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Michael Curtiz, One of the Great Film Directors


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Thanks so much for augmenting my comment, Tom. I've been privileged to have produced several Steiner-Curtiz soundtrack CD's, as well as having digitally preserved and restored the entire Max Steiner recording collection at BYU. My admiration for Curtiz really ascended as I went through each of these cooperative films, simply marvelling at the director's ability to navigate through so many genres.

 

It is also my personal and professional observation that actors gave, under Curtiz' direction, almost uniformly - at least one if not several notches closer to - natural performances than under other directors of the period.

 

I've cited this scene before, but just watch the late-night library scene in the 1952 remake of THE JAZZ SINGER. The combination of lighting and camerawork, Steiner's music, and the beautiful underplaying by Danny Thomas and Mildred Dunnock make this a textbook example of Curtiz taking a very routine piece of material and making it a simply stunning sequence.

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According to my saved schedules, the last time that CABIN IN THE COTTON aired was on June 7th (technically the 8th) 2009 at 430am. It was the last feature of a 24-hour Curtiz tribute that had started at 6am.

 

This was a special June feature in which days, or in some cases half-days, were devoted to a single director. It was the format for the whole month and none of the usual showcases (Silent Sunday, TCM Underground) were featured.

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Ray, all lovers of Max Steiner, a magnificent child prodigy to which Hollywood, and Warners, in particular, were so fortunate to have his services, owe a debt to you and your colleagues for your pain staking recreations and tributes to so many of this Austrian's remarkable works.

 

Thanks for making special reference to the Curtiz version of The Jazz Singer. I must confess that I've never seen the film (having had a hard enough time getting through the original version and not being a particular fan of Danny Thomas). I'll have to make a point of watching it, to see what the director was able to bring to that dated story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A whole new thread could be devoted just to the subject of special scenes or moments that occurred in Curtiz films that stay in a viewer's mind. Some could be big moments, such as the duel in Robin Hood or Cagney's last mile walk in Angels with Dirty Faces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But there could also be the equally effective but more subtle moments, such as that in The Sea Hawk, when Errol Flynn and his remaining crew, those that had survived an ambush by the Spanish in the Panamanian jungle, make their way back to their ship. It's a sequence beautifully photographed in sepia by Sol Polito, with his effortlessly gliding camerawork, enhanced immeasurably by the editing of George Amy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upon climbing back on board their ship, there is no crew visible and Korngold's rhythmic music dies away. There is an eerie silence, with only the natural sounds of timbers creaking. Flynn and his crew look about, mystified, on guard. Curtiz's camera pans across the ship and even gives us an overhead shot looking down upon the men, emphasizing their vulnerability. Flynn then spots the dead body of a crew mate, followed by a Curtiz specialty, the shadow of a hanging man. Korngold's music quickly builds, followed suddenly by the words of Gilbert Roland, who seems to appear from nowhere, "Welcome Captain Thorpe," informing Flynn and his crew that they have just been taken prisoner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's a truly beautiful sequence crafted by great filmmakers. Curtiz, Polito, Korngold and Flynn brought so much extra to old fashioned material like this. Material that in other hands may have seemed quite ordinary instead explodes on screen to new heights of excitement, with the at times subtle variations that they could bring to a sequence like this, giving the film (a kid's adventure in the eyes of many) a greater sense of depth than you would normally expect to find.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But you just know that Michael Curtiz would have been the driving force behind the scene. My admiration for this Hungarian firebrand's skill knows no bounds, as well as for all the others involved. I have a particular love for the Flynn adventures, which was my introduction to Curtiz as a young boy, and, in turn, opened my horizons to observing what this same director could so masterfully bring to the many other film genres that he gifted with his genius.

 

 

 

 

 

 

seahawk56.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sea Hawk. Just one of many genres to which Curtiz brought his artistry. It just doesn't get any better than this.

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As for Curtiz and comedy: FOUR'S A CROWD is one of my favorite screwball comedies. Too bad Errol Flynn didn't have more opportunities in the genre. He and Rosalind Russell make as great a pair as Russell and Cary Grant in HIS GIRL FRIDAY, which this film resembles.

 

 

Of course he also directed the film version of LIFE WITH FATHER, which had the longest run of any Broadway play up till that time, but I'll admit that seems more like an embalmed version of the stage play to me, though many are fond of it.

 

 

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> {quote:title=finance wrote:}{quote}I'm not familiar with FOUR'S A CROWD. It sounds promising. Has it been on TCM?

I want to say "yes" because I recall a rather funny movie with Roz Russell and Flynn and some shenanigans going on in the back seats of two cars traveling side by side, another couple is also involved. That was near the ending of the picture, but I still recall it and I recall thinking it was pretty funny.

 

Curtiz also did The Perfect Specimen with Flynn and Joan Blondell(?)

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I like Four is a Crowd since I'm a fan of Russell, Flynn and especially Olivia DeHavilland but how does this film resemble His Girl Friday? I just don't see how the plots are similar or the circumstances.

 

But yes, yet another fine film directed by Curtiz and the paring of Russell and Flynn was good. While the paring of DeHavilland and Flynn are well known this is a movie where they don't end up together at the end.

 

 

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> {quote:title=clore wrote:}{quote}According to my saved schedules, the last time that CABIN IN THE COTTON aired was on June 7th (technically the 8th) 2009 at 430am. It was the last feature of a 24-hour Curtiz tribute that had started at 6am.

I am starting to wonder if the folks who do the scheduling for TCM are of that ilk of classic movie fan who first developed their love of classics by watching the Z Channel or the Million Dollar Movie midnight-four a.m. line-up.

 

They don't always, but they do so often, put the inn-teresting stuff on in ye graveyarde shifte hours.

 

I also *must* carp that Cabin in the Cotton was not featured on either of Bette Davis' consecutive SUTS days in 2012 and 2011, which did include the "classic" Escape from Witch Mountain and many of the standard "been there, seen it" WB titles such as The Old Maid and Old Acquaintance.

 

I also also carp that Night and Day and Passage to Marseilles, *the two worst films* (debateably) *that Curtiz ever did* show up on the sched with about as much regularity as Casablanca and Mildred Pierce (and both(?) have been included on the Cary Grant/Bogart quadruple-feature DVDs they're always hawking between films.)

 

But, I don't want for this thread to get derailed and become a diatribe about scheduling issues, after all, they have shown The Breaking Point and Mystery of the Wax Museum and The Sea Hawk, in entirety and well-preserved etc.

 

*But sometimes I do feel a frustration when TCM wants to salute someone's body of work and then fills it with a Paint-by-Numbers series of selections which seem to be either uninspired or a really bad representation of said person's work.*

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I thought that I had seen the film more recently than 2009, so I checked my own viewing log (all titles seen since Jan 1, 2008) and I see that I watched the film on December 16, 2011.

 

So, going back to my saved schedules, I discover that one "missing" but it turned up in another folder on my drive. Sure enough, the film did play on that date at 230pm.

 

My apologies for the erroneous info given earlier.

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S'allright.

 

*Twice in three years still isn't a lot*, and isn't a lot compared to how many times some other films are shown.

 

The Cabin in the Cotton would've made a *much better* inclusion on both of Bette Davis' SUTS days than what they chose to show instead (again, Escape From Witch Mountain and her appearance on The Dick Cavett Show come to mind, although the latter was at least inn-teresting.)

 

It was one of her first big, big roles; and one of the few times she played a full-on sex siren.

 

 

*Full disclosure of my own here*: I went to U-yay Ube-tay the other day and found Cabin in the Cotton in full. I've been checking the site for years to see if it'd show up, and it finally did. It's an inn-teresting film, hampered by the slouching-in-place-of-acting from Richard Barthelmess and a ludicrous cop-out of an ending that totally goes against the proto- Noir , Dosteyevskian, Dante-esque 98% of the film leading up to it.

 

 

It's worth watching as an early example of Davis' work and Curtiz's early sound work (it's amazing how he's able to really capture the Southerness of the story, being Hungarian(?) and all.) It's tightly directed, moves briskly, has some pretty resonant ideas about "haves and have nots" and is very compelling (which makes the ending all the more frustrating) and Davis has a shocking "nude" seduction scene- pretty racy stuff.

 

 

*Certainly it warrants on a spot on the many pre-code nights TCM has had.* You can see the seeds being sown in the mind of Tennessee Williams as you watch it.

 

 

Edited by: AddisonDeWitless on Oct 11, 2012 10:57 AM

 

Edited by: AddisonDeWitless on Oct 11, 2012 11:14 AM

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You're right, Valentine. Many directors only wish they could have a film as "bad" as Passage to Marseilles as a part of their careers. As confusing and derivative as that film is, it is still a slick entertainment that can be enjoyed for Curtiz's direction of a high powered cast of stars.

 

Which, of course, is another point of the thread: how entertaining Curtiz films can be even when the director is working with lesser or disappointing material.

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> {quote:title=TomJH wrote:}{quote}

>

> Which, of course, is another point of the thread: how entertaining Curtiz films can be even when the director is working with lesser material.

ie one of my favorites- Flamingo Road.

 

And yes, Val, you got me there....although I still say Night and Day is the worst film he did, period.

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Have you seen THE MAN IN THE NET Addison? What a shame, Curtiz and Ladd made such a good film in THE PROUD REBEL only to come up a cropper with their next collaboration. Ladd was just going through the motions by this point and Curtiz doesn't seem interested enough to tell him to have done otherwise.

 

Easily the worst that I've seen from Curtiz and I doubt that I'm missing more than a dozen of his post NOAH'S ARK titles.

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My thoroughly debateable and possibly lacking top ten list of Curtiz pics (that I have seen):

 

1. Casablanca (duh)

2. The Adventures of Robin Hood

3. (tie) Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Sea Hawk (because they both kind of served the same purpose)

4. The Breaking Point

5. Angels with Dirty Faces

6. Captain Blood

7. Mildred Pierce

8. The Charge of the Light Brigade

9. Flamingo Road (a personal favorite)

10. The Sea Wolf

 

missing any number of his silents, which I've never seen, and some of his thirties titles like Black Fury which I'd love to see, but which seem to be in limbo. And with honorable mention to Female, Doctor X and The Mystery of the Wax Museum.

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> {quote:title=clore wrote:}{quote}Have you seen THE MAN IN THE NET Addison?

No, my knowledge of Curtiz pics post-1950 is spotty at best. Someone wrote that We're No Angels is coming on soon, I will definitely make it a point to be there for it.

 

I just really dislike Night and Day not only because it contains not one single accurate fact about Cole Porter (then again, Delovely, which *I did like* is also riddled with innacuracies even though it puts forward that *it's* the accurate depiction of his life) but because it's disingenuous through-and-through. You don't believe for one second that it's not Cary Grant as Cary Grant as Cole Porter, that every line is not pre-written, that every moment is not make-believe to the nth degree. And I like Monty Wooley, but Monty Wooley as Monty Wooley as Monty Wooley does *not* work.

 

It is pure artiface without a single genuine moment, and the musical numbers are kind of boring too (IMO at least)

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I, too, dislike "Night and Day" -- but only slightly less than I dislike "Delovely."

 

 

They both just feel so contrived and lacking. I couldn't have cared less about who Cole Porter was, meant to others, slept with, etc.

 

 

I think "Delovely" made Cole Porter look fairly ridiculous and highly overrated. Perhaps that was the point?

 

 

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I've always thought that Curtiz's Night and Day reeks with false notes (not Porter's, the story line), and has an incredibly stilted performance by Cary Grant. It pales very badly next to Irving Rapper's Rhapsody in Blue, released the year before about another American song writer immortal, George Gershwin.

 

The two things I do like about Night and Day, though, are the opportunity to listen to Cole Porter's music and, small pleasure that it is, watching Jane Wyman in show biz girl peppy mode, full of exuberance (a real contrast to her role as the homesteader wife in The Yearling, which she was filming on the MGM lot at the same time).

 

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcR6Q6WJQrVl1dNot3C2gPc

 

It's a small pleasure, I know, but, brief as her scenes are, Jane Wyman is kinda fun to watch in Night and Day.

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For those interested, there are two Michael Curtiz films on TCM this week.

 

Thursday, October 18 at 12:15pm EST:

 

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRbLbNt7OgFa-7BqKPEJyRimages?q=tbn:ANd9GcQmNA8QSMhdqhVYaRAOTZ4

 

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSkCcmwQgxy0yp5dc2qPT0images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTYkH0iMVjrgS3GHPpxjyo

 

Virginia City (1940). Big budget western starring Errol Flynn, Miriam Hopkins, Randolph Scott and Humphrey Bogart.

 

Friday, October 19 at 11:45 pm EST

 

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTH1lHVIqHNf8ZhgyrxW4Fimages?q=tbn:ANd9GcSIqtXWKkoKHos5llMlo_Q

 

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQnJD_SmBE32S8NJJT5MNOimages?q=tbn:ANd9GcTY1apSpdnby6mbWQLSn_n

 

Flamingo Road (1949). High powered melodrama, starring Joan Crawford, Zachory Scott, Sydney Greenstreet and David Brian.

 

 

 

 

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Yes, I meant to give a shout-out to Jane Wyman, who is easily the best thing in Night undte Day. She seems to be having an utter ball every second she's in the thing (unlike everyone else), she saves every scene she's in, and you don't get the sense that she's putting more than her fair share of effort into it (and I mean that as a compliment, because I truly think she was.)

 

It's the only film I've seen of hers where I really get a sense of her electricity and full range of talent- there are hints of it in All That Heaven Allows, but that's not really an "actor's" movie and while she's solid in Johnny Belinda, The Lost Weekend, the stupid Magnificent Obsession and The Yearling, I think she could have been better- although in each case save for Weekend, I think it was likely the fault of the director.

 

I'd put Wyman in the same class as Gene Tierney- an actress who was never truly allowed to plumb the full depths of her emotions and talents, but if she had been, she could have set fire to the celluloid no doubt.

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