Nationality: Hungarian. Born: Born Mihály Kertész in Budapest, 24 December 1888. Also known as Michael Courtice. Education: Markoszy University and Royal Academy of Theatre and Art, Budapest. Military Service: Served in Hungarian infantry, 1914–15. Family: Married 1) actress Lucy Dorraine, 1915 (divorced 1923); 2) Bess Meredyth. Career: Stage actor, 1906–12; directed first Hungarian feature film, Az utolsó bohém , 1912; studied filmmaking at Nordisk Studios in Denmark, 1912–14; managing director, Phönix Studios, Hungary, 1917; left Hungary, worked in Swedish, French, and German film industries, 1918; director for Sascha Films, Austria, 1919; signed by Jack Warner, directed first Hollywood film, The 3rd
(as Mihály Kertész)
Az utolsó bohém ( The Last Bohemian ); Ma es holnap ( Today and Tomorrow ) (+ role)
Rablélek ( Captive Soul ); Hazasodik az uram ( My Husband Lies )
A hercegnö Pongyolaban ( Princess Pongyola ); Az éjszaka rabjai ( Slaves of the Night ) (+ role); A Kölcsönkért csecsemök ( Borrowed Babies ); Bánk bán ; A tolonc ( The Vagrant ); Aranyáso ( The Golden Shovel )
Akit ketten szeretnek ( Loved By Two ) (+ role)
Az ezust kecske ( The Silver Goat ) (+ co-sc); A medikus ( The Apothecary ); Doktor ur ( The Doctor ); Farkas ( The Wolf ); A fekete szivarvany ( The Black Rainbow ); Makkhetes ( Seven of Clubs ); Karthauzi ( The Carthusian ); A Magyar föld ereje ( The Strength of the Hungarian Soil )
Arendás zsidó ( John, the Tenant ); Az ezredes ( The Colonel ); A föld embere ( The Man of the Soil ); Halálcsengö ( The Death Bell ); A kuruzslo ( The Charlatan ); A Szentjóbi erdö titka ( The Secret of St. Job Forest ); A senki fia ( Nobody's Son ); Tavasz a télben ( Spring in Wintertime ); Zoárd Mester ( Master Zoard ); Tatárjárás ( Invasion ); A béke ut ja ( The Road to Peace ); A vörös Sámson ( The Red Samson ); Az utolsó hajnal ( The Last Dawn ); Egy krajcár története ( The Story of a Penny )
Kilencvenkilenc ( 99 ); Judás ; Lulu ; Az ördög ( The Devil ); A napraforgós hölgy ( The Lady with Sunflowers ); Alraune (co-d); Vig özvegy ( The Merry Widow ) (+ sc); Varázskeringö ( Magic Waltz ); Lu, a kokott ( Lu, the Cocotte ); A Wellingtoni rejtély ( The Wellington Mystery ); Szamárbör ( The Donkey Skin ); A csunya fiu ( The Ugly Boy ); A skorpió ( The Scorpion )
Jön az öcsem ( John the Younger Brother ); Liliom (unfinished)
(in Austria, as Michael Kertesz)
Die Dame mit dem schwarzen Handschuh ( The Lady with the Black Glove )
Der Stern von Damaskus ; Die Dame mit den Sonnenblum (+ sc); Herzogin Satanella ; Boccaccio (+ pr); Die Gottesgeisel
Cherchez la femme ; Dorothys Bekenntnis ( Frau Dorothys Bekenntnis ); Wege des Schreckens ( Labyrinth des Grauens ); Miss Tutti Frutti
Sodom und Gomorrah ( Die Legende von Sünde und Strafe ) (+ co-sc)
Sodom und Gomorrah: Part II. Die Strafe ( Die Legende von Sünde und Strafe ) (+ co-sc); Samson und Dalila (co-d); Der Lawine ( Avalanche ); Der junge Medardus ; Namenlos ( Der Scharlatan ; Der falsche Arzt )
Ein Spiel ums Leben ; Harun al Raschid ; Die Slavenkönigin ( Moon of Israel )
Celimene, Poupee de Montmartre ( Das Spielzeug von Paris ; Red Heels )
Der goldene Schmetterling ( The Road to Happiness ); Fiaker Nr. 13 ( Einspänner Nr. 13 ) (tm)
(in United States, as Michael Curtiz)
The Third Degree
A Million Bid ; Good Time Charley ; A Desired Woman
Noah's Ark ; The Glad Rag Doll ; Madonna of Avenue A ; Hearts in Exile ; The Gamblers
Mammy ; Under a Texas Moon ; The Matrimonial Bed ( A Matrimonial Problem ); Bright Lights ; A Soldier's Plaything ( A Soldier's Pay ); River's End
Dämon des Meeres (German language version of Lloyd Bacon's Moby Dick ); God's Gift to Women ( Too Many Women ); The Mad Genius
The Woman from Monte Carlo ; Alias the Doctor ; The Strange Love of Molly Louvain ; Doctor X ; Cabin in the Cotton
Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing ; The Mystery of the Wax Museum ; The Keyhole ; Private Detective 62 ; Goodbye Again ; The Kennel Murder Case ; Female
Mandalay ; British Agent ; Jimmy the Gent ; The Key
Black Fury ; The Case of the Curious Bride ; Front Page Woman ; Little Big Shot ; Captain Blood
The Walking Dead ; Stolen Holiday ; Charge of the Light Brigade
Kid Galahad ; Mountain Justice ; The Perfect Specimen
Gold is Where You Find It ; The Adventures of Robin Hood (co-d); Four Daughters ; Four's a Crowd ; Angels with Dirty Faces
Dodge City ; Sons of Liberty ; The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex ; Four Wives ; Daughters Courageous
Virginia City ; The Sea Hawk ; Santa Fe Trail
The Sea Wolf ; Dive Bomber
Captains of the Clouds ; Yankee Doodle Dandy ; Casablanca
Mission to Moscow ; This Is the Army
Passage to Marseille ; Janie
Roughly Speaking ; Mildred Pierce
Night and Day
Life with Father ; The Unsuspected
Romance on the High Seas ( It's Magic )
My Dream Is Yours (+ pr); Flamingo Road (+ exec pr); The Lady Takes a Sailor
Young Man with a Horn ( Young Man of Music ); Bright Leaf ; Breaking Point
Jim Thorpe—All American ( Man of Bronze ); Force of Arms
I'll See You in My Dreams ; The Story of Will Rogers
The Jazz Singer ; Trouble along the Way
The Boy from Oklahoma ; The Egyptian ; White Christmas
We're No Angels
The Scarlet Hour (+ pr); The Vagabond King ; The Best Things in Life Are Free
The Helen Morgan Story ( Both Ends of the Candle )
The Proud Rebel ; King Creole
The Hangman ; The Man in the Net
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ; A Breath of Scandal ( Olympia )
Francis of Assisi
Atlantis (Blom) (asst d, role)
"Talent Shortage Is Causing Two-Year Production Delay," in Films and Filming (London), June 1956.
Martin, Pete, Hollywood without Makeup , New York, 1948.
Anobile, Richard, editor, Michael Curtiz's "Casablanca, " New
Rosenzweig, Sidney, "Casablanca" and Other Major Films of Michael Curtiz , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1982.
Kinnard, Roy, and R.J. Vitone, The American Films of Michael Curtiz , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1986.
Mayne, Judith, Private Novels, Public Films , Athens, Georgia, 1988.
Robertson, James C., The Casablanca Man: The Cinema of Michael Curtiz , New York, 1993.
Martin, Pete, "Hollywood's Champion Language Assassin," in Saturday Evening Post (New York), 2 August 1947.
Sarris, Andrew, "Likable but Elusive," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1963.
Dienstfrey, Harris, "Hitch Your Genre to a Star," in Film Culture (New York), Fall 1964.
Callenbach, Ernest, "Comparative Anatomy of Folk-Myth Films: Robin Hood and Antonio das Mortes ," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1969/70.
Nolan, Jack Edmund, "Michael Curtiz," in Films in Review (New York), no. 9, 1970.
Behlmer, R., and A. Pinto, "Letters," in Films in Review (New York), February 1971.
Davis, John, " Captain Blood ," in Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), June 1971.
Davis, John, " The Unsuspected ," in Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), Summer 1972.
Davis, John, "The Tragedy of Mildred Pierce ," in Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), Fall 1972.
Canham, Kingsley, "Michael Curtiz," in The Hollywood Professionals, Vol. 1 , London, 1973.
Shadoian, J., "Michael Curtiz' Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing ," in Journal of Popular Film (Bowling Green, Ohio), Spring 1973.
Davis, John, "When Will They Ever Learn?," in Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), Autumn 1975.
Berard, V.R., and P. Canniere, "Michael Curtiz: Maître du baroque," in Image et Son (Paris), February 1982.
Werner, G., "Fran Lidingon till Casablanca ?" in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 26, no. 2, 1984.
Viviani, C., "Les emigres allemands dans le film noir americain entre 1944 et 1954," in Cinémaction (Conde-sur-Noireau), no. 56, July 1990.
Minutolo, S., "Casablanca," in Quaderni di Cinema (Firenze), October-December 1990.
Vernet, M., "Michael Curtiz," in Ekran (Ljubljana, Slovenia), vol. 16, no. 6–7, 1991.
Sayre, N., "Curtiz: A Man for All Genres. . . ," in New York Times , 29 November 1992.
Schnelle, J., "All Right My Hearties, Follow Me," in Film-Dienst (Köln), vol. 46, 19 January 1993.
Bruyn, O. de, and F. Richard, "Michael Curtiz au festival de La Rochelle: L'homme pressé," in Positif (Paris), no. 384, February 1993.
Lyons, Donald, "Iron Mike," Film Comment (Denville, New Jersey), vol. 32, no. 2, March-April 1996.
* * *
The films of Michael Curtiz have come to symbolize Warner Brothers Studios of the 1930s and 1940s. Curtiz directed many favorites from that era, including Captain Blood, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Sea Hawk, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing , and Mildred Pierce. He helped guide Bette Davis as her popularity rose in the 1930s, and helped establish Errol Flynn as the symbol of the swashbuckling hero. James Cagney ( Yankee Doodle Dandy ) and Joan Crawford ( Mildred Pierce ) both won Oscars under Curtiz's direction. His long career and directorial strengths benefitted from the constant work available in the studios of the 1930s and 1940s. Most observers, however, note a precipitous decline in the quality of Curtiz's films after World War II.
Surely Curtiz's most famous creation for today's audience is Casablanca , the only film for which he received an Oscar for Best Director. This cult favorite now has achieved a life of its own and established Bogart and Bergman as modern folk heroes. Conversely, director Curtiz has been lost in the shuffle with the passage of time. The anti-auteurist argument seems to be that this particular film represents a happy "accident" of the studio system, and that its enduring popularity should not be credited to its director. What is lost in this analysis is the fact that Casablanca was a major hit of 1943 (finishing among the top grossing films of the year), won three Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay), and earned Curtiz several awards as the year's best director. Critics of the day recognized Curtiz's input. Certainly today we should give proper credit to the director of a film that was popular upon release, continues to be popular today, and has influenced countless other works.
Curtiz has been difficult for film historians to deal with because of the length and breadth of his career. Usually overlooked is the time he spent in Europe; Curtiz did not begin with Warner Brothers until he came to the United States at the age of thirty-eight. His career began in Hungary, where he participated in the beginning of the Hungarian film industry, usually receiving credit for directing that country's first feature film.
Curtiz remained active until the outbreak of the First World War. After the war he moved to Vienna where he directed several important films, including the epic Sodom and Gomorrah. Scholars know little else about this part of Curtiz's career, however. Accounts of other activities lead only to contradictions; no wholly reliable list of credits exists. Sadly, historians have written off the first two decades of Curtiz's career. We know a great deal of the work of other emigrés, such as Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau, but virtually nothing of Curtiz.
Not unexpectedly there exist several versions of why and how Warner Brothers contacted Curtiz and brought him to the United States. Regardless, from 1926 Curtiz became intertwined with all the innovations of the Warner Brothers studio. In the mid-1920s he was thrust into Warner attempts to innovate sound. His Tenderloin and Noah's Ark were two-part talkies that achieved considerable popularity and garnered millions in box-office revenues. In a key transitional year, 1930, Curtiz directed no less than six Warner Brothers talkies. In that same year Warner Brothers tried to introduce color, but with none of the success associated with the studio's efforts with sound. Curtiz's Mammy , one of Jolson's follow-ups to The Jazz Singer and The Singing Fool , had color sequences. In 1933 he directed the well-regarded, all-color horror film, The Mystery of the Wax Museum. Curtiz's record during the transition to sound elevated him to the top echelon of contract directors at Warner Brothers. Unlike others, Curtiz seemed not to utilize this success to push for greater freedom and independence. Instead, he seemed content to take what was assigned, executing his work in a classic style. He produced crisp flowing narratives, seeking efficiency of method. He was a conservative director, adapting, borrowing, and ultimately utilizing all the dominant codes of the Hollywood system. Stylistic innovations were left to others. Today critics praise the film noir look of Mildred Pierce , but this film was never thought of as one of the forerunners of that style when it was initially released. After Mildred Pierce , Curtiz moved on to Night and Day , the fictionalized life of Cole Porter starring Cary Grant, and Life with Father , a nostalgic, light family romance starring William Powell and Irene Dunne. Both of these latter features took in a great deal of money and earned considerable critical praise, once again demonstrating how well Curtiz could operate when called upon by his employer.
If there is a way to get a handle on the enormous output of Curtiz's career, it is through genre analysis. In the early 1930s Curtiz stuck to formula melodramas. His limited participation in Warner Brothers's social realism cycles came with films like Black Fury , which looked at strikebreaking. Curtiz seemed to hit his stride with Warner Brothers's Errol Flynn pirate cycle of the late 1930s. Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk stand as lasting symbols of Hollywood's ability to capture the sweep of romantic adventure. Warner Brothers also sent director Curtiz and star Flynn to the Old West in Dodge City and Virginia City. In the early 1940s the Warner studio returned to the musical, establishing its niche with the biographical film. Curtiz participated, directing Yankee Doodle Dandy (which depicted George M. Cohan's life), This Is the Army (Irving Berlin), and the aforementioned Night and Day (Cole Porter). Yankee Doodle Dandy demonstrated how well this European emigré had taken to the United States. Curtiz would continue to deal with Americana in his films during the 1940s. For example, he touched deep American ideological strains with Casablanca , while Mildred Pierce examined the dark side of the American family. Feminist critics have noted how the portrait of a strong woman in the latter film mirrors the freedom women achieved during World War II—a freedom withdrawn after the war when the men returned home. The family in Mildred Pierce is constructed in an odd, bitter way, contrasting with Curtiz's affectionate portrait in Life with Father. Genre analysis is helpful, but in the end it still tells us too little of what we want to know about this important director. As critics and historians continue to go through his films and utilize the records now available at the University of Wisconsin, University of Southern California, and Princeton, more insights will come to light about Curtiz's participation in the Hollywood studio system. In the meantime, Curtiz's films will live on for the fans with continual re-screenings of Casablanca, Mildred Pierce , and The Adventures of Robin Hood.