Alan K. Rode gives us the definitive biography of the longtime Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Curtiz in Michael Curtiz: A Life In Film.
Curtiz directed Casablanca, which was one of the greatest films ever made in cinematic history. Curtiz came up at a time when he didn’t so much have a choice in what he directed. The studio system was like a factory in that filmmakers were assigned films by the studio. In this case, none other than Jack L. Warner himself. It’s because of this that Curtiz is the filmmaker behind some of the greatest films to ever come from Warner Bros. The Hungary native first arrived at the studio in 1926 and Curtiz would stay there for another 25 years and change.
One of the things I learned in reading Rode’s bio of Curtiz is that the filmmaker was something of a tyrant on set. He was known to explode and what’s more is that he would place the blame on someone else. In some instances, it was the sound man. Other times, Curtiz would explode on the cinematographer. It wasn’t so much there faults in as much as it was not wanting to explode on an actor again. But in spite of those tantrums on set, performers would deliver ten Oscar-nominated performances. The late Olivia de Havilland didn’t get along well with Curtiz and would later view The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) with her son in the 1950s.
“I had no idea it was so good. It was enchanting, and I thought, good gracious, it’s a classic, it really is a classic! When we made those films, we had no idea what we were making, that we were making the best of their kind. We were, and that was marvelous.”
Even when the studio warned him against doing so, Curtiz was the type of filmmaker who would film as much as possible. This is why so many of his films would end up late when it came to the schedule. Rode provides a number of comments from actors that worked with Curtiz that helps lend credence to his reputation as a filmmaker. However, Curtiz’s reputation as a filmmaker certainly is not the same as Curtiz the person. There is a lot of information here when it comes to Michael Curtiz the father. To put it this way, we remember Curtiz for his films and not for his personal life.
Rode covers a lot of ground here. Curtiz’s early life in Hungary would shape his talents behind the camera. The filmmaker would never fully master the English language, which would lead to many anecdotes in their own right. And then there’s his family life with Bess Meredyth.
Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film offers a full portrait of the longtime filmmaker.