Michael Curtiz Spent Ten Years Directing Super-Specials (1927) 🇺🇸

Michael Curtiz | www.vintoz.com

December 31, 2021

by Tom Waller

While meetings on the subject of production economy are occurring out here by the score a noted Hungarian director, who has been in Hollywood a year this month and who expects his first citizen’s papers next December, neutrally hits the pertinent issue. It starts with the ten years he spent in the European industry, first as an actor but the greater part of that time as a director. Then it takes in his year in Hollywood. Summed up, Michael Curtiz believes that the comparative scarcity of film money in Europe, as well as its comparatively few box offices, compel its producers to rank highest as economists. The striking difference on inside production methods of the two countries, he observed to us, is that while in ninety per cent of their cases American producers, he figures, cut the story out of the film, over the same percentage of European producers cut the story out of the scenario.

As for salary — Curtiz told us he was receiving in Europe last year the same amount which was offered him to come out to Hollywood. He admits that during that year Warners have raised the ante three times but he is careful to say that it was not the salary but the opportunity afforded him in the American industry which caused him to board the ship. He substantiates this by saying that his happiest motion picture year has been the past year; happiest, first because of better health and greater opportunity.

We were interviewing Curtiz while the salary slash was the topic of Hollywood. Curtiz has a contract. It provides for so much money. Yet at that time he was fully reconciled to the cut, viewing it philosophically and from the angle that the opportunity to realize his ambition and display his ar tistic wares made it unworthy of consideration. He was satisfied that he had the goods. That they would be recognized was already possessed of testimony by his application to become an American citizen.

Basing his statement on broad experience obtained in America’s film capital, Curtiz feels that if Hollywood possessed Berlin’s single viewpoint on the scenario it would save in that one item alone millions of dollars in production costs. Curtiz reminded us what every one around the average studio knows — that hundreds of thousands of feet of film are yearly sheared out of productions between the time they leave the camera and enter a theatre’s projection machine.

Financial conditions necessitate Europe’s using the pencil rather than the shears, he observed. During the ten years which he spent most directing super-specials for some of the greatest foreign producers, Curtiz said that it had been his experience that the continental maker of pictures spends nearly three times the amount of time on the scenario as he does in actually shooting it. When once a European scenario is okayed, we gathered from his description, it is like an architect’s plans for a house. A brick is put there in the plans, so is a scene shot here in the scenario. The action is so figured out that superfluous footage and re-takes are kept at a minimum, he said.

On the other hand Curtiz pays what might be considered a tribute to the economic foresight of American producers when he says that they do not gamble with their money because they make pictures which they know will appeal to the majority of their public. He follows this up, however, with an observation that too much sentimentalism and too many unreal endings are the sacrifice to art which such lack of gambling necessitates. Curtiz believes that the next few years will witness a decided change in this respect; an American screen story treatment similar to that of the European producer.

That the American film industry is already undergoing a change in this respect is witnessed occasionally, Curtiz said, when such pictures with the story treatment of “White Gold” are seen by the critics.

So far as cinema technique is concerned Curtiz readily agrees that America is far in the lead. The American critics who so readily laud European methods base such opinions upon but a slight percentage of the product made in Europe. Of all of its pictures not more than five per cent reach America and the other ninety-five per cent, Curtiz informs us, are equally as bad.

Curtiz was a director for the UFA-Phobus, making pictures with French, English and German actors for the purpose of securing a wide continental market for their product, when he received a wire from Harry Warner. Curtiz’s “Red House” and “Moon of Israel” were then screening in London and, the director tells us, were practically responsible for the telegram from Warner who was visiting in the British capital. Prior to this Warner had also caught the Paris run of another picture made by this director titled “The Parisian Doll.” It was in Berlin that Curtiz was signed to his Warner contract.

The director attributed his work in bringing Rider Haggard’s “Moon of Israel” to the screen for the request of his signature and his consequent trip to the Warner studio. At that time Warner, he said, told of plans to film Noah’s Ark, which, Curtiz understood at the time, was to be his first work in America. That special will now definitely get under way on September 15th, according to present plans, the director told us. In the meantime he has directed “The Outpost,” “The Million Bid” and “The Third Degree.”

During his European experience Curtiz informs us, he made twenty-five special productions. Of these he considers “Sodom and Gomorrah,” “Satan’s Memoirs” and “Napoleon’s Life” as his greatest foreign achievements. In the latter picture, which he said it took him seven months to produce, he had 15,000 Austrian soldiers as a part of the cast.

Curtiz was an actor on the Hungarian legitimate stage for several years before he decided to enter into pictures. At that time the movie company with which he enrolled placed itself at the command of the cameraman, who, between turning the crank directed the cast and instructed the property man. Upon suggesting that the cameraman’s duties were manifold, Curtiz says he was informed by the producer that French cameramen were too expensive to permit another individual in an executive capacity on the set.

Curtiz’s previous experience as a stage manager probably hurried his progress with a Denmark company which was then Europe’s largest producing unit, the director said. It was two years after he had had his initial bow before the camera that Curtiz was handed a megaphone in this Copenhagen studio, known as the Nordischk Film Company.

“I never want to be anything but a director,” he said reminding us that literature, architecture, painting, acting and music come within his definition of what five arts filmdom embraces.

Says America Leads in Screen Technique

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Collection: Moving Picture WorldJuly 1927