April Highlights on TCM
TCM Spotlight: Michael Curtiz (Wednesdays in April)--When I started making movies, old Hollywood was everywhere. It was a common reference point for everyone. "Old" movies were a staple of television--commercial, public and cable. The pictures made or released by the "majors" were part of our DNA. And absolutely everyone, without exception, knew Casablanca. You could love it, you could make fun of it, you could roll your eyes at the fact that it was scheduled to show for what seemed like the thousandth time on your local channel, but you knew it. Casablanca was so familiar that it was difficult to actually see it, in the same way that it became difficult to hear some Motown standards after they had been used in so many movies and commercials and played so exhaustively on FM radio. Sometimes you have to leave things alone, almost past the point where their cultural currency comes to an end. To look at Casablanca with fresh eyes and experience its extraordinary artistry and vitality can be a revelation, and the same can be said of Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood and Yankee Doodle Dandy and Mildred Pierce. As most of the people reading this column already know, they all were directed by Michael Curtiz, who is being honored on TCM this April with a month-long retrospective. TCM is showing 53 of Curtiz's films, from Noah's Ark in 1929, made three years after his arrival in Hollywood from Europe, to The Comancheros, completed not long before his death in 1962. And that's only a fraction of over 170 films made in a career that spanned five decades. Curtiz was born in Budapest in 1887, and after college he joined a travelling theatre company that toured throughout Europe, performing anywhere they could and picking up languages as they went. He and his fellow actors did everything: designed their own sets and lighting in whatever spaces they could find, mended their own costumes and drew their own posters and bills. He made the first Hungarian feature in 1912 (and found time that year to join his country's Olympic fencing team), the first of the 68 films he directed in Europe, most of them now lost, before being recruited by Warner Bros. in 1926. Curtiz took every assignment that the studio offered him, averaging about five films a year by the mid '30s. He was known for his meticulous preparation for every picture down to the smallest detail, and he seemed to have had a hard time actually leaving the studio at night. In other words, he was real director, through and through, with a passion for simply making movies. Movies that truly move and flow, where absolutely every separate element works in beautiful calibration. Look again at the classics I mentioned above and they might take your breath away, and the same is true of lesser-known pictures like The Strange Love of Molly Louvain or Doctor X (shot in 2-Strip Technicolor) or Four Daughters. If you're interested in directing movies, watch the films in this tribute.
by Martin Scorsese