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Critic’s Choice: Master of the studio system Michael Curtiz on display

Arthur Byron, left, Bette Davis and Spencer Tracy in the 1932 movie "20,000 Years in Sing Sing."
(UCLA Film & Television Archive)
Film Critic

No one understood studio filmmaking better than Michael Curtiz, and the sheer amount of work he did was staggering. The prototypical contract director, he made 94 films during his Golden Age decades at Warner Bros., earning an impressive five best director Oscar nominations (he won for “Casablanca”) during an eight-year stretch.

The UCLA Film and Television Archive is hosting a long overdue tribute to Curtiz, including a double bill of two of the director’s most entertaining films.

Up first is “20,000 Years In Sing Sing,” featuring Spencer Tracy in one of the best of his young tough roles as a charismatic con whose romance with Bette Davis gets way complicated. That’s followed by the wild “The Mad Genius,” starring John Barrymore as a crazed ballet impresario who holds the screen effortlessly whether he is dispensing cocaine or bogus romantic advice. Only someone like Curtiz could energize them both.

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“20,000 Years In Sing Sing” and “The Mad Genius,” UCLA Film & Television Archive, Billy Wilder Theater, Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 206-8013. Feb. 3, 7:30 p.m. $8-10. www.cinema.ucla.edu/events

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kenneth.turan@latimes.com

@KennethTuran


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