First of all, I want to say that Mank is a film for a rather specific audience which is aware of this story at least in general terms. To understand what the scenario is about you need to watch not just one movie, but two, at least to appreciate how similar Mank is to Citizen Kane (1941)
– a black-and-white movie shot in the form of flashbacks.
Mank is an abundance of names, dates, places, circumstances, and details that only confuse the untrained viewer (and the prepared one, too). Hitler, Governor of California election ( it is not clear what kind of election it is though), the Great Depression... Constantly appearing to people to whom the viewer hasn't been introduced, they disappear just as quickly, only to show up again when the viewer has already forgotten about them.
Everything is quite chaotic, incomprehensible and... untrue. In my opinion, there are too many scenario fictions in the film. Of course, they are bright and dramatic, they add some spice to the story, but this is not true, and this is what can and will mislead the audience. On the one hand, the film does not claim to be a complete biopic. Whatever the media says. You generally should not trust even those films that present themselves as true biopics entirely. Sadly, the concept of truthfulness is apparently not appreciated in the movie. On the other hand, the director is so skillful in pretending to be trustworthy that after watching the movie you don't think about checking the facts. But maybe you should.
For example, the fact that Herman Mankiewicz was an avid gambler and really had problems with alcohol is true. He actually once bet $1,000 in a heads-and-tails game and lost everything. And the car accident that resulted in a broken leg is also from real life. As well as the fact that Louis B. Mayer halved the salary of Studio employees during the banking crisis of 1933; then Mank was against the formation of the screenwriting Union and the screenwriters Guild. There is also one controversial fact about Orson Welles offering Mankiewicz $10,000 to keep his name out of the film's credits. These rumors come from the article 'Raising Kane' by Pauline Kael (The first part
and the second part
. The site will try to prevent you from reading the second part, but you can still do it). It is relatively true that the scene in which Mankiewicz makes a note in his notebook after Orson Welles throws a box of cigarettes and bottles against the wall. A similar episode became a part of Citizen Kane, but Mank spied it under very different circumstances and much earlier – Welles threw a lit primus at John Housman the same way when something enraged him in the kitchen of the Victorville ranch. That's where the truth in this movie ends.
First of all, Mank didn't save an entire German village. What a nonsense. Of course, German Jew by nationality, he helped some emigrants move and settle in America, but that's it.
Almost everything related to the election in the film is not true. Mank was a conservative, and there is no evidence that he had any sympathy for democratic gubernatorial contender Upton Sinclair. In the film, the character refuses to sponsor the anti-Sinclair foundation, but in reality it was exactly the opposite – Mankiewicz, like most Hollywood figures, voluntarily donated money to the gubernatorial campaign of the incumbent Republican governor Frank Merriam. And, of course, Mank didn't make any bets about the outcome of the gubernatorial election with Mayer and Thalberg. It is also not true that Irving Thalberg was inspired to make political videos by Mank. In those videos different people were asked whom they would vote for and whether people who spoke for Merriam were real and whether those supporting Sinclair were the actors who played ragamuffins. None of the memoirs mention that Mank even spoke about his attitude to the pro-Sinclair fake videos. This was not a very elegant parallel between Hearst, who sponsored these videos, and the main character of Citizen Kane. None of Mank's close friends who participated in the shooting also regretted what they had done. The director of these videos, Shelly Metcalf, is a fictional character. In fact, no one suffered from remorse or shot themselves after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. On the contrary, for the real director Felix Feist Jr. these sketches were the first steps in big movies.
In the film Mank tries to persuade Marion Davis to influence the release of these videos. In fact, Davis left MGM for Warner Bros after the videos were first shown, and she was not involved in it in any way. As well as in the release of Citizen Kane. There is nothing about her request not to release the film in Mankiewicz's diaries or in Davis' own memoirs "The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst". Moreover, she writes that she did not read the script and did not watch the film when it was released. However, she did treat Hearst with the same tenderness that was shown in the movie, and the moment with the sale of jewelry (as well as shares and bonds) to save Hearst from bankruptcy is also true.
Finally, the climactic scene of the entire film – where Mank throws out his idea of Citizen Kane to Hearst's guests, and then Hearst politely tells him the parable about the monkey – is just another figment. Certainly a very successful one, but still fiction.
I must say that the film's many inconsistencies do not make it a bad one from the script or the director's point of view. It's still a movie by both Finchers, with all their charm. However, I think they had to realize that after watching their film people might believe in everything that was shown. Changes on this scale require at least some hints on the fact that more than a half of the film is based on the screenwriter's imagination.