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Michael Curtiz was a film director, working both in Hungary, much of Europe and Hollywood.
Some common characteristics of Michael Curtiz films:
- Communities under dictatorial control, and people who rebel (Captain Blood,
Robin Hood, Dodge City, Casablanca)
related (Essex and Tyrone rebel: The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex,
corrupt household: The Unsuspected)
- Doctors as community leaders, rebels (Captain Blood, Dodge City)
- Women business owners (auto factory: Female,
Queen Elizabeth: The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, restaurant chain: Mildred Pierce)
- Working women (reporter: Dodge City, radio director: The Unsuspected)
- Kept, upper crust acting men (executives: Female, Zachary Scott: Mildred Pierce)
related (Essex and Raleigh as Queen's lovers: The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex)
- Gay friends in love with the hero (Tex: Dodge City, police chief: Casablanca)
- Political songs in public performances (Marching Through Georgia: Dodge City,
La Marseillaise: Casablanca, Grand Old Flag, Over There: Yankee Doodle Dandy)
- Media enterprises (newspaper: Dodge City, play production: Yankee Doodle Dandy,
radio show: The Unsuspected)
- Commercial artists with fine art aspirations (young auto designer: Female,
hero: The Man in the Net)
- Eateries and saloons (hamburger stand: Female, saloon: Dodge City,
Rick's place: Casablanca, restaurants: Mildred Pierce)
- Financial planning (factory: Female, taxes: Dodge City,
invasion of Cadiz: The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex,
deeding royalties to parents: Yankee Doodle Dandy,
raising money for business: Mildred Pierce)
- Technology improvisation (using car lights for Over There: Yankee Doodle Dandy,
records as alibis: The Unsuspected)
- Concern over drinking (Hale takes pledge: Dodge City,
Hurd Hatfield: The Unsuspected, hero's wife: The Man in the Net)
related (alcohol linked to seduction: Female)
- Murders framed against innocent party (Dodge City,
The Unsuspected, The Man in the Net)
Female (1933) is a romantic drama, about a powerful female business woman
and her romances. Female is a remarkable, and remarkably explicit,
fantasy about what a female super-executive might be like.
Links to other Curtiz Films
Female anticipates Mildred Pierce, in centering on a successful female
business owner. There are differences: the heroine of Female inherited
the business from her father, and she lives in a world where money is no object,
at least in terms of personal spending. Mildred Pierce shows a self-made
business woman from a working woman background, who has to watch her expenses tightly.
Both films show the women buying boyfriends. These men look "sophisticated" and upper class:
the executives in Female, the Society playboy in Mildred Pierce.
This disguises their financial dependence on the rich heroine.
Once again, Female is more a fantasy; Mildred Pierce more the ugly reality:
Zachary Scott's playboy is at once much less sexually appealing and far more exploitative
than the idealized fantasy men in Female.
The young auto designer artist in Female who wants to study Art in Paris,
anticipates Alan Ladd's hero in The Man in the Net, a former commercial artist
trying to launch a modest career as a fine artist. Both are commercial artists
who have strong ideals and who aspire to Fine Art.
There had been other films about top business women. The Clinging Vine (Paul Sloane, 1926)
stars the fascinating Leatrice Joy as a superb secretary who is the main person running
a large business enterprise. She is as formidably skilled as
the heroine of Female, and gets similar scenes showing her running a ferociously
complex, busy and multifaceted business office. However, Joy's character has sacrificed
romance for her career. She does not have the boy toy existence of the heroine of Female.
Nor does she have the huge financial rewards and lush life style of the woman business owner
in Female. Financially, she is "just" a secretary. The Clinging Vine
is probably a far more realistic portrayal of the lives of most real life women
in business in that era.
Dodge City (1939) is a Western.
Dodge City has a classic Western story: the hero has to clean up the town.
Dodge City shows links with other Curtiz films, such as Captain Blood,
Robin Hood and Casablanca. All of these deal with societies that have come
under the control of dictatorial regimes. These films seem like direct allegories about
the dictators in Europe, such as Hitler and Stalin. In fact, Casablanca is not
an allegory, but a film literally about the evils of Nazi rule.
Dodge City suffers not
just from crooks, but a dictatorial rule of terror by a man who has usurped the law.
Dodge City shows not just a fight against this man, but an attempt by the townspeople
to build up democratic institutions, such as the rule of law and a free press.
Films like Robin Hood, Dodge City and Casablanca emphasize whole communities.
While they have strong lead characters, there are also portraits of entire towns. They have
large casts of well-developed supporting characters, played by the brilliant stock company
of Warners actors.
Working Women and Feminism
The heroine has to overcome male chauvinist criticism, of her working at her newspaper job.
The film is fully supportive of her, and shows her as admirably gutsy and determined.
Her work also plays a productive, idealistic role in the community.
Mildred Pierce will take a deep look at a working woman and her struggles.
The Gay Friend
Tex is a friend of the hero. There are suggestions in the film that he is in love with the hero.
He makes a big speech, when locked up in the jail, about his closeness to the hero over the years.
The speech has some suggestive dialogue, that can be read as hinting at a physical sexual relationship
between the two men. This speech is both vigorous and funny. The speech can also be read as suggesting
not that an actual physical relationship occurred, but rather that the close friendship of the two men helped
Tex sublimate his strong gay desires for the hero.
It is unclear what the hero feels: although he certainly very much likes Tex. The hero does know
exactly what to do to please Tex, shortly after Tex's speech. We won't "spoil" his actions here. But they can be read
as a sort of gay love play, that are probably gratifying to Tex.
Casablanca also has a gay friend in love with the hero. The police chief (played by Claude Rains)
is widely seen today as such a gay character. It is interesting to see that such gay friends
did not start with Casablanca.
The Unsuspected (1947) is a mystery film, and probably should be considered as an example of film noir.
Much of The Unsuspected takes place at either at Claude Rains' giant mansion, or at
his radio show. There is a fairly large cast of characters living and working in these places.
They perhaps form a mini-version of the communities in such earlier Curtiz films as
Dodge City and Casablanca.
There is plenty of corruption in the mini-community of The Unsuspected. And eventually,
one of the characters has to clean it up, like Errol Flynn in Dodge City.
Early in Dodge City there is a murder in the saloon. The bad guy frames this to make it
look like a justified killing. The Unsuspected also opens with a sinister death, that has
been made to look like something else. One difference: in Dodge City, we know
the villain right away; in The Unsuspected the identity of the villain is a secret,
in the whodunit tradition.