Curtiz. Curtiz is the pretty far down this list for someone with a masterpiece on the level of Casablanca. He’s not a “style-plus” director and his auteur status can’t match his own filmography (he has the #90 overall ranked filmography) but I also think he’s a stronger candidate for this list than Victor Fleming or Carol Reed. Curtiz has 17 archiveable films but obviously isn’t on this list without CasablancaCasablanca is one of the best films of all-time and has often been called cinema’s “happy accident” (meaning a great combination of elements: writing, acting, music, etc) and is often brought up as a counter-point to the auteur theory. The problem with that theory is that Casablanca is really well directed! You can’t say it isn’t (as good as the dialogue is with Bogart and Bergman during the final scene if we didn’t have Curtiz’s choice to move the camera I think we lose 50% of the effectiveness.  And more than that— it has many of the trademark shots that Curtiz does throughout his body of work. Over the years I’ve watched thousands of old movies and I’ve picked up on a slow forward crane tracking shot as intro to a scene from Curitz that he has in almost all of his films (and often times more than one). It’s an impressive shot and certainly adds to the atmosphere of whatever Warner Brothers film atmosphere he’s trying to establish. It certainly adds to Casablanca. Curtiz’s weakness for the purposes of this list is he has 1 single top 500 film. That plus he’s a style-minus director. However, the 7 films that fall in the top 100 of their specific decade shows an impressive depth!

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Casablanca is rightly praised for its screenplay and performances- but Curtiz’s choices should not be overlooked

Best film: Casablanca. I’ve went on about it above so I’ll be brief here but there can be no debate about this as his best film.

no shortage of justifiably iconic imagery in Curtiz’s masterpiece: Casablanca
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Curtiz’s trademark scene establishing shot as he slowly tracks into the environment

total archiveable films: 17

top 100 films:  1 (Casablanca)

top 500 films:  1 (Casablanca)

top 100 films of the decade: 7 (Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Dodge City, The Sea Hawk , Yankee Doodle Dandy, Casablanca, Mildred Pierce)

when you think of the great Error Flynn films– they are Curtiz films, 4 of the top 10 Curtiz films star the early action hero — this year, in an early technicolor film- is The Adventures of Robin Hood

most overrated: Curtiz doesn’t really have one. He has three films in the TSPDT consensus top 1000: Casablanca, Mildred Pierce, and The Adventures of Robin Hood and they are all in the appropriate spot.

most underrated: Captain Blood would be my choice here. It should be somewhere in the 800-1000 range on TSPDT and it isn’t.  It is the swashbuckler that started it all and really got the career or Curitz, Errol Flynn, and Olivia de Havilland going. I have four Errol Flynn films in Curtiz top 10 and you could really go with any of them as they are energetically edited spectacles.

gem I want to spotlight:    Mildred Pierce. Skip the Todd Haynes remake and watch the original. I think Curtiz’s direction and photography may even outshine a never-better Joan Crawford. 

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sharp black and white photography in Mildred Pierce
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splendid lighting choices- noir aesthetics brought over the the melodrama genre

stylistic innovations/traits:       Curitz was the Warner Brothers house director for 20+ years and made great film after great film with expressive writing and nice intro-to-scene crane tracking shots. If you look below and at his entire archiveable filmography (again a very robust 17 films) he did some of the best work with Flynn, Cagney, Bogart, Crawford). It is rare for studio director to have a trademark shot or visual touch so for me to think of Curtiz every time I see an intro into a scene slow (almost imperceptible but certainly effective) crane tracking shot—I think of him.

the Curtiz shot– here in VistaVision with White Christmas– tracking in via crane
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another trademark shot in Yankee Doodle Dandy

top 10

  1. Casablanca
  2. The Adventures of Robin Hood
  3. Mildred Pierce
  4. Captain Blood
  5. Yankee Doodle Dandy
  6. The Sea Hawk
  7. Dodge City
  8. White Christmas
  9. Passage to Marseille
  10. Angels With Dirty Faces

By year and grades

1935- Captain Blood HR
1938- Angels With Dirty Faces  
1938- Four Daughters  
1938- The Adventures of Robin Hood HR
1939- Dodge City  
1939- The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex  
1940- The Sea Hawk HR
1941- The Sea Wolf R
1942- Casablanca MP
1942- Yankee Doodle Dandy HR
1944- Passage to Marseille R
1945- Mildred Pierce HR
1947- Life with Father R
1950- The Breaking Point R
1954- White Christmas R
1955- We’re No Angels R
1961- The Comancheros  




*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives