Tag Archives: Michael Curtiz

Private Detective 62 (1933, Michael Curtiz)

Private Detective 62 is not much of a mystery. Except perhaps the title, which has nothing to do with the film so far as I could tell. Instead, it’s an interesting drama taking place at a detective agency. William Powell plays a diplomatic agent who gets busted by the French while on assignment and gets fired, so he has to find a job. Five minutes later–and a lot of looking in a nice montage–and he’s a private detective. Except the agency owner oscillates between dumb and evil, making things interesting for Powell, who’s trying to run a helpful detective agency… not one trapping wives in precarious situations to help their husbands divorce.

It’s no surprise Powell’s good–the story moves around quite a bit in the first act, giving him more to do than be a moral detective–or Michael Curtiz. Curtiz doesn’t have many jaw-dropping sequences in this one (he had such sequences in the early 1930s, including one in a Philo Vance starring Powell), but he does an excellent job throughout. Unfortunately, Curtiz’s excitement behind the camera isn’t matched by the screenplay, which is disinterested in itself.

Arthur Hohl is pretty good as the villain, James Bell is better as his stooge. Margaret Lindsay is a fine romantic interest for Powell, even if her character gets stupid at times and it’s absolutely unbelievable she ever would.

The film’s not particularly involving–at one point I realized I didn’t even care if Lindsay and Powell got together at the end–but Powell’s performance carries it and it’s really well made by Curtiz.

It’s also very interesting as a social document–the film deals both with the Depression (one prospective employer tells Powell he should have stayed in Europe) and Prohibition. Very interesting to see how people talked about the issues contemporaneously–has got to be the first time I’ve used that word.

The location shooting–not sure if it was on the lot, IMDb reveals no information–is excellent as well. On the technical side, however, there may have been some significant editing defects.

But still… a fine way to spend sixty-seven minutes.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz; screenplay by Rian James, based on a story by Raoul Whitfield; director of photography, Tony Gaudio; edited by Harold McLernon; released by Warner Bros.

Starring William Powell (Don Free), Margaret Lindsay (Janet Reynolds), Ruth Donnelly (Amy Moran), Gordon Westcott (Tony Bandor), Arthur Hohl (Dan Hogan), Natalie Moorhead (Mrs. Helen Burns), James Bell (Whitey) and Hobart Cavanaugh (Harcourt S. Burns).


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Mission to Moscow (1943, Michael Curtiz)

Mission to Moscow is straight propaganda. There’s a lot of Hollywood propaganda in the early 1940s, even the late 1930s, but usually, with those films, there’s at least the pretense of dramatic storytelling. There’s a love story attached, maybe a love triangle, something. There’s nothing attached to Mission to Moscow. It’s essentially a long advertisement for the Soviet Union. Most amusing, I suppose, is when Stalin himself shows up. The film’s from 1943, so nobody knew about him yet.

Walter Huston plays the ambassador to Russia and his story sort of guides the film. It follows him, but the way he moves is for the exposition, not for the character. There isn’t a single conflict for his character in the entire film. Huston’s fantastic, of course, but he’s better at the beginning. For most of the film he looks concerned or he gives speeches, but at the beginning there’s still some dramatic excitement. There are a number of other good performances, particularly Oskar Homolka.

As long as Mission to Moscow is, it’s competently told–writing this screenplay later got Howard Koch blacklisted–and there are a number of nice segments. The film ought to be famous as Michael Curtiz’s follow-up to Casablanca (but isn’t) and it’s probably his strongest directorial effort. There’s one particular scene, at a formal reception, which is beautifully constructed. The camera moves from each country’s representatives, both establishing their political situation as well as the particularities of the characters. It’s too bad this scene–as well as an excellent trial scene–are surrounded by such boring material.

The film plays on Turner Classic Movies from time to time and I read Warner Bros. is considering a DVD release (though I don’t know as part of what collection–no one knows Huston or Curtiz anymore).

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz; screenplay by Howard Koch, based on the book by Joseph E. Davies; director of photography, Bert Glennon; edited by Owen Marks; music by Max Steiner; produced by Robert Bruckner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Walter Huston (Ambassador Joseph E. Davies), Ann Harding (Mrs. Marjorie Davies), Oskar Homolka (Maxim Litvinov, Foreign Minister), George Tobias (Freddie), Gene Lockhart (Premier Molotov), Eleanor Parker (Emlen Davies), Richard Travis (Paul), Helmut Dantine (Major Kamenev), Victor Francen (Vyshinsky, chief trial prosecutor), Henry Daniell (Minister von Ribbentrop), Barbara Everest (Mrs. Litvinov), Dudley Field Malone (Winston Churchill), Roman Bohnen (Mr. Krestinsky), Maria Palmer (Tanya Litvinov), Moroni Olsen (Colonel Faymonville), Minor Watson (Loy Henderson), Vladimir Sokoloff (Mikhail Kalinin, USSR president), Maurice Schwartz (Dr. Botkin) and Joseph E. Davies (Himself).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 1: DREAM FACTORY.