b. 24 December, 1886, Budapest, Austria-Hungary
d. 10 April, 1962, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA

Having helmed some of the most successful films of Hollywood’s Golden Age, winning an Academy Award and receiving a further three official nominations in the process, it may seem inconsistent to consider Michael Curtiz an underrated director. Yet he was seldom afforded the degree of respect and singular appreciation granted to more celebrated colleagues, particularly those classified as “auteurs,” with their work analysed and applauded for repeated themes, narrative fields, and distinct stylistic inclinations. Still, there’s no question Curtiz was suitably recognized in his day, among his peers if not contemporary critics, and audiences, even if they didn’t instantly identify his name, were routinely drawn to his latest release. Although Curtiz’s stature did improve as years passed, partly due to the enduring reputation of his most admired films, biographer Alan K. Rode notes that while “many of Curtiz’s credits were venerated by succeeding generations of moviegoers,” there remains a “striking paradox: one of the most accomplished film directors became virtually anonymous while his films remain pillars of popular culture.” No other director, Rode contends, “has had his work feted with such ritualistic permeance.” 1

Contributing to Curtiz’s consistency in quality and sweeping appeal was his entrenchment within Hollywood’s studio system. His tenure at Warner Bros. began in 1926 and extended nearly 30 years, encompassing the bulk of his American filmography and granting him the latest and best technology, lavish production facilities, and a roster of talented stars and crew members. But this is not to say Curtiz needed Hollywood. He had, after all, directed dozens of films before ever arriving in America. Born Emmanuel Kaminer (or Mano Kaminer, according to one birth certificate—his origins have been habitually obfuscated), Curtiz graduated from Budapest’s Royal Academy of Theater and Art in 1906 and swiftly transferred his theatrical experience to Hungary’s burgeoning film industry, directing his debut feature, Ma és holnap (Today and Tomorrow), in 1912. According to Rode, Curtiz, a classically trained actor, “virtually invented the film industry in his native Hungary,” 2 overcoming an impoverished upbringing and little formal training to eventually manage several laudable features. Though there is relatively little information available about his early output, certainly compared to the copious background details of his later career, Curtiz is on record as having worked in an assortment of genres and for a handful of different studios. Only his time as an artillery officer in the Austro-Hungarian army, in 1914, seemed to curb his insatiable enthusiasm and divert his attentions from the film industry. Having changed his name to Mihály Kertész in order to avoid negative associations with his Jewish heritage, Curtiz continued to digest additional insight into the filmmaking process and enhance his technical expertise, at times shooting multiple films simultaneously. He also established a permanent want for authority and a commitment to personal vision. Among his early achievements, which included social dramas and adaptations of popular texts, Sodom und Gomorrha (Sodom and Gomorrah, 1922) is a particularly impressive and “unique construction of drawing-room melodrama and lurid sexuality,” an “elephantine biblical epic of such gigantic proportions that it eclipsed in scale all the similar films that had preceded it.” 3 But perhaps more consequential, it was his 1924 film, Die Sklavenkönigin (The Moon of Israel), another ambitious release, that caught the attention of American moguls Jack and Harry Warner. 

Sodom and Gomorrah

Noah’s Ark

When Warner Bros. invited him to Hollywood in 1926, offering him a contract at age 39, Curtiz (now with his more familiar moniker) was initially keen to direct Noah’s Ark, an epic to rival his kindred European productions. But Warners had other ideas and first enlisted Curtiz to a number of their trustworthy, if less auspicious, programmers. Likely owing to his inexperience with American society, Curtiz showed an instant interest in gleaning as much real-world understanding as possible, researching the Los Angeles County jail for his American debut, The Third Degree (1926), a crime drama about police interrogation, and insisting on location shooting in Arizona for 1927’s The Desired Woman. This compelling need for authenticity rarely waned as Curtiz’s career continued, and whether it involved a “metropolitan newsroom, a small town, or an urban slum,” as Rode observes, “his desire to absorb U.S. history and culture would be reflected in the sensibility as well as the reality of his work.” 4 Furthermore, even if the stories were less than novel, Curtiz displayed a canny knack for resourceful, expressive stylization, and as time went on, he demonstrated a shrewd ability to master the industry’s shifting technological advancements, from sound (Tenderloin, an early Vitaphone effort in 1928), to colour (1930’s Under a Texas Moon, the earliest surviving Warner Bros. film shot entirely in Technicolor), to, years later, widescreen (1954’s The Egyptian). His work evinces a proficient evolution of technique and scope, but his lack of concern for the safety of his collaborators proved a disquieting sidebar to an otherwise favourable foundation. Though these points have been disputed, confirmed, and exaggerated, the injuries that marred the production of Noah’s Ark, for example, which in 1928 did indeed become a striking spectacle telling parallel stories of Biblical calamity and modern-day conflict, were “clearly a case of gross negligence.” 5

With progressively larger budgets and longer running times, Curtiz was also able to expand his range, directing a sundry selection of films and working with some of the era’s most famous stars. He tried his hand at minor musical numbers for the 1929 Al Jolson picture, Hearts in Exile; he directed the renowned John Barrymore in The Mad Genius (1931); and he introduced to American audiences the German import Lil Dagover in 1932’s The Woman from Monte Carlo (with mediocre results). He also directed Frank Fay in such films as The Matrimonial Bed (1930) and God’s Gift to Women (1931), two breezy situational comedies that revel in the eccentric behaviour of their frivolous, sometimes audacious characters, and he directed Richard Barthelmess in 1932’s Cabin in the Cotton, which was Bette Davis’s debut feature and the first of seven she made with Curtiz (another early outing with Davis was 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, a stark and robust prison picture about honour and obligation, also released in 1932 with Spencer Tracy in the lead).

These films are emblematic of Curtiz’s durable ability to mix genres and manifold subject matter, and they exhibit his innate gift for camera mobility—notably in enclosed spaces—as well as his penchant for subtle moral quandaries and intense tonal accents. Although they were “mostly conventional endeavours, thanks to the Depression,” 6 Curtiz was essentially “assigned a new film roughly every two months,” 7 regularly returning to Warners’s stable of stars. William Powell appeared in two of Curtiz’s sprightly murder mysteries, Private Detective 62 and The Kennel Murder Case, both released in 1933 and highlighted by fluid camera work and knotty criminal scenarios. The Keyhole (1933) was the first of six Curtiz films to feature George Brent and was a showcase for Kay Francis, who one year later excelled in the sexually suggestive Mandalay, “an excellent example of Curtiz’s ability to rise above humdrum material and, against studio resistance, bestow upon it a distinction it would not otherwise possess.” 8 That same year, Curtiz also worked with James Cagney for the first time on the fast-paced Jimmy the Gent, with its occasionally dark humour and an animated Cagney driving the picture’s sharp scrutiny of occupational ethics.

With their glamour and visual gags, Curtiz’s comedies and pre-Code sex farces contrast with more serious productions like Alias the Doctor (1932), a remake of The Charlatan, which Curtiz directed in Hungary in 1917 and 1923 (then as Nameless), and his rare ventures into the horror genre procured the stunning production design of Anton Grot to augment evocative productions like Doctor X (1932) and Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), the latter dubbed an “artistic tour de force” by Rode. 9 Curtiz also proved at home in realms of elegance, diplomatic formality, and political volatility, as in the revolution romance British Agent (1934), and his rendering of blue-collar hardship in Black Fury (1935) was bolstered by second unit footage captured near the coalfields of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Starring Paul Muni in a committed performance, this film, with its gritty compositions and sensitive subject matter, was a “defining film for Curtiz” 10 and reveals the director’s attuned sensibilities when it came to Depression-era privations and working-class divisions. 


Mystery of the Wax Museum

Such socially conscious fare was a staple for Warner Bros. in the 1930s, and Curtiz was often front and centre in an effort to further the cultural consciousness when it came to sexual morality, as in Front Page Woman (1935), with Davis as a clever and determined female reporter, and judicial reckoning, as in Mountain Justice (1937), based on a controversial murder case and demonstrating Curtiz’s material sincerity and his trademark quest for accuracy. Gangster films similarly aligned with a Warner Bros. preference for “ripped-from-the-headlines” scenarios and, in Rode’s opinion, if there is “a single film emblematic of the Warner Bros. style that emerged from the Depression, Kid Galahad [1937] may be it.” 11 Starring Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson, this film’s visual agility and combative tension make it a thrilling precursor to Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), another bustling urban drama defined by wise guy banter, dynamic imagery, and ethical juxtapositions, in this case between the divergent paths of Cagney’s lifelong hood and Pat O’Brien’s reformed priest. 

At the same time, Curtiz could effortlessly take a lighter turn, directing, for instance, 1938’s Four Daughters. There is the same ease of camera mobility and a comparably adept staging of numerous individuals within a single frame, only now, the illustrative practice is relocated to a cultivated domestic milieu, a lively household bursting with homespun charm and comedic romance. The central stars of Four Daughters later appeared in three additional films, including a virtual remake, Daughters Courageous (1939), a more direct sequel, Four Wives (1939), and Four Mothers (1941), the only one of the set not directed by Curtiz. Idyllic American small-towns containing the precocious, precarious lives and loves of spirited siblings and families became fertile ground for Curtiz, and he would return to similar settings in films such as Jamie (1944), a blithe tale of teenage romantic trifles. Four Daughters was also significant as the first film for which Curtiz received an official Oscar nomination, splitting the vote in 1939 with Angels with Dirty Faces, for which he was also nominated (he had earlier received a write-in nod for 1935’s Captain Blood).

Angels with Dirty Faces

Four Daughters

During this period, Curtiz also made a name for himself as a particularly adaptable filmmaker, filling in when assigned directors left a project by their own volition or otherwise. This occurred on 1937’s Marked Woman, a tale of volatile nightlife and courtroom strategy, which Curtiz accepted after Lloyd Bacon went on his honeymoon, directing ten scenes total, and Black Legion (1937), a powerful Bogart film about anti-immigrant sentiment, which Curtiz stepped in to direct after Archie Mayo was removed from the picture. In the words of William Dieterle, another dependable Warner Bros. director, if someone “wasn’t fast enough or gave them too much trouble, [the studio] replaced him, usually with Michael [Curtiz]. Mike did everything. He could finish a picture at 11 and at 1 p.m. start a new picture.” 12 Curtiz was especially quick to assist if the graciousness granted him leeway on his own projects, as when he finished directing Anthony Adverse (1936) in order to make The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), a rousing adventure distinguished by its impeccable formal compositions, inspired action sequences, and liberal historical veracity. In any and all cases, despite the less-promising material sometimes sent his way, Curtiz “never gave second-hand treatment to an assignment once it was accepted.” According to author William Meyer, the workaholic director “went ahead and graced plot and character with fluid camera movement, exquisite lighting, and a lightning-fast pace. Even if a script was truly poor and the leading players were real amateurs, Curtiz glossed over inadequacies so well that an audience often failed to recognize a shallow substance until it was hungry for another film a half-hour later.” 13

“Curtiz’s ability to take charge of any film with virtually no advance preparation had become a notable strength,” remarks Rode. “He continued to be rushed into the breach whenever something had to be done in a pinch.” 14 Arguably the most fruitful example of this was when Curtiz took over 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood after unsuccessful preliminary shooting by William Keighley. Aside from its dazzling Technicolor cinematography, its stimulating pace, and its infectiously jovial humour, this well-liked classic showcases the best of Errol Flynn’s dashing charisma. Curtiz frequently paid favour to underdogs and rebellious outsiders, and Flynn’s titular hero, dubbed “saucy” and a “bold rascal” by Claude Rains’ adversarial antagonist Prince John, is a sensational case in point. The film was a tremendous success at the box office and garnered four Academy Award nominations. It also helped cement Flynn as a major star, a position owed to Curtiz as much as anyone.

Flynn had first worked with Curtiz on The Case of the Curious Bride (1935), where the actor merely played a corpse in what Rode considers the “most entertaining of Warner’s six Perry Mason films.” 15 But a more proper starring role came in Captain Blood, a decorative adventure where Flynn’s casual appeal so improved over the course of filming that Curtiz conducted reshoots of earlier scenes to capitalize on the actor’s increased ability. The film is also a platform for Curtiz’s masterful use of light and shadow and his recurring emphases of defying tyranny and emboldening masculine camaraderie. The Perfect Specimen (1937), a subpar screwball effort, was followed by Four’s a Crowd (1938), a newspaper comedy starring Flynn and frequent co-star Olivia de Havilland, and Dodge City (1939), a raucous western about the modernizing and expansion of westward civilization. Flynn then appeared in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), a lush, colourful period piece fundamentally conceived for Davis (who is remarkable in the title part), and The Sea Hawk (1940), another swashbuckler that displays Flynn’s righteousness and physical exuberance as well as Curtiz’s studio-bound inventiveness. Santa Fe Trail (1940), again with Flynn and de Havilland, conveys Curtiz’s reverence for American history (even if he was still inclined to take liberties with historical accuracy) and explores the compacted confluence of principles in the evolution of a nation, while Virginia City (1940), with Flynn pitted against Randolph Scott and both against a curiously cast Bogart, combines traditional western action with a nuanced view of Civil War-era politics.

During most of his stint at Warner Bros., Curtiz was regularly in close though combative communication with studio production chief Hal B. Wallis, who would regularly chide the director for what he perceived as an excess of footage, needlessly elaborate camera manoeuvres, and cost overruns. However, despite their quarrels and Wallis’s threats, the two were just as routinely responsible for a prolific and electric string of features. The Walking Dead (1936), which combines elements of the gangster picture with horror and religious allegory, is a “well-designed parable about the meaning of death” 16 and reunited Curtiz with Boris Karloff, who had earlier taken on a bit part in The Mad Genius, and Gold is Where You Find It (1938) is a three-color Technicolor feature with sophisticated special effects and a trio of Curtiz’s most frequent stars (Brent, de Havilland, and Rains). In 1941, Curtiz made The Sea Wolf, the seventh adaptation of Jack London’s 1904 novel. This outstanding film, with an imposing, tormented Edward G. Robinson in the lead alongside Ida Lupino and John Garfield, manifests an ominously fog-shrouded setting to amplify what Rode calls an “exercise in anxiety-laden dread.” 17

Since arriving in America, Curtiz enthusiastically expressed his patriotism, extolling his adopted home and in 1936 becoming a United States citizen. He was thus well-suited for Warners’s output of features released during World War II, many of which had an overtly political slant. Sons of Liberty, an Oscar-winning short film about Haym Salomon, Jewish financier of the American Revolution, launched the campaign for Curtiz in 1940, followed by Dive Bomber in 1941, starring Flynn and Fred MacMurray. Utilizing cooperation from the U.S. Navy, this picture tells the story of flight surgeons and aviation professionals as they share their respective proficiency in the aim of common goal, as bravery overrides interpersonal contentions and aerial formations are as commendable as the depicted scientific ingenuity. Captains of the Clouds (1942) charts the competition among Canadian bush pilots who later serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force, with Cagney as a conniving and cocksure protagonist, and for a film released the same year as this inspiring call to arms, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Cagney earned his only Academy Award. In this stirring and satisfying biopic about legendary entertainer George M. Cohan, Cagney’s “body art … is complemented by Curtiz’s emphasis on performance and nimbleness in the film’s style” 18 Curtiz rounded out the war years with Mission to Moscow (1943), a pro-Soviet “mélange of wartime necessity, idealistic delusion, and obstructive propaganda that resulted in Curtiz’s most controversial directorial assignment at Warner Bros.,” 19 followed by This is the Army (1943), based on an Irving Berlin play and one of the year’s top earners, and Passage to Marseille (1944), a love letter to the indomitable French spirit told with vigour and sincerity in a multi-flashback structure, featuring a talented ensemble led by Bogart.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Undoubtably, the most famous Curtiz film during this period was another Bogart feature, the much-beloved Casablanca (1942). A romantic tale of goodness and self-sacrifice in a world stricken by conflict, the film’s interwoven themes of hope, humour, and heartbreak were typical Curtiz motifs, just as the film’s visual polish, its magnificent Max Steiner score, its attractive production design, and its cast of venerable performers alongside authentic extras all defined the best of what Hollywood (and Curtiz) could achieve when the stars aligned. But for Curtiz, the accomplishment was “so consequential that it would eventually obscure his own legacy.” 20 The superior picture and its subsequent accolades (including Oscars for Best Screenplay and Best Picture) seemed to muddy the role Curtiz himself played in its production, despite his own Academy triumph. With so much in its favour, how could Curtiz possibly take sole credit? He couldn’t, of course, but while other directors were happy to do so for their own acclaimed films, Casablanca proved, in the eyes of some critics, that Curtiz simply worked as an unusually talented studio functionary. Although the film capped off what Rode considers the “the most successful eight-year run of any director in the history of American cinema,” 21 venerable auteur theorist Andrew Sarris eschewed Curtiz’s overriding credit and labelled the film Curtiz’s “one enduring masterpiece,” “the happiest of happy accidents, and the most decisive exception to the auteur theory.” 22 On the other hand, even if the “shooting of Casablanca was only days ahead of the script,” as David Thomson proposes, suggesting at least a modicum of directorial responsibility, “what clearer proof could there be of instinct?” 23


After the war, Curtiz continued his varied output with Roughly Speaking (1945), based on the autobiography of novelist Louise Randall and starring Rosalind Russell and Jack Carson (one of his six films with Curtiz), and the brilliant noir Mildred Pierce (1945), a solid melodramatic comeback for Joan Crawford, who gives a powerhouse performance as the eponymous heroine as she struggles against assorted obstacles on her way to personal fulfillment and ultimate devastation. Less rewarding was Curtiz’s experience on 1946’s Night and Day, a biographical film about Cole Porter starring Cary Grant as the acclaimed composer. Grant’s star power and fickle behaviour led to his own unpleasant (for Curtiz) oversight, but the film’s undeniable appeal and the escapism of its scattered musical sequences made the film a resounding success. Curtiz then adapted the popular play Life with Father (1947), with William Powell as the stern and stuffy patriarch who falls victim to a humorously buoyant breakdown of his preferred domestic order. Featuring a fresh-faced Elizabeth Taylor, the film’s attitude toward religion is boldly sardonic, especially for its time.

While Curtiz was an “admirable exponent of American genres and an enthusiastic orchestrator of actors and technicians,” at least until 1945 (according to Thomson), 24 the director sought further independence and additional potential income. An agreement was made and in 1947 finalized between Curtiz and Warner Bros., granting him the ability to produce his own features through the newly minted Michael Curtiz Productions and release them through Warners, with costs and profits divided between the two entities. Although 1947 also saw the end of Curtiz’s 11-film stint with Rains, on the noirish The Unsuspected, the next year marked the first of his prosperous collaborations with Doris Day, who made her debut in the 1948 musical Romance on the High Seas, a delightful film affirming Curtiz’s handling of whimsically entwined characters and easy-going comic timing. Another Day film, My Dream Is Yours (1949), a mocking look at the advertising business and the tenuous nature of fame, is just as entertaining, but Curtiz’s producing aspirations soon withered and Flamingo Road (1949), a cynical story about class divisions and seedy conspiracy, again starring Crawford, became the final film made by Michael Curtiz Productions.

My Dream Is Yours

Curtiz was back to being a full-time director at Warner Bros. and he began his next decade with the studio by filming Young Man with a Horn (1950), starring Kirk Douglas as an ambitiously self-destructive musician modelled on jazz great Bix Beiderbecke, and Bright Leaf (1950), featuring an atypical turn by Gary Cooper in a film seething with scheming, scandal, and sexually-charged southern mores. The Breaking Point, Curtiz’s excellent 1950 rendition of Ernest Hemingway 1937 novel “To Have and Have Not,” stars Garfield as the beleaguered hero and Patricia Neal as a crafty femme fatale and was the author’s preferred version of his story (usurping the more famous 1944 film directed by Howard Hawks and starring Bogart and Lauren Bacall). Curtiz returned to Hemingway with Force of Arms, a 1951 World War II love story, followed by Jim Thorpe—All-American (1951), with Burt Lancaster, who Curtiz first met when he cast the young star as an extra on Captain Blood. “Characteristic of Curtiz’s post-war Warner films,” Rode writes that Jim Thorpe was a “well-made, profitable picture that quickly faded from the public’s memory,” 25 yet it remains an engaging story of humble beginnings, innate talent, and determination, with several engaging scenes of athletic achievement. Curtiz then reunited with Day for I’ll See You in My Dreams, an affable 1951 biography of songwriter Gus Kahn, played by Danny Thomas, but The Story of Will Rogers (1952), another biopic, garnered little public interest, its subject having faded from the general consciousness, and The Jazz Singer (1952), an updated version of the 1927 film made famous for Al Jolson’s singing sequences, suffered the same fate. Finally, in 1954, Curtiz made his last film at Warners as a contract director, the middling western The Boy from Oklahoma.

White Christmas

The concluding chapter of Michael Curtiz’s career is replete with hits and misses. Now operating on a freelance basis, his films continued to run the gamut, with more markedly mixed results. On the plus side, Curtiz directed White Christmas in 1954, an adored and star-studded holiday standard with Bing Crosby, Irving Berlin music, and the unveiling of Paramount’s VistaVision format, and he next turned to Twentieth-Century Fox for The Egyptian, with Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, and Gene Tierney. Even though this somewhat static epic contains “imperfections and absurdities,” according to author James C. Robertson, “its lavishness has seldom been equalled and in sheer spectacle Curtiz is at his best.” 26 Curtiz teamed with Bogart for the final time on We’re No Angels (1954), an amusing comedy about three Devil’s Island convicts (Bogart, Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Ray) who happily progress from violent criminals to ragtag thieves with hearts of gold. And after The Best Things in Life Are Free (1956), again with Fox, Curtiz was back at Warners in 1957 for The Helen Morgan Story, starring Ann Blyth as the eager and optimistic Broadway legend and Paul Newman as the personification of show business’s perils and ill-fated romantic attachments. Aside from Curtiz’s expert CinemaScope staging, this film is also notable for evoking the prohibition era of his Warner Bros.’s gangster films from decades past.

The Proud Rebel (1958), this time for MGM, featured Alan Ladd as a sympathetic Civil War veteran and co-starred de Havilland, working again with Curtiz for the first time in 17 years (nine times total, despite their many disagreements), and that same year, Curtiz directed Elvis Presley to his best performance (and the singer’s own personal favourite) in Paramount’s King Creole. This was followed by a 1959 western, The Hangman, which considers the clashing qualities of duty-bound pragmatism and emotional tolerance within Robert Taylor’s cynical lawman, and Ladd again appeared, rather laconically, in The Man in the Net (1959), playing a struggling artist who deals with a deceitful wife and an overzealous lynch mob in a film that feels drained of Curtiz’s otherwise standard dynamism. Though well into his seventies, Curtiz released two films in 1960, a run-of-the-mill adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and, travelling outside the United States for the first time since his arrival, A Breath of Scandal, a light period romance shot in Europe and having a good deal of fun with romantic indiscretions and the upending of antique decorum, courtesy of a boisterous Sophia Loren. After 1961’s Francis of Assisi, shot while he was still overseas, Curtiz returned to America for what would be his final feature, The Comancheros, a 1961 western starring John Wayne. Owing to Curtiz’s failing health and his general disinterest in the film, Wayne, who had earlier appeared as an extra in Noah’s Ark and led Curtiz’s improbable football comedy Trouble Along the Way (1953), essentially directed more than half of the picture.

King Creole

Michael Curtiz passed away the next year, having directed no less than 181 films “in whole and in part.” 27 There seemed to be no type of film he couldn’t process, and he bolstered many sub-par projects other directors would have likely botched. As Robertson argues, the “sheer number of different genres he handles–biographies, comedies, horrors, melodrama, musicals, mysteries, religious epics, swashbucklers, and westerns–has never been equalled, while he proved to be successful in each genre both contemporaneously and retrospectively.” 28 And when afforded quality material, with equally first-rate stars and amenities, Curtiz was simply unrivalled. The majority of his films were exceptionally stylish; he was, for Robertson, a “camera wizard, a perfectionist in his fastidious oversight of all production elements, and much more considerate in his handling of players than his contrary reputation indicates.” 29 On that note, although the stories of Curtiz’s temper are legion and his fights with stars, crew members, and studio bosses often reached epic proportions, many of the era’s most accomplished technicians, performers, and writers were routinely credited on a Michael Curtiz film, many of them several times throughout his long career. While some of this was surely due to the dictates of studio system contracts, it also testifies to the draw of probable quality inherent in any Curtiz feature; and to be sure, Curtiz likewise reaped the mutual benefits of such complementary professionalism and skill. Of his 1940s output in particular, Thomson grants the “special contributions” of the stars but also adds, “one must allow Curtiz the credit for making melodrama and sentimentality so searingly effective,” 30

Curtiz may never fit the mould of an established auteur, but the reasons for this discounting only substantiate his standing as a master filmmaker. If one Curtiz film seemed, on the surface, wholly unlike another, it was because he was, as R. Barton Palmer and Murray Pomerance put it, “a man of many cinemas, not just of one, and his achievements were marked by substantial differences rather than recognizable similarities or signatures.” In Hollywood, this reliability and resolute flexibility proved vital, making Curtiz a consummate artist and operative, an exemplary director among the “multitalented metteurs en scène upon whom the industry depended for its continuing success.” 31 Nevertheless, one can still find tell-tale aesthetic and thematic recurrences throughout Curtiz’s filmography, as repeatedly noted above; it’s just that his body of work was so diverse and so bountiful that consistencies in character types, motifs, and formal tendencies become almost obscured by the volume and variety. So, while it’s therefore possible, as Rode argues, that Curtiz “made so many movies that he ended up being taken for granted,” 32 as he also points out, “despite the vagaries of the studio system and Curtiz’s reputation as the Swiss Army knife of contract directors, there was no greater visual poet of the cinematic medium.” 33 

Select Filmography

  • The Comancheros (1961)
  • Francis of Assisi (1961)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960)
  • A Breath of Scandal (1960)
  • The Man in the Net (1959)
  • The Hangman (1959)
  • King Creole (1958)
  • The Proud Rebel (1958)
  • The Helen Morgan Story (1957)
  • The Best Things in Life Are Free (1956)
  • We’re No Angels (1954)
  • White Christmas (1954)
  • The Egyptian (1954)
  • The Boy from Oklahoma (1954)
  • The Jazz Singer (1952)
  • The Story of Will Rogers (1952)
  • I’ll See You in My Dreams (1951)
  • Jim Thorpe—All-American (1951)
  • Force of Arms (1951)
  • The Breaking Point (1950)
  • Bright Leaf (1950)
  • Young Man with a Horn (1950)
  • Flamingo Road (1949), also producer
  • My Dream Is Yours (1949), also producer
  • Romance on the High Seas (1948)
  • The Unsuspected (1947), also producer
  • Life with Father (1947)
  • Night and Day (1946)
  • Mildred Pierce (1945)
  • Roughly Speaking (1945)
  • Jamie (1944)
  • Passage to Marseille (1944)
  • This is the Army (1943)
  • Mission to Moscow (1943)
  • Casablanca (1942)
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
  • Captains of the Clouds (1942)
  • Dive Bomber (1941)
  • The Sea Wolf (1941)
  • Santa Fe Trail (1940)
  • The Sea Hawk (1940)
  • Virginia City (1940)
  • Four Wives (1939)
  • The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
  • Daughters Courageous (1939)
  • Sons of Liberty (1939)
  • Dodge City (1939)
  • Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
  • Four Daughters (1938)
  • Four’s a Crowd (1938)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
  • Gold is Where You Find It (1938)
  • The Perfect Specimen (1937)
  • Kid Galahad (1937)
  • Mountain Justice (1937)
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)
  • The Walking Dead (1936)
  • Captain Blood (1935)
  • Front Page Woman (1935)
  • The Case of the Curious Bride (1935)
  • Black Fury (1935)
  • British Agent (1934)
  • Jimmy the Gent (1934)
  • Mandalay (1934)
  • The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
  • Private Detective 62 (1933)
  • The Keyhole (1933)
  • Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)
  • 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932)
  • Cabin in the Cotton (1932)
  • Doctor X (1932)
  • Alias the Doctor (1932)
  • The Woman from Monte Carlo (1932)
  • The Mad Genius (1931)
  • God’s Gift to Women (1931)
  • The Matrimonial Bed (1930) 
  • Under a Texas Moon (1930)
  • Hearts in Exile (1929)
  • Noah’s Ark (1928)
  • Tenderloin (1928)
  • The Desired Woman (1927)
  • The Third Degree (1926)
  • Die Sklavenkönigin (The Moon of Israel, 1924)
  • Sodom und Gomorrha (Sodom and Gomorrah, 1922), also writer

Select Bibliography

Palmer, R. Barton and Murrary Pomerance, eds., The Many Cinemas of Michael Curtiz (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018).

Rode, Alan K., Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film (Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2017).

Robertson, James C., The Casablanca Man: The Cinema of Michael Curtiz (London and New York: Routledge, 1993).


  1. Alan K. Rode, Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film (Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2017), p. xiv
  2. Rode, p. xv
  3. Rode, p. 45
  4. Rode, p. 224
  5. Rode, p. 99
  6. Rode, p. 104
  7. Rode, p. 115
  8. James C. Robertson, The Casablanca Man: The Cinema of Michael Curtiz (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 29
  9. Rode, p. 133
  10. Rode, p. 163
  11. Rode, p. 204
  12. Rode, p. 112
  13. John Wakeman, ed., World Film Directors: 1890–1945 (H. W. Wilson Company, 1987)
  14. Rode, p. 186
  15. Rode, p. 167
  16. Rode, p. 184
  17. Rode, p. 283
  18. R. Barton Palmer and Murrary Pomerance, eds., The Many Cinemas of Michael Curtiz (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018), p. 87
  19. Rode, p. 339
  20. Rode, p. 308
  21. Rode, p. xii-xiii
  22. Robertson, p. 2
  23. David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), p. 205
  24. Thomson, p. 204
  25. Rode, p. 457
  26. Robertson, p. 119
  27. Rode, p. xv
  28. Robertson, p. 141
  29. Robertson, p. 140-41
  30. Thomson, p. 204
  31. Palmer, p. 7
  32. Rode, p. xvii
  33. Rode, p. xvi

About The Author

Jeremy Carr is a faculty associate at Arizona State University and a visiting research fellow with the ASU Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture. He has written for Cineaste, Film International, CineAction, Cinema Retro, MUBI’s Notebook, Vague Visages, Movie Mezzanine, Cut Print Film, Bright Lights Film Journal, and The Moving Image.

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