M is an American of Polish descent. Born in 1909 and educated in New York city. Like his brother Herman, Mankiewicz first made his mark in films as a scenarist, after a stint as a foreign correspondent in Berlin. In 1928 Mankiewicz wrote intertitles and scripts at Paramount, then producing at MGM in 1936, overseeing films like Fritz Lang's Fury (1936), Frank Borzage's Three Comrades (1938), George Cukor's The Philadelphia Story (1940) and George Stevens's Woman of the Year (1942). In 1943 he transferred to Fox where he directed his first film in 1946, with The Ghost and Mrs Muir in 1947, establishing a reputation as a literary director with All About Eve (1950) and Julius Caesar (1953). In 1951 he returned to New York and remained there for the rest of his life films such as The Barefoot Contessa (1954) and his favourite The Quiet American (1958), an adaptation of Graham Greene's novel about the French Indochina War. Mankiewicz's career practically came to an end with the expensive flop Cleopatra (1963).



  • Julius Caesar - Louis Calhern
  • Brutus - James Mason
  • Marc Antony - Marlon Brando
  • Cassisus - John Gielgud
  • Octavius Caesar - Douglas Watson
  • Calpurnia - Greer Garson

I can find no direct link between M and war, except his concern as an ethnic Pole for what Nazism was doing to his family's homeland during the Second World War. There is a hint in the film that M is comparing Caesar's Rome to fascism: the mass rallies and public spectacle, the symbols of fasces and the eagle, the stiff arm salutes, the political police, the images of the leader; the stark monumental architecture, all suggest comparisons with Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany. The producer John Houseman, who was involved in the making of the film, commented on the political and historical connections:

While never deliberately exploiting the historic parallels, there were certain emotional patterns arising from political events of the immediate past that we were prepared to evoke - Hitler, Mussolini and Ciano at the Brenner Pass; the assemblage at Munich; Stalin and Ribbentrop signing the Pact; and similar smiling conference-table friendships that soon ripened into violence and death. Also Hitler at Nuremberg and Compiègne, and later in the Berlin rubble; Mussolini on his balcony with that same docile mob massed below which later watched him hanging by his feet, dead. These sights were as much a part of our contemporary consciousness - in the black and white of newsreel and TV screens - as, to Elizabethan audiences, were the personal and political conflicts and tragedies of Essex, Bacon, Leicester and the Cecils. (Casebook, ed. Ure, pp. 67-8)


Julius Caesar (100-44 BC)

JC was one of the great military leaders of the ancient world. He conquered and then became governor of Transalpine Gaul ("France") for 9 years. In 60 BC he established a "triumvirate" with Pompei and Crassus to rule Roman world. Disputes within the triumvirate led to civil war between JC and Pompei. JC defeated Pompei in Spain in 45 BC. JC retrurned to Rome and broke tradition which prevented generals from bringing their troops into Rome, i.e. "crossing the Rubicon" (river). JC was declared perpetual dictator of Rome in February 44 BC. Assassinated in March 44 BC by a conspiracy of senators (led by Cassius and Brutus) who feared his dictatorship would destroy the republic. JC's adopted son and heir, Octavius, with Mark Antony defeated the assassins of JC in the civil war. Octavius later became the first emperor of Rome under the name of Augustus.


Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (1599)

The many religious wars of the late 16th century were a result of the Reformation begun in 1517 with Martin Luther. Protestants struggled against Catholics over the reformation of abuses in the Catholic church and for right to establish their own churhces and to preach their own interpretation of Christian faith.

In France Protestants were persecuted by the majority Catholics and even massacred at the socalled "Saint Bartholemew's Day Massacre" on 24 August 1572, when some 10,000 protestants were slaughtered in Paris and elsewhere in France. Led to the development of a political theory of tyrannicide by both Protestants and` Catholics to help solve problem of how to cope as a persecuted religious minority. Leading tyrannicide theorist was Philippe du Plessis-Mornay who argued that subjects were not bound to obey a prince if his orders contradicted the law of God; that it was permissable for some members of society (the magistrates or officials like Brutus) to resist a tyrannical prince by force of arms or even kill him; that there were two types of tyrants - the "tyrant without a title" who seized authority by force (such as a general like JC?) and the "tyrant by conduct" who was a legitimate king who gradually turns into a tyrant.

In England there was religious conlfict between the radical protestants and Queen Elizabeth I which led to the execution by the state of some radical protestant preachers and the passing of the Act Against Seditious Sectaries in 1593. Furthermore, radical Catholics wanted Mary Queen of Scots (a Catholic) to replace Queen Elizabeth and for Philip of Spain to invade, which he attempted to do with the Spanish Armada.

There was much discussion of tyrannicide in Elizabethan England as a result of the religious strife and this influenced Shakespeare (see article by Miola). Part of this discussion referred to the historical role of Brutus in killing the tyrant JC (see book by Clarke on the image of Brutus throughout history). WS's political views are very difficult to determine acurately. He seems to take the conservative view that tyrannicide disrupts the natural order and leads to murder, chaos and disorder. WS's picture of JC is not that of an outright tyrant. JC is vain, ruthless, unjust, and capricious, but he says JC loves the people and even leaves them his estate. JC is certainly not as tyrannical as other princes or kings in other plays (e.g. Richard III). WS's picture of Brutus does not show a man motivated by the untainted and pure motives of the classical killer of tyrants. Brutus is full of pride and ambition. His actions do not prevent tyranny and war, in fact they lead to civil war and the rise to power of an emperor who destroys the republic. Perhaps WS's views are best summed up by Mark Antony in his speech prophecying disorder.


Robert S. Miola, "Julius Caesar and the Tyrannicide Debate," Renaissance Quarterly, Summer 1985, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 271-89.

Shakespeare, Julius Caesar: A Casebook, ed. Peter Ure (Londond: Macmillan, 1984). Leo Kirshbaum, "Shakespeare's Stage Blood," pp. 152-9; John Houseman, "Filming Julius Caesar," pp. 66-69; Mark Hunter, "Brutus and the Political Context."

M.L. Clarke, The Noblest Roman: Marcus Brutus and his Reputation (London: Thames and Hudson, 1981). Ch. 1 "Brutus in History, " Ch. 2 "The Reputation of a Tyrannicide," and Ch. 3 "Brutus in Literature."

Jack J. Jorgens, Shakespeare on Film (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977). Chapter 6: "Joseph Mankiewicz's Julius Caesar," pp. 92-105.


  • The importance of the crowd in the rise to power of a dictator (a Roman general or a fascist leader).
  • Note in Cassius' speech to Brutus the justifications given by the conspirators for killing the "tyrant" JC. Personal ambition or desire to save the state?
  • Compare the assassination of Caesar by members of the Roman senate with the unsuccessful attemps on Hitler's life by members of the old military elite.
  • Brutus' famous speech comparing JC to a serpent's egg. Even if JC was not yet a tyrant, the egg would hatch and bring one forth. Thus the need to kill the serpent/tyrant in the egg. A pre-emptive strike against tyranny?
So Caesar may;
Then, lest he may, prevent....
Fashion it thus: that what he is, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities;
And therefore think him as a serpent's egg
Which, hatch'd, would, as his kind, grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell. (II i 27-8, 30-4)
  • Note Mark Antony's speech to the crowd when he curses the conspirators and prophecies a civil war resulting from JC's death, that it would "let slip the dogs of war."
  • Marc Anthony's skill at manipulating the crowd. Use of controlled pauses much like Hitler.
  • Brutus is literally haunted by what he has done. JC's spirit walks abroad and "turns our own swords into our proper entrails." Suicide is only way out for B, who runs on his own sword.
  • Mankiewiecz has been praised for his "integrity in dealing with the original (Shakespeare play)" but criticised for making a "visually diappointing" film. As Jack Jorgens comments, how much better would a Welles or a Kurosawa have treated this part of JM's script dealing with Brutus's boy Lucius's harp and the aftermath of battle:

    Throughout the scene, there is the silence of bloody defeat. Some moans from the wounded; occasionally a cry or two, as they are dipatched by Octavius' men. A Close Shot of the musical inistrument which has been so closely identified with Lucius. It lies smashed on the battlefield. One of Octavius' officers stoops into the shot, picks up the instrument. He crosses the battlefield, carrying it to Octavius. The angle widens as he crosses: the battlefield is disclosed. The distinctinve implement of war, which has been identified with Brutus, lies overturned and smashed. Octavius' men are busy with looting, and with salvaging weapons. Occasionally, in the b.g. (background), the moonlight picks up the flash of a sword as the wounded are dispatched. Octavius, remotes as always, stands to one side, accompanied by some generals, surveying his triumph. The officier hands Lucius' smashed instrumentto him. Octavius looks over it curiously, then shrugs and tosses it aside. (quoted in Jorgens, pp. 104-5).


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