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Michael Curtiz, One of the Great Film Directors


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Without reading any posts this thread at all, I just want to put in my 2 cents that Michael Curtiz is amazing. He's one of my top 10 favorite directors. Love the pacing, acting, relationships, etc, in movies I can watch over and over and never get sick of like Yankee Doodle Dandy, White Christmas, Robin Hood, We're No Angels, and Casablanca of course. I love that his hand in things is kind of invisible, like he's putting his actors in place then getting out of the way-- his style is not auteuristic like a Welles film, though there's nothing wrong with that, but I prefer "invisible" directing myself.

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Yes, The Breaking Point is a more mature version of To Have and Have Not. I think the Hawks version is more of a WWII theme movie. i.e.. it is the way it is because if was released during the war and the bad guys are Nazis. Add to this the impact of Bogie Bacall and we see what drives that interpretation of the story.

 

As you know The Breaking Point is a big favorite of mine but as we have discussed for much different reason. Both fine movies but very different on so many levels.

 

Curtiz was the director of highly successful movies in multiple genres but Hawks is often sited as being the tops at this. The difference I see, and the point I was trying to make about a distinct style, is that when I see a Hawks movie in a specific genre I know I'm watching a Hawks movie. This isn't the case with Curtiz. I can see the WB style in the movies (again often driven by the WB supporting players, music, camera work and crew etc...), but not a Curtiz style per se.

 

But not having a distinct style actually works; i.e. a director with a strong artistic style might of been a distraction and 'gummed up' the works. When a producer has the type of talent WB had in that era they need a director that is good at utilizing that talent. Curtiz clearly was that type of director and the results speak for themselves.

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I'm not saying that I even know a reason, but maybe he's just considered a great team player, rather than someone like Hitchcock or Wilder who is primarily responsible for the final product.......Did Curtiz generally have "Final cut"? Did Hitchcock, Wilder, Wyler, and Hawks?

 

Edited by: finance on Oct 19, 2012 4:54 PM

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If Curtiz was a great team player, it's my understanding that he was one known to be a headache at times because he wanted scenes to be essentially done his way. As I said earlier in this thread, however, Curtiz should not get sole credit for his films because he was a part of the Warners team. Hal Wallis produced much of the director's best work at the studio, certainly would have made strong suggestions at to what he wanted to see on screen, as well.

 

Curtiz, however, was a director known to not shoot a lot of extra footage of a scene, so that afterward a producer and editor had a smaller variety of shots to work with. In other words, the scenes would usually come out with the director's vision. That, in turn, has a lot of say on the final cut.

 

Curtiz never had the reputation of a Ford or Hitchcock, both of whom dominated their films. Curtiz was a company man, and that very term probably has a lot to do with the fact that critics, for the most part, don't pay that much attention to his work. (Along with other studio house directors).

 

I think it's safe to say, however, that Curtiz was "the man" as far as Jack Warner and his various producers (in particular, Hal Wallis) were concerned when it came to assigning a director to a major product. I mean in no way to denigrate the contributions of the other Warners directors (especially Raoul Walsh, whose best films I quite love) when I say that Curtiz produced more outstanding films than any other during the studio system days of the '30s and '40s at that studio. And that says something, since much of the same team of cinematographers, editors and stars that worked with him also worked with the others.

 

Of course, the Billy Wilders and Preston Sturges and Orson Welles are well known for their '40s films. What I love about Curtiz, though, is not only the sheer volume of what he tackled during that same period of time when his better known counterparts were directing a handful of films, but the variety of genres, as well, along with the often exemplary quality of that final product. Therefore, I tend to resentthe often rather backhanded compliments that Curtiz may have received, just because he was a Warners' "company man."

 

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Tom: Sorry I didn't go back that far in the thread. You're right, of course. I just love the "auteur" theory for the most part but there are lots of films made in the 1930s and 1940s in which the producer -- at Warners especially -- is the true author of the film and the director is, in essence, a traffic cop. I'd even go so far as to say -- under the exact same circumstances -- that Casablanca would have turned out exactly the same if I had directed it. Wallis is the genius there, not Curtiz.

 

The same is true, of course, with Gone With the Wind. Neither Fleming or Cukor is the author of that film. That is David O. Selznick, beginning, middle, and end.

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Ray: I agree with you and the I don't think that snobbery you claim even exists. But there are certain directors who are true "auteurs" back then ... it's a vision thing. People like Welles, Renoir, Hitchcock, Ford .... the resulting films really were their singular vision. That's not to denigrate the contributions of the other artisans working on their films but ... it was these singular visions that made those films what they were. The others carried out those visions but are not the ones responsible for the bigger picture.

 

At least that's how I see the "auteur theory."

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Tom: this is where I disagree with you. Curtiz "achievements" haven't been overlooked. The big difference, which I've explained elsewhere, is that the vision for his films wasn't his, it was the producers. This is what sets the true "auteurs" apart from the directors like Curtiz. Hitchcock's films weren't the vision of the producer, they were the vision of Hitchcock. He came up with the ideas. Curtiz never did. Hal Wallis did. That doesn't mean he wasn't a fine director but he is simply not in the same class as Hitchcock or Ford or Welles because he "merely" -- sorry, the only word I can think of -- carried out the vision of others, he didn't have it himself.

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Jame: here's where I'll disagree with you. I don't think it takes a "great director" to direct a "great film." Many great films have been directed by non-great directors. Take THE THIN MAN. It's not a great film because the director was great but, rather, because 2 stars came together and made that script sing. A monkey could have directed it and it would be great. The director was average, at best.

 

It's also true that not every great performance is given by a great actor. Many mediocre actors are capable of giving a great performance, once or twice. Greatness are those who can give great performances again and again and again.

 

just my take.

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That doesn't necessarily make him great, it makes him versatile. Not quite the same thing. Also, it could be that the producer knew that Curtiz would made the film that the PRODUCER wanted so he was assigned to those projects. And there's the rub right there ... "assigned." The projects were never his own ... ever. And that for me, "tears it" as Fred MacMurray said in Double Indemnity.

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I don't recall saying Curtiz was a great director. I'm very much a fence sitter. What I did say was that he was the director of many great films and that speaks for itself, but I also asked many 'what if' questions very similar to the point your making as to would a WB production be a lot different if it was directed by someone else. I end up with 'who knows' (sitting on the fence) while you say it would end up being just as good. But I do feel you're overstating your POV with a 'monkey could of directed it'. To me that is too black and white. i.e. it implies Curtiz made NO contribution to the end product.

 

But when you say '. Greatness are those who can give great performances again and again and again', well Curtiz was the director of one great movie after another. So I don't see how that statement supports your overall POV on Curtiz. Again, I have no idea if he was 'great' or not, only that he was the director of many movies I classify as great. If I had to take a stand I would say the WB production company was more responsible than Curtiz but that it is folly to say Curtiz didn't contribute.

 

 

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Filmgoddess, since you prescribe to the auteur theory, then you place a greater emphasis upon the vision of a particular film than do I. The fact that Curtiz was merely assigned to help bring a particular project (hopefully) to life shouldn't be used to denigrate his contribution. The fact that a producer like Hal Wallis constantly turned to Curtiz for many of his big projects, however, should be noted. And the fact that Curtiz was the directorial hand behind, in my opinion, a larger collection of great films than most directors should also be noted.

 

Hitchcock and Ford were great directors in more overall control of their projects than Michael Curtiz, that's true. As I pointed out earlier the studio system was a collaborative process with a producer like Wallis (who should be acknowedged) calling many of the shots. If you want to call the best of Curtiz a collaboration with Wallis, that sounds fair enough. I do NOT, however, think that Wallis would have probably been able to achieve those same results, however, as often breath taking as they were, without a great director like Curtiz to call the shots on the set.

 

And it's time that Michael Curtiz be acknowledged for the great film accomplishments that he helped to achieve. The auteurists can hold their nosesall they like over this as much as they like. With Casablanca and Yankee Doodle Dandy and Captain Blood and Mildred Pierce and The Breaking Point, among others, all coming with Curtiz at the helm, he more than proved his greatness to me. The problem is most people (including film buffs) don't even know Curtiz's name.

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Is there ANY film for which Curtiz had a greater role or earlier involvement than just being assigned to direct it? How much involvement did he have in casting? Didn't HE select Doris Day for ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS after hearing her sing at a party at Jule Styne's house?

 

Edited by: finance on Oct 24, 2012 5:01 PM

 

Edited by: finance on Oct 25, 2012 1:38 PM

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I wouldn't know, finance, though I do know that Curtiz had been supportive of John Garfield getting his film debut in Four Daughters. He would not have made the final call, however. Nor do I think it makes any difference in an overall appraisal of whether a man is a great director or not.

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Hi Tom, I just thought I would jump in here a little. I too have read that Curtiz was the one who advocated for Garfield to get the part of Mickey Borden in "Four Daughters" 1938, but I also read that Julius Epstein, one of the screenwriter of the film pushed for Garfield and I just read that Garfield himself pushed for the role. So who knows, but you are correct in stating the final decision of who gets what role is not in the directors hands.

 

I am sure you know too that Garfield stated," Curtiz made me a star with the role in Four Daughters stating further that if it wasn't for Curtiz, I probably would have been a character actor."

 

In addition, Garfield would only agree to do "The Breaking Point" if either Fred Zinnemann or Michael Curtiz was at the helm. He got Curtiz and I would imagine that he was glad he did. Since many critics of yesterday and today consider his performance in the films as his best so far.

 

Any ways, I agree with you, I think Curtiz was a great director and not only for the two films I have already mentioned, but for his full body of work which included such classics as "Angels with Dirty Faces, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk, The Sea Wolf, should I go on?

Like you, with the credits that Curtiz has, he has more than proved his greatest to me too.

 

Thanks

Lori

 

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks Tom for the info. My husband will be thrilled to know he can watch a few of the Errol Flynn classics that are in the line up this month.

 

I guess I should buy him the "Errol Flynn" box-set for Christmans this year huh?

 

 

Any ways, thanks for bringing this to our attention.

 

 

Lori

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No problem, Lori. I created the Curtiz "heads up" because I know it's really easy to miss a film. And, yes, I would think that your Xmas present for your hubby this year may be an easy one for you to figure out.

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Your welcome, Arturo. As an old movie buff, it's particularly gratifying when you think that an old favourite of yours has stood the test of time well. For me, of those films I've named for this month, that is particularly true of the Flynn adventures and Casablanca. Even though The Unsuspected is a minor Curtiz film, it's still well worth watching, as well.

 

And I know what you mean by wanting to watch a film in real time, as it feels like a shared experience, even if you can't actually see the others watching it at the same time.

 

Curtiz directed some of the most entertaining films ever made, a fact that I hope more and more viewers will come to appreciate, and associate this man's name with those titles they love so well.

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  • 4 weeks later...

We're No Angels is a very cute movie. While not one of Bogie's best films I still enjoy the movie and it is a different type of Bogie role in that it is borderline camp. Ustinov and Ray and so good at being silly that it all works and Bogie still comes off as a tough guy; i.e. someone that could commit murder.

 

So I'm looking forward to seeing this movie again.

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James, I haven't seen We're No Angels in years and, like yourself, look forward to seeing it again. I recall it as a film that has its moments but is, overall, a disappointment considering the talent involved.

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

> I recall it as a film that has its moments but is, overall, a disappointment considering the talent involved.

 

I don't find it to be a disappointment. I enjoy it a lot, and am looking forward to seeing it for the first time in years. I find it to be funny, nostalgic, and oddly innocent, given its characters.

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  • 5 years later...

In view of TCM's tribute to the great Michael Curtiz on Wednesdays this month, I thought I'd revive this old thread about the director for those who may be interested in reading more about this vastly talented man and some of his films.

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Sorry though cannot rate *Curtiz among cinema history's all-time greatest film directors though.  Obviously your a big fan, but just look at HOLLYWOODS track record & no insult meant, but can you match him with some of the below "Name Above the Title" picture giants, though he did also have his name above the title as well

 

I utterly adore "The Studio-System"-(circa 1925 to 1960 or some say 1963) over 35 years & *Jimmy Stewart often said it was the best way to make pictures. The stars just loved it too, not mostly having the leave the studio. *Tracy loathed locations & as he grew older & much nastier he almost to refuse to leave Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer- some called the "Dutchie's" who knows what they meant, please? always wanted to know since the must have "MGM: When the Lion Roared" (l992)

 

& as far as it's longtime contract directors, each studio had it's own flavor/texture. L.B.'s fav was a total drunk W.S. Van Dyke, III" (d-1944) he would do just thought, 1 quy quick take take & move on.  Filming such famous one's as "The Thin-Man-series"-(nommed for 1st)  "Trador Horn" "Tarzan-series" "San Francisco"-(nomination) & many more quickies  During that glorious era some other & mostly independant filmmakers intevented what was called "The Invisible Style" ala *Wyler, *Lean, though those latter landscapes  *Curtiz-(somewhat) & of course other contracted directors & the epitome of the system helmer was MGM's *V. Fleming-(just check out his track out. Typical & fast essembly line working)  *Michael was same on the Warner Bros. side "Moguls' knew these guys would get a picture down & fast, saving the studios $$$   BUT, a 25-26 yr old multi genius just shows up & threw out all that junk as he called it, you know who he was *WELLES. *Chaplin just went his own way per usual bldg. his own "Dream Factory" on La Brea-(tar pits still there) & Keaton was almost physically destroyed after silent era & MGM signed him in some lousy quickies w/Durante. Mayer simply loathed comics!

 

But my own votes for the top 5 fav. filmmakers/directors-(PLEASE SEND YOUR

On ‎4‎/‎14‎/‎2018 at 10:13 PM, NipkowDisc said:

michael curtiz' last film was the comancheros starring john wayne.

:)

?)>A pretty good Western (**1/2) however *Lee drew before *"The Duke"

 

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