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 (fourteen years ago) link

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 (fourteen years ago) link

"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 (fourteen years ago) link

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

remy bean, Friday, 29 August 2008 16:30 (fourteen years ago) link

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 (fourteen years ago) link

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

remy bean, Friday, 29 August 2008 16:32 (fourteen years ago) link

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 (fourteen years ago) link

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 (fourteen years ago) link

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 (twelve years ago) link

Do not know. Available on VHS though.

Kevin John Bozelka, Tuesday, 20 April 2010 07:10 (twelve years ago) link

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 (eight years ago) link

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 (five years ago) link

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 (five years ago) link

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 (five years ago) link

movie confirms my longstanding Garfield crush

the Rain Man of nationalism. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 22 September 2017 15:20 (five years ago) link

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 (five years ago) link

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 (five years ago) link

four years pass...

I can't remember if I ever saw White Christmas as a kid--wasn't one of the big holiday films in my house. I've stopped on scenes over the years. Because I've been doing these film nights in town, the community center here contacted me about introducing it before a screening they're having this week. I jumped at the chance, assuming the film would be quite innocuous.

I'll be speaking to a room with nothing but white seniors, but having just watched it in advance, it'll be pretty much impossible not to talk about race: exactly one African-American in the whole film (the guy who serves them drinks on the train--I don't think he gets a line), with zero servicemen in the opening scene in a room with dozens; a song that nostalgically looks back on the days of minstrel shows; the title song (the film came out just a few weeks before the Drifters recorded their version, the one used in Goodfellas); Rosa Parks and rock and roll just around the corner.

I don't think I'll even get into the Danny Kaye character.

clemenza, Monday, 19 December 2022 15:20 (one month ago) link

Curtiz: consider Casablanca overrated (or maybe just over-familiar), surprised it remains on S&S's Top 100; think Mildred Pierce is a very good noir, although I like Todd Haynes' remake even more; saw Angels with Dirty Faces ages ago, don't remember anything. Those three and now White Christmas are all I've seen.

clemenza, Monday, 19 December 2022 15:26 (one month ago) link

Was mostly unimpressed with White Christmas when I finally saw it last year. Saw it back-to-back with a first viewing of Holiday Inn so the racially insensitive elements of WC seemed positively restrained in comparison.

OTOH, just recently watched Captain Blood on a whim with no foreknowledge or expectations and thought it was pretty damn spectacular. The best pirate movie ever? Would love to see it on a big screen.

Beautiful Bean Footage Fetishist (Old Lunch), Monday, 19 December 2022 16:03 (one month ago) link

No way is Casablanca overrated btw

Gulf VAR Syndrome (Tom D.), Monday, 19 December 2022 16:04 (one month ago) link

consider Casablanca overrated

See, we don't disagree all the time

عباس کیارستمی (Eric H.), Monday, 19 December 2022 16:06 (one month ago) link

As much as I am not a Casablanca fan, looking back at what it was up against for the best picture Oscar, I'm glad it won. The only thing in the lineup that I regard as clearly superior is Heaven Can Wait.

عباس کیارستمی (Eric H.), Monday, 19 December 2022 16:13 (one month ago) link

Just about every Curtiz film between 1937 and 1948 is worth a watch. A special prize to the absolutely bonkers Flamingo Road.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 19 December 2022 16:15 (one month ago) link

OL: I knew about the blackface scene in Holiday Inn (haven't seen it; I assume TCM plays the film intact with a warning?); I was going to mention that too.

clemenza, Monday, 19 December 2022 16:28 (one month ago) link

Those three and now White Christmas are all I've seen.

No King Creole? Elvis Noir!

I've seen like two Elvis movies--Loving You and Jailhouse Rock and I think that's it. (Not even VLV, no.)

clemenza, Tuesday, 20 December 2022 04:01 (one month ago) link


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