Netflix’s bio-drama directed by David Fincher and written by his father, Jack Finch. Set in 1940, the story centers on alcoholic critic and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane and the problems that arose with Orson Welles (Tom Burke) during production and leading up to the film’s release.
John Houseman: [to Mank] Write hard. Aim low.
Rita Alexander: Is Bernstein meant to be Louis Mayer?
Herman Mankiewicz: If form follows function.
Rita Alexander: Mayer is the same pathetic sort of lap dog to our Charles Foster.
Herman Mankiewicz: Well, Bernstein is a far nicer character.
Rita Alexander: You don’t much like Mayer.
Herman Mankiewicz: If I ever go to the electric chair, I’d like him to be sitting in my lap.
Herman Mankiewicz: [1934 – flashback] You’re a junior writer, Joe.
Joseph Mankiewicz: So?
Herman Mankiewicz: So you’re only half the wit your big brother is. How many half-wits make that?
Louis B. Mayer: [to Mank and Joseph] My boy, there are three work rules at this studio. Rule number one. Ars gratia artis. Art for art’s sake. One million dollars a year we spend on stories we never even film. Why not? I’ll tell you. They don’t make me cry. What makes me cry? Emotion. Where do I feel emotion?
[points to his head, heart and crotch]
Louis B. Mayer: Here, here, and here.
Louis B. Mayer: Rule number two. You may have heard MGM has more stars than there are in the heavens. Do not believe this. We have only one star. That is Leo the Lion. Never forget that. Many stars have, and now they twinkle elsewhere.
Louis B. Mayer: Rule number three. People think MGM stands for Metro Goldwyn Mayer. It does not. It stands for Mayer’s gantze mishpokhe, Mayer’s whole family. Never forget that. You got a problem, come to Papa. This is a business where the buyer gets nothing for his money but a memory. What he bought still belongs to the man who sold it. That’s the real magic of the movies, and don’t let anybody tell you different.
Studio Worker: [after Mayer has told them he’s rolling back their salaries] Is everybody going to be pitching in? Are you, Mr. Mayer?
Louis B. Mayer: Real families root for each other in the good times. Take care of each other in tough ones.
Herman Mankiewicz: None of it sings. None of it. Not a note.
Rita Alexander: You’re not writing an opera.
Herman Mankiewicz: But I am writing an opera.
Joseph Mankiewicz: How are you getting around?
Herman Mankiewicz: Gingerly.
Joseph Mankiewicz: Any rest?
Herman Mankiewicz: Haven’t seen a sunrise yet.
Joseph Mankiewicz: You’ve never seen a sunrise.
Joseph Mankiewicz: I was thinking about that old play, The Wild Man of Borneo, the one you wrote in the Ice Age.
Herman Mankiewicz: One never remembers one’s disasters. It’s considered gauche.
Joseph Mankiewicz: A play is never a disaster till the movies say it is.
Joseph Mankiewicz: I know how things are. I can tell by her voice.
Herman Mankiewicz: And how bad is that, baby brother?
Joseph Mankiewicz: How bad? I went to a party last night where Scott Fitzgerald referred to you as a ruined man. That’s how bad things can get.
Herman Mankiewicz: That’s good. I may use that.
Joseph Mankiewicz: I hear you’re hunting dangerous game. Word on the street is radio’s golden boy wants to go toe-to-toe with Willie Hearst, and you’re helping in the kitchen.
Herman Mankiewicz: Oh? And?
Joseph Mankiewicz: “And?” Herman, “And?”
Herman Mankiewicz: How stupid of me. I thought I was rejecting a humiliating handout, when all the time, I was nixing a respectable bribe.
Joseph Mankiewicz: And I’m sorry I ever cared.
William Randolph Hearst: [1933 – flashback] Louis, you should be joyous. You don’t look a day over forty-eight.
Louis B. Mayer: I feel thirty-five.
Louis B. Mayer: Mr. Hearst, Marion, all of you, my heart is full to bursting. I can’t express in words…
Herman Mankiewicz: [mutters to Sarah] Please don’t try.
Louis B. Mayer: W. R., nothing is more precious to me than your friendship and sage advice. I am blessed to call you my friend. God bless William Randolph Hearst.
Irving Thalberg: [referring to Hitler] Can’t last. Who in the world takes a lunatic like that seriously?
Herman Mankiewicz: Well, the last time I looked, forty million Germans.
William Randolph Hearst: Mank! You’re always so wonderfully contrary.
Herman Mankiewicz: There’s a world of difference between communism and socialism.
Louis B. Mayer: They both want something for nothing.
Herman Mankiewicz: Like a workforce for free?
Irving Thalberg: Half, and only in the interim.
Herman Mankiewicz: Irving, you’re a literate man. You know the difference between communism and socialism. In socialism, everyone shares the wealth. In communism, everyone shares the poverty.
Irving Thalberg: Thank you, Mr. Mankiewicz.
Herman Mankiewicz: Upton just wants you to apportion some of your Christmas bonus, Irving, to the people who clean your house.
William Randolph Hearst: Now that’s why I always want Mank around.
Marion Davies: Me too.
Marion Davies: [to Mank] Well, do you always just say whatever you think?
Marion Davies: I don’t even know who this Mr. Sinclair is, but he wrote about us for a book. I used to quote it word for word. “I saw our richest newspaper publisher keep his movie mistress in a private city of palaces and cathedrals, furnished with shiploads of junk imported from Europe, and surrounded by vast acres reserved for use by zebras and giraffes, telling in jest that he had spent six million dollars to make his lady’s reputation, and using his newspapers to celebrate her change of hats.”
Herman Mankiewicz: It must be hard to be on the receiving end of that.
Marion Davies: People think because you’re on the cover of Modern Screen, they know you.
Marion Davies: What do I have to complain about? I live in a fishbowl. But anything I want is mine. If I could, I’d share with everyone.
Marion Davies: Nobody, but nobody, makes a monkey out of William Randolph Hearst!
Herman Mankiewicz: The hypocrisy. “Mayn gantze mishpokhe. My mishpokhe.”
Marion Davies: I don’t speak a lot of Jewish.
Herman Mankiewicz: Really? “My mishpokhe. My family.” Everything he does is for family, except when it comes to selling his last name to a competitor in the middle of the night.
Marion Davies: Wow. He would do that to his own studio?
Herman Mankiewicz: He doesn’t own MGM any more than Sam Goldwyn. They just run it for the moneyboys back East. And jail is not something an animal like Mayer is likely to forget.
Herman Mankiewicz: “There are letters of accent and letters of tone, but the best of all letters is to let her alone.”
Herman Mankiewicz: [to Houseman] You said ninety days. Welles said sixty. I’m doing the very best I can.
John Houseman: I’ve never been fired.
Herman Mankiewicz: I’ve never not been fired.
John Houseman: I don’t get fired.
Herman Mankiewicz: It’s not as unpleasant as you might imagine.
Orson Welles: Tell me what to expect.
Herman Mankiewicz: I thought you’d want to be surprised.
Orson Welles: You’re always surprising. That’s why you were my only choice. No one else is Mankiewicz. I can almost hear the finish line.
Herman Mankiewicz: We’re about to turn a corner.
Orson Welles: Unto the breach!
Fräulein Frieda: [after she explains Mank helped her and her family escape from Germany] I assume if he wishes to drink, he’s a grown man, a good man, and should be treated as such. Nicht wahr?
[Rita walks back to Mank with two glasses of drink]
Rita Alexander: To Mank-town. Or is it Mank-ville?
Herman Mankiewicz: Dear Freda. What’s German for blabbermouth?
Rita Alexander: Either you demonstrate you can handle this, or we will all end up getting sacked.
Herman Mankiewicz: There is nothing like a vote of confidence from one’s peers.
Rita Alexander: [toasting] To Mank-berg. Prosit.
Herman Mankiewicz: Mank-heim. Bottoms up.
Joseph Mankiewicz: [1934 – flashaback, referring to Mayer] The bastard reneged. You were there. Yes, he reinstated salaries, but he never gave back the money he promised.
Herman Mankiewicz: Giant surprise.
Herman Mankiewicz: As Groucho always said, “Never belong to any club that would have someone like you for a member.”
Joseph Mankiewicz: And look at him. The most miserable bastard on God’s green earth.
Herman Mankiewicz: I’d tell him you said that, only he’d think you were brownnosing.
Irving Thalberg: I was taught by my parents to be straightforward, to ask simply for what I want, and expect that I may have to elucidate my position.
Herman Mankiewicz: Well, I was encouraged by mine to use my imagination, but I taught myself to avoid the consequences.
Upton Sinclair: [at his campain rally] Too often, sir, the religion of Jesus is used by the ruling classes to keep themselves in power, and the poor ever poorer. And that, my friends, is a sin and an error. And I say with Thomas Jefferson, “Truth has nothing to fear from error where reason is left free to combat it.”
John Houseman: [referring to the finished script] It’s good, Mank. Damn good.
Rita Alexander: I have it on highest authority it’s the best thing he’s ever done.
John Houseman: As a moving picture, it’s more than good. I’m at a loss to even express how wealth and influence can crush a man. It’s Lear. The dark night of the soul. And I was completely mistaken. The shifting point of view is revolutionary. I never thought one could care so much about a sled.
Herman Mankiewicz: It’s kind of you to say.
John Houseman: But.
Herman Mankiewicz: [laughs] “But”, again.
John Houseman: It’s three hundred twenty-seven pages. An embarrassment of riches. When the Dog-Faced Boy gets here, there will be plenty of branches to prune.
Herman Mankiewicz: “A far too long screenplay for the ages.” John Houseman. I built him a watertight narrative and a suggested destination. Where he takes it, that’s his job.
John Houseman: You signed your rights to the Mercury. You agreed not to take screen credit.
Herman Mankiewicz: I needed the work.
John Houseman: You may want to reconsider.
Herman Mankiewicz: All I currently want is a real shower, a cocktail, and my Sara to wake up to.
John Houseman: Mank, if I may be so bold. Why Hearst? Lord knows, outside his own blonde Betty Boop, you were always his favorite dinner partner.
Herman Mankiewicz: John, are you familiar with the parable of the organ grinder’s monkey?
Shelly Metcalf: [1934 – flashback, referring to the smear campaign films] What do you think?
Herman Mankiewicz: Truthfully, Shelly, if the performances were any better, you’d be ashamed of yourself.
Shelly Metcalf: Only half of them were actors. It’s got that raw newsreel feel, hasn’t it?
Herman Mankiewicz: But it isn’t news, and it isn’t real.
Shelly Metcalf: I wasn’t looking for an ethical debate, Mankie.
Shelly Metcalf: [referring to the smear campaign films] You don’t think anyone old enough to vote is going to buy this s**t?
Herman Mankiewicz: Only the ones who believe King Kong is ten stories tall, or Mary Pickford a virgin at forty.
Irving Thalberg: [referring to the smear campaign films] What did you think?
Herman Mankiewicz: With all due respect to Shelly, King Kong they ain’t. Though I do think footage of invading hobos has a certain xenophobic power when front-paged in the Times and backed by those tacky billboards.
Irving Thalberg: Shelly got a chance to direct, and I canceled your twelve thousand dollar gambling debt. I’d call that a fair return on a one-minute lecture for uninspired studio chieftains.
Irving Thalberg: When I was just a boy passing out socialist leaflets in the Bronx, a couple Tammany goons came to show me the error of my ways. And one of them crushed my testicles until I volunteered to distribute my wares into the East River. That’s politics. I didn’t invent it. I don’t apologize for it.
Herman Mankiewicz: Mayer’s not paying for this. He never pays for anything.
Irving Thalberg: I know what I am, Mank. When I come to work, I don’t consider it slumming. I don’t use humor to keep myself above the fray. And I always go to the mat for what I believe in. I haven’t the time to do otherwise. But you, sir, how formidable people like you might be if they actually gave at the office.
Herman Mankiewicz: [referring to Marion] Oh, it’s not about her, it’s about him.
Charles Lederer: Oh?
Herman Mankiewicz: [referring to Hearst] Or rather, it’s him, but it’s not her.
Charles Lederer: It isn’t? The lonely showgirl, trapped in a castle, doing jigsaw puzzles.
Herman Mankiewicz: It’s more her as people, who don’t know her, imagine her to be.
Charles Lederer: I see. It’s her as they imagine her, but it’s him as you knew him.
Herman Mankiewicz: [referring to Charles telling Marion about the script] What does instinct tell you?
Charles Lederer: That it’s mighty strong medicine for a lifetime of starry-eyed self-absorption. It’s one of those cures that could be worse than the disease. But you, of all people, should know about that.
Sara Mankiewicz: [1934 – flashback, election eve night, to Mank] If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
Louis B. Mayer: [as Sinclair is losing his campaign for Governor of California] You see, if you just give people what they need to know, in an emotional way, you can expect they’ll do the right thing.
Herman Mankiewicz: I think what you mean, “If you keep telling people something untrue, loud and long enough, they’re apt to believe it.”
Irving Thalberg: That’s not what he was saying.
Joseph Mankiewicz: How do you like the Mojave?
Herman Mankiewicz: God’s answer for drunks and reprobates. Perfect place to dry out.
Joseph Mankiewicz: How’s that working?
Herman Mankiewicz: [offers a drink to Joseph] It didn’t take. Cheers.
Joseph Mankiewicz: I read your little script.
Herman Mankiewicz: News travels fast.
Joseph Mankiewicz: Even without the title page, you don’t need to be Philip Marlowe to know who wrote it.
Herman Mankiewicz: Have at it.
Joseph Mankiewicz: It’s very…complicated.
Joseph Mankiewicz: [referring to Hearst] Herman, this is me. You pick a fight with Willie, you are finished. Mayer can’t save you. Nobody can. Especially the boy genius from New York.
Herman Mankiewicz: You’re far too political, Joe.
Joseph Mankiewicz: Self-preservation is not politics.
Joseph Mankiewicz: [referring to Hearst] Him, I get. But what did Marion ever do to deserve this?
Herman Mankiewicz: It’s not her! You know better than anyone, not all characters are headliners. Some are secondary.
Joseph Mankiewicz: Well, that’s why I’m here. On behalf of the secondary characters.
Joseph Mankiewicz: [to Mank] You made yourself court jester. Someone had to say it.
Joseph Mankiewicz: People are speculating Rosebud is WR’s pet name for Marion’s genitalia. Now, I know you’d never stoop to that.
Herman Mankiewicz: Only because I hadn’t heard.
[they both laugh]
Herman Mankiewicz: I’m washed up, Joe. Have been for years.
Joseph Mankiewicz: It’s the best thing you’ve ever written.
Rita Alexander: [as they watch Joseph drive off] A rare bird, that.
Herman Mankiewicz: A Mankiewicz.
Herman Mankiewicz: [1934 – flashback, election eve night] You can’t do it that way.
Shelly Metcalf: Do what?
Herman Mankiewicz: Kill yourself. I’ve tried. It takes years.
Shelly Metcalf: Look at what we did. We can’t un-ring this bell.
Herman Mankiewicz: We have to be vigilant.
Shelly Metcalf: In regards to?
Herman Mankiewicz: People sitting in the dark, willingly checking their disbelief at the door. We have a huge responsibility.
Marion Davies: Well, I read the script.
Herman Mankiewicz: Who hasn’t?
Marion Davies: It’s very grand, Mank, in its own way, and very much you. I would’ve loved to play me ten years ago.
Herman Mankiewicz: It was never meant to be you.
Herman Mankiewicz: Willie sent you.
Marion Davies: Didn’t have to. That surprises you? You’re the most observant man I know.
Herman Mankiewicz: Then you deserve better.
Marion Davies: That’s very sweet. I always wanted better.
Herman Mankiewicz: I hope, if this gets made, you’ll forgive me.
Marion Davies: And I hope, if it doesn’t, you’ll forgive me.
David O. Selznick: [1936- flashback, at Thalberg’s funeral] Well, look, come see me at International. Let’s work something out.
Herman Mankiewicz: I did come see you. You gave me the same invitation after Shelly’s funeral. I couldn’t get past your secretary’s secretary.
David O. Selznick: Is that right? Good to see you, Mank.
Orson Welles: Guess who phoned with an offer to buy out RKO’s investment and shelve the picture permanently?
Herman Mankiewicz: Not Hearst?
Orson Welles: Mank, I’m surprised. Would Othello snoop on Desdemona when he has Iago?
Herman Mankiewicz: Ah, Mayer.
Orson Welles: I hope you haven’t lost your nerve.
Herman Mankiewicz: Nerve’s about all I’ve got left.
Louis B. Mayer: [1937 – flashback, after Herman crashes Hearst’s party] I’m confused. I thought the invitation called for circus attire, not flea circus.
Herman Mankiewicz: I was cornered by a man who sold vacuum cleaners. A show of hands, who knows what a vacuum cleaner is?
Herman Mankiewicz: Are you here to try your luck, too, Schnutz?
Sara Mankiewicz: At what?
Herman Mankiewicz: Changing my mind.
Sara Mankiewicz: I never had much success with that, Herman. In the end, you’ll do what you need to.
Herman Mankiewicz: Charlie’s been here, Joe’s been, Marion’s been. For one reason or another, all of them want me to walk away. You care to hear what I’ve decided?
Sara Mankiewicz: Not really.
Herman Mankiewicz: After twenty years of connubial bliss, blind loyalty can get a little suffocating.
Sara Mankiewicz: I’ve raised your kids kosher, and all but by myself. I’ve put up with your suicidal drinking. Your compulsive gambling. Your silly platonic affairs. You owe me, Herman.
Herman Mankiewicz: Why do you put up with me, Schnutz? My movie star looks, or my diplomat’s charm?
Sara Mankiewicz: I suppose because being married to you, Herman, I’m never bored. Exhausted, yes. Exasperated, usually. But having devoted so much, I have to stick around to see how it all turns out. And whatever you decide, please be mindful of those who care about you most.
[1937 – flashback to Hearst’s pary, as Herman drunkenly pitches the script he writes in 1940]
Herman Mankiewicz: How about we make our Quixote A newspaperman? Who else could make a living tilting at windmills? But that’s not enough. No, he wants more than readership. He wants more than adulation. He wants love. So he runs for public office, and because he’s notably rich, he wins. No, wait. Wait a minute. Notably rich and powerful can’t win over an audience, unless notably rich and powerful sees the error of his ways in the final reel. Notably rich and powerful, and making no goddamn excuses for it is only admirable in real life. Isn’t that right, Louis?
Herman Mankiewicz: [continuing his drunk pitch] No, our Quixote, he’s a two-fisted muckraker. In fact, someone predicts that he will one day win the presidency and bring about, get this, a socialist revolution.
Herman Mankiewicz: Our Quixote, he hungers, he thirsts, he lusts for voters to love him. Love him enough to make him president. But they won’t. And they don’t. How do you suppose that could happen? Could it be because, in their hearts, they know that he values power over people? Disillusioned in Congress, he authors not one single piece of legislation in two terms. Can you believe that? That’ll take some writing. Placed in nomination for president, but it’s too radical for the boys in the back. His bid goes nowhere, but we’re doing something. We’re building sympathy.
Herman Mankiewicz: I forgot the love interest. Her name, Dulcinea. Funny, adventurous, smarter than she acts. Ah, she’s a showgirl, beneath his social stratum, but that’s okay. Because true love on the big screens, we all know, is blind. And she, yeah, she loves him too. So he takes her away to his mythical kingdom.
Herman Mankiewicz: Now, along comes nemesis. That’s Greek for any guy in a black hat. Nemesis runs for governor, and he’s a shoo-in to win. Why? Because he’s exactly what our Don used to be. An idealist, you get it? And not only that, nemesis is the same guy who once predicted our Quixote would one day preside over a socialist revolution.
Herman Mankiewicz: Our Quixote looks into the mirror of his youth and decides to break this glass, a maddening reminder of who he once was. Assisted by his faithful Sancho, and armed with all the black magic at his command, he does just this. Destroying in the process not one man, but two. Well, what do you think, Louis? Hmm? You think it’ll play?
[he then vomits]
Louis B. Mayer: [after Mank’s drunken pitch] Who the f*** do you think you are, Mankiewicz? You’re nothing but a court jester. And let me let you in on a little secret. Do you have any idea who pays half your salary?
[points to Hearst]
Louis B. Mayer: He pays half your f***ing salary. Him, you f***ing ingrate. You didn’t know that, did you? You want to know why? Because he likes the way you talk. Not the way you write, the way you talk. Don’t that chap your a**?
Herman Mankiewicz: You’re not going to like this, Orson. I want credit.
Orson Welles: Come again?
Herman Mankiewicz: It’s the best thing I’ve ever written.
Herman Mankiewicz: [1937 – flasback, after his drunk pitch] What I said was more in sorrow than in anger, Willie.
William Randolph Hearst: Are you familiar with the parable of the organ grinder’s monkey? Now, the organ grinder’s monkey is tiny in stature, and having been taken from the wild, he’s naturally overwhelmed by the enormous world around him. But every morning, a sweet elderly woman dresses him in a fine suit of clothes.
William Randolph Hearst: [continuing the organ grinder’s monkey story] Whenever he ventures into the city to perform, he thinks, “What a powerful fellow I must be. Look how patiently everyone waits just to watch me dance.”
Herman Mankiewicz: Hey, Willie…
William Randolph Hearst: “And wherever I go,” he thinks, “This music box must follow, and with it, this poor downtrodden man. And if I chose not to dance, this sorry street peddler would starve. And every time I do decide to dance, every time, he must play. Whether he wishes to or not.”
Orson Welles: Put aside gratitude, Mank. That you’ve done your best work was no accident. I removed any distraction, eliminated every excuse, your family, your cronies, liquor. I gave you a second chance.
Herman Mankiewicz: And for that, I cannot thank you enough.
Orson Welles: But with credit for a risky undertaking must go the weight of real responsibility. Given your current health, I wonder if you’re up to it.
Herman Mankiewicz: And frankly, I wonder too. But we’ll find out.
Orson Welles: We have a contract that you understood and agreed to! If you fight this, it will go to what your new guild calls arbitration. And you, my friend, will lose script, money, and assuming such a thing still exists in Hollywood, the respect of those who honor their word.
Herman Mankiewicz: How can I put this nicely? I may be a loose cannon, but you, my friend, are an outsider. They’re exasperated by me, and I’ve earned it. But you, a self-anointed savior-hyphenate, they’re just waiting to loathe you.
Orson Welles: Alright! No doubt you’ll get your credit. But ask yourself, “Who’s producing this picture? Directing it? Starring in it?!”
[he smashes the box containing the alcohol against the wall in anger]
Herman Mankiewicz: That’s just what we need when Susan leaves Kane. An act of purging violence.
Orson Welles: Maybe.
[Welles leaves in anger]
Rita Alexander: [after she finds out her husband’s alive] Oh, Mank, are you ever serious?
Herman Mankiewicz: Only about something funny.
[Rita embraces Mank]
Reporter: [1942 – Radio Press Conference] Aren’t you disappointed that it only won one Oscar?
Orson Welles: Well, that, my good man, is Hollywood.
Reporter: Do you anything you’d like to say to your coauthor, Mr. Mankiewicz?
Orson Welles: I do have a message. You may tell him from me, “Mank, you can kiss my half!”
Herman Mankiewicz: You ask me what my acceptance speech might have been. Well, here goes. I am very happy to accept this award in the manner in which the screenplay was written. Which is to say, in the absence of Orson Welles. How’s that?
Reporter: How come he shares credit?
Herman Mankiewicz: Well, that, my friend, is the magic of the movies.