Film writer/director/producer Joseph Mankiewicz is very much alive and not to be trusted--a quandary that Kenneth Geist faces head on. As a result, the final word belongs neither to Mankiewicz nor to his critics in this kaleidoscopic critical biography, which deftly mingles personal and professional history with discussion of Mankiewicz's filmmaking experiences and analysis of the works themselves. Noting as influences Mankiewicz's esteemed professor-Pop, his older brother Herman (screenwriter of Citizen Kane), and Rosa Stradner, his wife of 18 years, Geist traces Mankiewicz's development from a New York academic boyhood to his Hollywood apogee with All About Eve to his present serf-willed exile. Provocatively conflicting impressions of who slept with, exploited, or made a star of whom exist in tandem with a vivid picture of the versatile director of 20 films; the notorious womanizer who pursued leading ladies (Judy Garland foremost) and wed lesser-knowns; the often cruel wit who pegs himself ""the oldest whore on the beat,"" dispenses with old friends at whim, and has scripted some of the most pungent words ever uttered on screen. Geist, a forthright is occasionally hyperbolic critic (All About Eve is a ""masterpiece""?), identifies the flashback as Mankiewicz's favorite stylistic device and rightly spots verbal agility and eloquence as his most formidable assets--and their abuse, in distended dialogues, as major pitfalls in films like The Barefoot Contessa. At the same time, he evokes the flavor of filmmaking in his descriptions of Mankiewicz's Hollywoodish struggle against odds to maintain his presidency of the Screen Directors' Guild and the gargantuan mishaps that dogged the making of Cleopatra. Pictures Will Talk not only to buffs but to anyone who goes to the movies.