Michael Curtiz (1886-1962)

Michael Curtiz
Michael Curtiz

Michael Curtiz has, uncharitably, been described as a "workhorse director", a capable and reliable professional, always ready to take on whatever assignment was thrown at him. Such men formed the solid foundation of the classic Hollywood studio system. Curtiz was certainly capable,and reliable but he was more than that and he was responsible for some of the finest movies to be made during Hollywood's Golden Age.

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He made all types of movies - thrillers, romances, war movies, comedies, horror, and film noir. Yet his forte was action movies and swashbucklers, to which he brought an infectious style and energy. The Errol Flynn movies, particularly 'Captain Blood' in 1935 and 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' in 1938 still stand as examples of the finest action movies ever made.

He was certainly prolific from the first, and he directed nearly 50 films under his birth name of Mihály Kertész in his native Hungary before moving to Austria in 1919, where he made biblical spectaculars in the Cecil B. DeMille style. He headed to the United States in 1926. Anglicising his name, Curtiz soon became Warner Brothers' top in-house director, entrusted with its A-list stars and productions.

Over the next 28 years he directed over 80 Warner Brothers films, among them '20,000 Years in Sing Sing' in 1933, Captain Blood' in 1935, 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' in 1936, 'Angels with Dirty Faces' in 1938, 'The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex' in 1939, 'The Sea Hawk' in 1940, 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' in 1942, 'Mission to Moscow' in 1943, 'Mildred Pierce' in 1945 and, most famously of all, 'Casablanca' in 1942, which won him his only Best Director Academy Award.

He had a gift for drawing the best from his actors, and he directed 10 different performers to Oscar-nominations. Losing nominees were Paul Muni, John Garfield, Walter Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Ann Blyth, Eve Arden and William Powell. In addition, James Cagney and Joan Crawford won Oscars for their Curtiz-directed performances in 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' and 'Mildred Pierce' respectively.

Six of his films have been nominated for Best Picture: 'Captain Blood' (1935), 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' (1938), 'Four Daughters' (1938), 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' (1942), 'Casablanca' (1943), and 'Mildred Pierce' (1945), of which only Casablanca actually won the Oscar.

Curtiz married three times, firstly to Lucy Doraine from 1918 to 1923, then to fiery actress Lili Damita for one year from 1925 and finally to Bess Meredyth from 1929 to his death in 1962.

After he left Warner Brothers in 1954, offended at being asked to take a pay cut, Curtiz continued to turn out a couple of movies a year on a freelance basis. One of these, the saccharine musical 'White Christmas' in 1954, gave him the biggest commercial hit of his career. Indefatigably productive to the last, Curtiz continued directing films until a few months before his death at the age of seventy-five on April 10, 1962.

He is interred at Forest Lawn, Glendale, CA.

Michael Curtiz Filmography

The Last Bohemian
Today and Tomorrow
Captive Souls
My Husband's Getting Married
The Exile
The Borrowed Babies
The Princess in a Nightrobe
Prisoner of the Night
Bánk Bán
One Who Is Loved By Two
Seven of Spades
The Strength of the Fatherland
The Karthauzer
The Black Rainbow
The Wolf
The Medic
Mr. Doctor
Master Zoard
The Red Samson
The Last Dawn
Spring in Winter
Tartar Invasion
Secret of St. Job Forest
Nobody's Son
The Charlatan
A Penny's History
The Fishing Bell
Earth's Man
The Colonel
Peace's Road
Jean the Tenant
The Merry Widow
Magic Waltz
A Skorpió I.
The Devil
Lu, the Coquette
The Ugly Boy
The Sunflower Woman
Jön az öcsém
The Lady with the Black Gloves
The Star of Damascus
The Scourge of God
Miss Tutti Frutti
Good and Evil
Mrs. Dane's Confession
Labyrinth of Horror
Sodom and Gomorrah
Young Medardus
A Deadly Game
General Babka
Harun al Raschid
The Moon of Israel
Red Heels
Cab No. 13
The Golden Butterfly
The Third Degree
A Million Bid
The Desired Woman
Good Time Charley
Noah's Ark
Glad Rag Doll
Madonna of Avenue A
The Gamblers
Hearts in Exile
Under a Texas Moon
The Matrimonial Bed
Bright Lights
A Soldier's Plaything
River's End
Demon of the Sea
God's Gift to Women
The Mad Genius
The Woman from Monte Carlo
The Strange Love of Molly Louvain
Doctor X
The Cabin in the Cotton
20,000 Years in Sing Sing
Mystery of the Wax Museum
The Keyhole
Private Detective 62
Goodbye Again
The Kennel Murder Case
Jimmy the Gent
The Key
British Agent