Here are the remaining questions submitted during the American Cinematheque book club Zoom presentation on Sunday August 2nd, 2020 — with my responses.

So sorry we didn’t have time to get to everyone’s questions but I hope this helps. Thanks again for tuning in!

Q & A

– What was the most interesting fact you found out about Curtiz when you were doing research for the book?

AKR: This question provides a wide meadow for exercise but for the sake of brevity, I think it was discovering what an artistically creative man Michael Curtiz was.

I found much of what had been written about him previously was steeped in anecdote and auteur system dogma.

– What were Curtiz’s feelings on Ronald Reagan?

AKR: There is nothing specific. Reagan appeared in two Curtiz pictures: SANTA FE TRAIL (1940) and THIS IS THE ARMY(1943). Curtiz probably regarded Reagan for what he was at that time: a competent second tier leading man at Warner Bros.

Most of Reagan’s writing about Curtiz in his memoir Where’s the Rest of Me concerns a well-chronicled anecdote about Curtiz’s reaction to an actor who fell off a platform during the SANTA FE TRAIL production.
This story varied depending on who—Reagan, James Cagney and Raymond Massey— was relating the tale. Reagan’s written recollections about SANTA FE TRAIL mostly centered on Errol Flynn.

THIS IS THE ARMY(1943) was a huge Irving Berlin musical revue with Reagan playing a key role as George Murphy’s son (!).  It was Curtiz’s most profitable film during his three decades at Warner Bros.

– How much of THE COMANCHEROS did John Wayne direct? Was Curtiz off set, in the hospital during that time?

AKR: Curtiz was dying during the production of THE COMMANCHEROS. He fell on location in Utah, hurt his leg and either immediately returned to L.A. for treatment or was x-rayed on site and then returned home.
He was discovered to be riddled with cancer. John Wayne directed the rest of the picture. Probably 50-60 percent of THE COMMANCHEROS was directed by Wayne.

– Netflix has a Curtiz biopic. Have you seen it, were you involved with it and do you recommend it?

AKR: I was asked to review and mark up the script of this film, but declined to do so when the filmmakers said they couldn’t pay me.

I was then asked to provide some written answers to general questions about Curtiz as a courtesy, which I did  and for which the filmmakers gave me a “thank you” credit.

I cannot recommend this film as it portrays the production of CASABLANCA and the characters of Curtiz, Hal Wallis, Jack Warner, the Epstein brothers, S.Z. Sakall, his daughter Kitty, Bess Meredith et al in a fictional story line that is absurd and patently false.

– What was Michael Curtiz’ relationships with James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart & John Garfield?

AKR:  Cagney respected Curtiz more than any other director at Warner Bros. but disapproved of his often demeaning treatment of non-star actors.

Bogart felt likewise and thought Curtiz spent more attention on the camera than the actors. He argued with Curtiz about the CASABLANCA ending and during PASSAGE TO MARSEILLE, a film that apparently nobody enjoyed making.

Garfield liked Curtiz enormously and had a collaborative relationship with him, particularly during THE BREAKING POINT.

– I was thinking about the wide variety of genres Curtiz directed. How did he get to direct something as
seemingly sentimental as FOUR DAUGHTERS?

AKR: Curtiz made FOUR DAUGHTERS because it was assigned to him. He wasn’t able to pick his own pictures although by 1938, he had acquired more power with all of the success he’d had since CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935).

Curtiz was drawn to the sentimentally of the material—despite his bluster, he was a very sentimental man—and he selected John Garfield whom he immediately recognized as an extraordinary talent.

Garfield was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for FOUR DAUGHTERS as was Curtiz for Best Director, the Epstein bros. and Lenore Coffee for Best Writing, Nathan Levinson for Best Sound and the film was nominated for Best Picture.

– Did Curtiz use the same techniques for his flood in NOAH’S ARK as Cecil B DeMille used in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS?

AKR: The flooding scenes in NOAH’S ARK and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS are similar only in that they both used actual water from dump tanks.  DeMille created the illusion of the Red Sea parting by filming large dump tanks pouring water into a catch basin (now a parking lot on the Paramount lot) then the film was shown in reverse. The two frothing walls of water were created by water dumped constantly into the catch basin areas, then the foaming, churning water was visually manipulated and used sideways for the walls of water. Gelatin was added to the tanks to give the water a consistency like sea water.  Curtiz used a similar process for his Red Sea parting sequence in THE MOON OF ISRAEL (1924) that I describe in the book.  For the NOAH’S ARK debacle, here is an abbreviated account adapted from my book:

– How do you think Curtiz would respond if you asked him ‘what is film noir and does it have any influence on your movies?

“Vat is Feelm Noir?” If Curtiz was asked this question, he probably would have responded in the same manner that Billy Wilder did when he said filmmakers during the 1940s and 50s had no idea what film noir was when they were making movies like ACE IN THE HOLE, SUNSET BOULEVARD, MILDRED PIERCE and THE BREAKING POINT.

I think if the film noir style was explained to Curtiz, he would have instantly grasped and expounded upon it.

photo of biographical book Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame star for director Michael Curtiz