Michael Curtiz

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Inspired by the Casablanca revive.

Hack? Worse? Hack-plus? Definitely belongs in The Far Side of Paradise? (Pantheon, anyone?)

I say "hack" but use the word affectionately. It takes some choice managerial skills to deliver consistently serviceable films in so many genres (I've never seen the films he made before he came to Hollywood..any good, anyone?). Still, I scan his filmography in vain for masterpieces. Closest for me would be Mildred Pierce which cannot be chalked up entirely to my Joan Crawford obsession. Cagney and, um, Bogie canceled out Curtiz's personality just as much as Crawford did. Maybe his strongest gift, then, was to provide a solid setting in which Warner Bros.'s jewels could sparkle.

Here's Crawford on Female on the Beach, my very favorite JC film. Not directed by Curtiz but she offers some insight into how he worked:

"I suppose the only thing wrong with it was the thing that hurts so many melodramas, a lack of credibility. The writers aren't too careful about the plot, they're more concerned with building up certain scenes, and the directors go along with that. Consequently, to use another critical phrase, the parts are better than the whole. When you take another look at Mildred Pierce you can see how lucky we were to have escaped that. Curtiz pulled out the right stops in the right places." (from Roy Newquist, Conversations with Joan Crawford, p. 106)

But fine as Mildred Pierce turned out, life's too short for wholes (!). Gimme parts and fireworks, esp. with Crawford! And really, what do we remember best from Mildred Pierce? The confrontation with Monte at the restaurant. Ida's wisecracks. Wally's flava. Ok and some noirish touches here and there. But really, it's fireworks. And with each display, we get some great one-liners: "I don't notice you shrinking away from a 50 dollar bill because it happens to smell of grease;" "Leave something on me I might catch cold;" Wally stumbling on "irreparably;" etc. So kudos for pulling it off should be directed to the multi-headed monster who wrote the thing as much as Curtiz.

After that, what? Minor Bette Davis. Female has stylish sets and unstylish direction. Tourneur and Sidney did swashbuckling better. Night and Day would be a travesty were it not so doorknob dull. People speak highly of Roughly Speaking and Romance on the High Seas. But both left with me the ehs. Of his 1950s output, I've only seen the musicals/biopics. And while they're harmless enough ways to hear Irving Berlin, I wouldn't exactly recommend any particular title. And so on.

As for Casablanca, fine film. But it's long since swallowed up its director, no? And sheesh - I can think of about 500 B&W films better than Casablanca, 200 of which would come from the classical Hollywood era (e.g. most of Preminger, Ford, Hawks, etc.).

So...any gems hiding in all the professionalism?

Kevin John Bozelka, Thursday, 28 August 2008 22:12 (ten years ago) Permalink

Mildred Pierce was stodgy the last time I saw it, especially after noting how effective Crawford can be in her less well-publicized movies: Daisy Kenyon, Humoresque.

He's a decent hack. The Adventures of Robin Hood and Yankee Doodle Dandy are a lot of fun.

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Friday, 29 August 2008 14:37 (ten years ago) Permalink

"Curtiz was a very excitable guy, and very sadistic...er..would go out of control a great deal....."

Who could watch this and not want to see the whole film? It looks incredible.

http://www.youtube.com/v/d2e6uqSWk_g

Pashmina, Friday, 29 August 2008 16:29 (ten years ago) Permalink

http://www.basilrathbone.net/films/captainblood/cb101.jpg

remy bean, Friday, 29 August 2008 16:30 (ten years ago) Permalink

My horny adolescent self remains grateful for Captain Blood as well as Robin Hood.

I'm not sure those kind of star vehicles need an "extraneous" directorial personality to compete with the lead's.

Dr Morbius, Friday, 29 August 2008 16:32 (ten years ago) Permalink

http://www.worth1000.com/entries/318500/318841aFhE_w.jpg

remy bean, Friday, 29 August 2008 16:32 (ten years ago) Permalink

I do not consider him a hack at all. A tradesmen, a bit rote and conservative, sure, but not at all hackish.

remy bean, Friday, 29 August 2008 16:33 (ten years ago) Permalink

He was no great stylist, but he made commendably solid genre flicks - knew how to eek great scenes from so-so material, mastered pacing and sequencing structure, really knew how to keep a boring movie from seeming boring.

remy bean, Friday, 29 August 2008 16:35 (ten years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

Film Forum is showing something of his called The Strange Love of Molly Louvain tonight.

Blecch Generation (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 19 April 2010 18:54 (eight years ago) Permalink

Do not know. Available on VHS though.

Kevin John Bozelka, Tuesday, 20 April 2010 07:10 (eight years ago) Permalink

four years pass...

The Breaking Point is terrific, likely a better film than the first version, To Have and Have Not. An essential John Garfield performance, and Phyllis Thaxter is unexpectedly strong as the wife who ears she's losing him. Also a great last shot that openly critiques Hollywood racism.

son of a lewd monk (Dr Morbius), Sunday, 29 June 2014 12:26 (four years ago) Permalink

three years pass...

The Breaking Point on Criterion

https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/4824-the-michael-curtiz-method

ice cream social justice (Dr Morbius), Monday, 14 August 2017 13:48 (one year ago) Permalink

one month passes...

The Breaking Point is terrific, likely a better film than the first version, To Have and Have Not. An essential John Garfield performance, and Phyllis Thaxter is unexpectedly strong as the wife who ears she's losing him. Also a great last shot that openly critiques Hollywood racism.

Agree for the most part, and Curtiz understands deep focus and atmospheric location. But the gangster scenes are a wheez. Many of the Patricia Neal scenes have acting overemphatic even for the time, but John Garfield managed to star in many a movie where this is the case.

the Rain Man of nationalism. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 21 September 2017 01:21 (one year ago) Permalink

The juxtaposition of the crying children and Juano Hernandez's son looking for dad is devastating. Curtiz knew what he was doing.

the Rain Man of nationalism. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 21 September 2017 01:23 (one year ago) Permalink

movie confirms my longstanding Garfield crush

the Rain Man of nationalism. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 22 September 2017 15:20 (one year ago) Permalink

one month passes...

new Curtiz bio out, read a good review in Film Comment (print only)

ice cream social justice (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 16 November 2017 16:38 (one year ago) Permalink

one month passes...

LA retro

https://www.cinema.ucla.edu/events/2018/michael-curtiz-life-in-film

The Sea Wolf is well worth seeing for Edw G Robinson's committed villainy. Garfield and Lupino also give their stock characters some sizzle.

ice cream social justice (Dr Morbius), Tuesday, 2 January 2018 15:43 (one year ago) Permalink


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