Tag Archives: Michael Curtiz

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, Michael Curtiz and William Keighley)

The Adventures of Robin Hood gets by on a lot of charm. Charm and costuming (good and bad). The film opens with title cards setting the scene. Sherwood Forest, evil King’s brother, righteous nobel, beautiful damsel, insidious villain, and Technicolor tights–Claude Rains looking like a Little Lord Fauntleroy grew up and broke bad.

Rains, with sidekicks Basil Rathbone, Melville Cooper, and Montagu Love, isn’t a terrible villain. When there’s first act banter between Rains and Flynn, it seems like Rains is going to be a great one. It’s like Rains is buying into the pomposity of the production. Maybe it’s when Keighley is still directing the film, maybe it’s Curtiz. They didn’t work together; the studio canned Keighley for weak action scenes.

And action scenes are Robin Hood’s weakness. Neither Curtiz or Keighley has much of a handle on them. There’s almost a discomfort around the castle sets, like neither director knows how he wants to shoot the exteriors. There are some decent moments on the outdoor castle and village set, but not many. Robin Hood’s best directorial moments are indoors. Even the problematic ones; one of the directors has some real issues with framing the grandiose castle interiors, like he’s going for something and it just doesn’t translate.

Olivia de Havilland’s condemned Maid Marian, tinily waiting her sentence, is a somewhat effective moment, but it’s not a style the directors use in the rest of the film. Just for inside the castle for a bit in the second half of the film, specifically as the second act winds down. de Havilland’s gowns are always exquisite–quite the opposite of the men in tights–and the shots sort of showcase them, but her performance during her bigger character moments could’ve been shot a lot better.

There’s also Ralph Dawson’s editing.

But the problem is the script more than anything else. Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller string together some introductions to familiar Robin Hood supporting cast through the first act–while setting up Rains’s villainry–and that first act is pretty much the most Flynn gets to do in the film actingwise. He and de Havilland flirt wonderfully through the rest of the film, but it’s all easy stuff. And then in the second act, de Havilland gets a lot more to do, only to lose it all for the third act. Third act is a mostly even split between Flynn and Rains, along with the deus ex machina sauntering around, but it’s not a return to the first act.

Robin Hood has a lot of (tighted) buts to it. Basil Rathbone’s an effective strong man villain, but he has no character and Rathbone doesn’t bring one to it. He just sweats well during the sword fights. Same goes for the Merry Men. Patric Knowles gets top billing despite having nothing to do. He’s purely functional. At least Eugene Pallette and Alan Hale eventually bicker, though it comes out of nowhere.

The best parts of the supporting cast are this underdeveloped, but frequently utilized, romance between Flynn’s “squire” Herbert Mundin and de Havilland’s lady-in-waiting Una O’Connor. And Melville Cooper’s cowardly Nottingham Sheriff is eventually funny, just because the script doesn’t forget about the joke. Cooper’s character gets a singular consistency and he does well with it.

Shame Rains doesn’t have a similar success.

Beautiful Technicolor cinematography from Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito. Omnipresent and overbearing, but still good in parts, score from Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

The Adventures of Robin Hood ought to be better, even though some of the cast does all right.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley; screenplay by Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller; directors of photography, Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito; edited by Ralph Dawson; music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; produced by Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Errol Flynn (Robin Hood), Olivia de Havilland (Maid Marian), Basil Rathbone (Sir Guy of Gisbourne), Claude Rains (Prince John), Patric Knowles (Will Scarlett), Eugene Pallette (Friar Tuck), Alan Hale (Little John), Melville Cooper (High Sheriff of Nottingham), Una O’Connor (Bess), Herbert Mundin (Much), and Montagu Love (Bishop of the Black Canons).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE SECOND ANNUAL OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND + ERROL FLYNN BLOGATHON HOSTED BY LAURA OF PHYLLIS LOVES CLASSIC MOVIES and CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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Angels with Dirty Faces (1938, Michael Curtiz)

Angels with Dirty Faces runs less than ninety minutes, but doesn’t really fill them. The first fifteen minutes of the film are flashbacks, tracking James Cagney’s character from troubled boyhood to juvenile detention to prison. Once the present action starts, Cagney immediately reunites with Pat O’Brien’s now priest, former similarly troubled youth. But Angels doesn’t have a story for O’Brien separate from Cagney and it doesn’t have much of a story for Cagney separate from the Dead End Kids.

For much of the film, Angels uses the Dead End Kids in a reduced capacity, or at least it immediately qualifies the scenes they get to themselves, tying it into Cagney’s recently released gangster storyline. The film’s last act, however, almost entirely removes Cagney and O’Brien. It does remove them separate from the Dead End Kids’s storyline; poor Ann Sheridan, as Cagney’s unlikely love interest, does entirely disappear for the third act.

So while they never have quite enough story to make a full film, even a ninety minute one, screenwriters John Wexley and Warren Duff certainly seem like they should have enough material for one. But since the Dead End Kids are all caricatures, maybe it’s just not possible. Cagney, O’Brien and Sheridan only get slightly better scenes–they’re just better actors. Director Curtiz expects more from them and gets it.

Curtiz directs some great sequences, like the lengthy, thrilling final shootout sequence or anything with Sheridan and Cagney.

Cagney’s fantastic performance almost carries Angels; the structure’s just too wobbly.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz; screenplay by John Wexley and Warren Duff, based on a story by Rowland Brown; director of photography, Sol Polito; edited by Owen Marks; music by Max Steiner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring James Cagney (Rocky Sullivan), Pat O’Brien (Jerry Connolly), Humphrey Bogart (James Frazier), Ann Sheridan (Laury Ferguson), George Bancroft (Mac Keefer), Billy Halop (Soapy), Bobby Jordan (Swing), Leo Gorcey (Bim), Gabriel Dell (Pasty), Huntz Hall (Crab) and Bernard Punsly (Hunky).



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THIS POST IS PART OF THE LUCK OF THE IRISH BLOG O'THON HOSTED BY THE METZINGER SISTERS OF SILVER SCENES.


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Sons of Liberty (1939, Michael Curtiz)

Despite Michael Curtiz directing and Claude Rains starring–Curtiz does better than Rains–Sons of Liberty is a rather tepid little short.

Rains plays a Jewish proto-American (circa 1776) who sacrifices all for the United States. He even dies penniless because he won’t sign a document on the Sabbath. Of course, Liberty never says the word “Jewish.” I was shocked when someone identified a rabbi by title.

The short also has a lot of problems establishing characters. Gale Sondergaard shows up as Rains’s wife–she’s not very good either. She shows up after Rains has supposedly been in jail for a year. I understand they’re playing fast and loose with history–I didn’t look up the real story because I wouldn’t want it ruined–but Curtiz and writer Crane Wilbur ignore even the most basic narrative requirements.

While it’s interesting as a historical document, but Liberty is a flop.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz; written by Crane Wilbur; directors of photography, Sol Polito and Ray Rennahan; edited by Thomas Pratt; music by Howard Jackson; produced by Gordon Hollingshead; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Claude Rains (Haym Salomon), Gale Sondergaard (Rachel Salomon), Donald Crisp (Alexander McDougall), Montagu Love (George Washington), Henry O’Neill (Member of Continental Congress) and James Stephenson (Colonel Tillman).


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Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)

Every time I watch Casablanca–and I think it’s been a while since the last time, over ten years ago, when I saw it at Radio City–I marvel at the pacing. The film runs an hour and forty minutes and it doesn’t even seem like any time has passed until Bergman is in Bogart’s apartment. I think that scene brings in the temporal aspect not because of the scene’s weight, but because Paul Henreid’s had an off-screen activity. We see everything in Casablanca–with the exception of the pre-opening incident (the murder of the German couriers)–and once we aren’t seeing everything, it becomes clear the film’s a narrative with an eventual ending. The beauty of the film is how the script sets it up to never imply a conclusion–certainly not one so quickly (as Bogart says to Bergman, he didn’t expect her so soon)–as the present action takes place over two and a half days.

The film’s opening, with the narrated introduction, followed by the daily life in Casablanca, gradually introducing Bogart, exquisitely conditions the viewer. For most of the running time, the film portrays Bogart as a cynic, hardly a heroic protagonist (he’s not even as consistently funny as Claude Rains). Watching Bogart bicker with Dooley Wilson over his drinking or lash out at Bergman, it’s a raw human desperation not often seen in films of this period. Curtiz’s frequent, patient close-ups–most often of Bergman thinking–contribute to the film’s sensitivity.

The viewer doesn’t even have all the necessary information until forty-five minutes into the film–and even then there’s the question of whether Bergman’s history with Paul Henreid is essential–after Bogart and Wilson’s bickering, after the flashback to Paris. The flashback must only take five minutes, but it always seems to take so much longer. It really does resonate, since up until that point, we’ve only seen Bogart on the one night.

The script does such an amazing job setting up the characters and their potential for empathy (especially with Sydney Greenstreet), with Nazi Conrad Veidt and Peter Lorre the only irredeemable characters. And even then, Lorre’s questionable. There’s a great ambiguity to the film in how it deals with its characters and their morality. Only Henreid and Wilson–as well as the supporting cast in Bogart’s nightclub–are scrupulous. The film doesn’t even make an issue of Bogart growing into a noble mold–there’s no implication he’s going to continue doing the right thing.

The other thing I always think about is the film’s ability to juggle being well-written and narratively solid with being constantly entertaining. Curtiz frequently brings a comedic timing to the action–for instance, with Bogart pulling the pistol on Rains at the end. The film establishes, right away, a dire setting (my wife, watching for the first time, gasped as the French police shot the fleeing man without his papers in the first scene). Everyone’s desperate, everyone’s unhappy, everyone’s in a lot of trouble… but there’s so much humor. Bogart and Lorre’s opening conversation lightens the mood, but never breaks the setting.

Rains is responsible for a lot of the levity. His police prefect is just perfect. Every scene he’s in produces a smile at the least.

Both Bogart and Bergman are fantastic, with Bogart’s performance setting a mold for all reluctant heroes to follow (I noticed a music cue John Williams borrowed in Empire Strikes Back, with Han Solo being a direct descendant of Rick Blaine). Bergman’s got a harder job–though, is this film the first where Bogart had to cry–since Curtiz loves giving her those pensive close-ups.

Wilson’s great, as is Henreid. Henreid’s actually got the hardest job, since he’s got to convince the viewer he’s this Utopian do-gooder, whose rhetoric and ideals are infectious. And he does.

I can’t think of a single complaint (I want more Wilson, but I understand he’s got to go into background as Henreid becomes more relevant to the narrative). I just miss seeing it on a seventy foot screen.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz; screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, based on a play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison; director of photography, Arthur Edeson; edited by Owen Marks; music by Max Steiner; produced by Hal B. Wallis; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund), Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo), Claude Rains (Captain Renault), Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser), Sydney Greenstreet (Signor Ferrari), Peter Lorre (Ugarte), S.Z. Sakall (Carl), Madeleine LeBeau (Yvonne), Dooley Wilson (Sam), Joy Page (Annina Brandel), John Qualen (Berger), Leonid Kinskey (Sascha) and Curt Bois (Pickpocket).


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