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 Oliver Reed. Curtiz has 17 archiveable films but obviously isn’t on this list without Casablanca. Casablanca 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!
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.
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)
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.
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 Adventures of Robin Hood
- Mildred Pierce
- Captain Blood
- Yankee Doodle Dandy
- The Sea Hawk
- Dodge City
- White Christmas
- Passage to Marseille
- 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- 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
[…] 112. Michael Curtiz […]
I liked Casablanca this time more in the theater.
Another movie that i didn’t like very much the first time i saw it.
Great observations, i didn’t really notice those slow dollies the first time, are almost imperceptible, when you least notice it, it goes from a long shot to a close-up.
Also get caught up in the dialogue, there are great images that get overlooked, it’s not just a good script.
I still don’t think Curtiz directs extremely well, i don’t know, how about this movie in the hands of a great director? for example Polanski (director in charge of one of the best scripts)
Who do you think would do it right?
Interesting what you mention about the “happy accident” is certainly difficult to find a masterpiece.
Any other examples of “happy accident”? GWTW, maybe Singin in the rain?
My ranking of Curtiz`s films that I`ve seen:
1. Casablanca MP
2. The Adventures of Robin Hood HR/MS
3. Yankee Doodle Dandy HR
4. Captain Blood HR
5. Mildred Pierce HR
6. Angels with Dirty Faces HR
7. The Sea Hawk R/HR
8. White Christmas R
9. Life with Father R
10. Black Fury R
6 Best Performances:
1. Bogart- Casablanca
2. Bergman- Casablanca
3. Cagney- Yankee Doodle Dandy
4. Flynn- The Adventures of Robin Hood
5. Crawford- Mildred Pierce
6. Powell- Life with Father
Nice rankings. Bogart vs Bergman in Casablanca is a fascinating debate isn’t it? It’s virtually tied but I would also lean Bogart. They both get the superb tender moments, but I just think Bogart gets the better/more eternal lines ultimately and thats the tie breaker for me. (As well as the transcendent swagger that Rick Blaine carries)
@Matthew- fascinating debate indeed. I needed a few days to descide who is better, and I am still not sure in my descision. I still think that Bogart is better in Sierra Madre and Bergman in Notorious, bit I believe there are clearly multiple right answers- this is usually the case with all the best film performers.
@Matthew@RujK – This may be sacrilegious but I actually put Bogart in Casablaca as his 3rd best performance:
1. Treasure of Sierra Madre
2. In a Lonley Place
They are very close though, to me there is not much of a gap between #1 and #3 I view these 3 as their own Tier of Bogart rankings
@James Trapp- I think is far from sacrilegious, because his top three performances can be, in my opinion, shift around.
My top 10:
1. Sierra Madre
3- In a Lonely Place
4. The Big Sleep
5. The Maltese Falcon
6. The Caine Mutiny
7. To Have and Have Not
8. The African Queen
9. High Sierra
10. Key Largo
@RujK – I agree, it’s just Casablanca is so revered by many people.
I think The Big Sleep is the (slightly) better film compared to Maltese Falcon but I think his performance in Maltese Falcon is slightly better; but it’s really close.
I like that you have his performance in The Caine Mutiny at# 6. The strawberry Investigation is one of the funniest scenes in any movie
@James Trapp- The Caine Mutiny was such a fascinating performance, it is Bogart at his most vulnerable and it’s crazy how well he handles even the ridiculous scenes, like strawberry investigation.
@RujK – Good point about vulnerability, I think one of the strength’s of that film and Bogart’s performance is in the way it shifts the audience’s sympathies between Queeg and his crew. Boogie isn’t play the smooth operator of his Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe detective characters nor the greed driven insanity of Fred C Dobbs. Captain Queeg is pitiful and infuriating in the film; sometimes simultaneously.
@James Trapp- couldn’t say it better if I tried.