knighthood Was in Flower (1922), Show People (1928), Marianne (1929), Marianne (1929), and Going Hollywood (1934)

Ever since her retirement from acting in the late 1930s and subsequent mistaken reputation as the inspiration for Susan Alexander in Kane, Davies has deserved greater recognition than she’s received. She’s largely forgotten as having been one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the 1920s due to the overshadowed connection to Welles’ film, despite his constant efforts to deny the link. Much of the actress’s earliest work in silent pictures, promoted in part by Hearst from the start, is lost.

The biopic When Knighthood Was in Flower, though, has survived (and has even recently been restored) and is a great example of an early hit for her. One that was also a huge production to showcase the actress — Hearst spared no expense in producing it as the most expensive film yet. With this film, you get to see Davies as a different Queen of France, Mary Tudor, and also appreciate not just her beauty and acting talent but, in one notable swordfight scene, her well-trained potential as an action star.

From there, you can skip ahead to Show People, one of her last silent films, which is a proper display of her knack for comedy while also following a story set in Hollywood. Then, if you can, it’d be interesting to see the two versions of Marianne, both made in 1929 starring Davies as she transitioned to talkies — I’m not sure what Mank is trying to depict with that later-set home movie test footage to get her used to sound films even if it’s a neat character introduction. It’s also the first film in which she sings, proving to have a better voice than her supposed Kane counterpart.

Other early ’30s essentials include Five and Ten and Peg o’ My Heart, which was the closest Davies got to an Oscar due to a write-in campaign led by Hearst and which is the only film to showcase Davies’ stutter that had her concerned when talkies took over in Hollywood. Then Going Hollywood, which is another fine film to watch for its movie business setting. Plus it was Davies’ last great film at MGM before her decline, her move to Warner Bros, and her eventual retirement amidst various unfortunate personal matters. Of course, any and all Davies films are suggested for anyone who is now curious about the real deal.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.