Saturday, December 24, 2005

Michael Curtiz

Film director Michael Curtiz was born on this day in 1888 in Budapest, Hungary.

A member of the National Hungarian Theater, Curitz became one of the pioneers of the Hungarian film industry, directing at least 37 films there prior to 1920. He briefly interned at Nordisk in Denmark, learning film art from Mauritz Stiller and Victor Sjostrom, and following the nationalization of the Hungarian film industry in 1917 and exile in Germany and Austria, Curtiz arrived in America in 1926.

In time he developed a reputation for rising above poor scripts and low budgets to create well-crafted films for Warner Brothers -- as well as for being overbearing and mercurial on the set with his crew and actors. Some of Curtiz's best work was in the swashbuckling films of Errol Flynn (Captain Blood, 1935; The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938, co-directed with William Keighley; and The Sea Hawk, 1940), and some early Bette Davis vehicles (Cabin in the Cotton, 1932; and 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, 1933), although neither Flynn nor Davis could stand to work with him.

Curtiz's best known film is Casablanca (1942, with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman), for which he won a Best Director Oscar, again an example of Curtiz making the most of mediocre material -- in part, through on-the-set re-writes by Howard Koch.

As the studio system declined, so did Curtiz's career, although he was still actively working at the time of his death in 1962.

Curtiz is also infamous for some deathless Hungarian-American malapropisms, such as the one he uttered to a prop-boy ("Next time I send a fool, I go myself!") or, to a child actor ("By the time I was your age, I was fifteen").

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