#98. Michael Curtiz: The Anti-Auteurist

The Most Important Film Directors

#98.

Michael Curtiz

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If the casual movie fan were asked who Michael Curtiz was, it would probably be safe to assume very few would have even the faintest clue who he was. Those that did would probably tell you he was the one who directed the 1942 Warner Brothers classic Casablanca. The film remains deeply embedded into the hearts of fans world wide, even though today it is rememered more for its iconic last scene (Humphrey Bogart and Ingird’s airport goodbye), than the story.seven  Celebrating its 75th anniversary recently, what is essentially a B-movie plot was turned into a piece of lasting  art through the guidance of its director – Michael Curtiz.

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While Casablanca remains the director’s most well known film, no one at Warner expected the film to be much of anything. Roger Ebert noted:

No one making “Casablanca” thought they were making a great movie. It was simply another Warner Bros. release. It was an “A list” picture, to be sure (Bogart, Bergman and Paul Henreid were stars, and no better cast of supporting actors could have been assembled on the Warners lot than Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, Claude Rains and Dooley Wilson). But it was made on a tight budget and released with small expectations. Everyone involved in the film had been, and would be, in dozens of other films made under similar circumstances, and the greatness of “Casablanca” was largely the result of happy chance.

It was begin a basic noir genre piece that transcended its limits by a director, Curtisz, who filmed the story. He didn’t rely on formulaic gimmicks or impose his style of shooting on the film, not that Curtiz was really known for a style.

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Throughout his career, Michael Curtiz would be a steady trusted hand that took each script more as a challenge that he would conquer. From a 1946 publication The New JournalCurtiz would shares his thoughts about not being picky as a film director.

I hate to see young directors throwing stories back at the studio. They should never throw a single one back because they do not think it is a good story. They should accept them gratefully… That is the way they will learn.

While there will be those who might view his workman-type approach contrary to the glamor circle of Hollywood,  men like Curtiz have provided the foundation for the “Pretty Faces” to do their thing. Movies cannot survive on artists alone.  Directors such as Curtisz would combine both of  the artist side of the  industry as well as the laborer to become  more valuable to the film imdustry than historians give him credit for.  

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He introduced to Hollywood a unique visual style uWorker sing artistic liaghting, extensive and fluid camera movement, high crane shots, and unusual camera angles. He was versatile and could handle any kind of picture: melodrama, comedy, love story, film noir, musical, war story, Western, or historical epic. He always paid attention to the human interest aspect of every story, stating that the “human and fundamental problems of real people” were the basis of all good drama.

His filmography was a diverse mixture of genre. They included:

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Why Michael Curtiz is important – Filmmaking is long, difficult work. Many hours are spent laboring over the most minute, yet visually vital details. Though Michael Curtiz never honed his film making to fit into a recognizable genre pattern, his work and contributions to the art form that it is are no less important than a Woody Allen’s or Alfred Hitchcock’s.

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