Saturday, May 21, 2011

#65 - CASABLANCA


BACK-STORY: “Casablanca” is a war movie released in 1942 to coincide with Operation Torch and the liberation of Casablanca. It is based on an unproduced play entitled “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”. Shockingly, several writers adapted it which flies in the face of multi writers signaling problems. It was directed by Michael Curtiz. It was Bogart’s first romantic role. In spite of the chemistry between him and Ingrid Bergman, they never made another film together. Only three American actors have roles. Many of the extras were Jewish refugees. It was filmed at the studio. The Production Code Administration had all direct references to sex removed from the script. (Note to current television writers, it is possible to be sexy without beating the audience over the head.) It won three Oscars (Picture, Director, Screenplay) and was nominated for Actor (Bogart – robbed by Paul Lukas (who?) in “Watch on the Rhine”!!), Supporting Actor (Rains – robbed by Charles Coburn in “The More the Merrier”!), Cinematography (how did it lose that one?), Editing, and Music.  There was only half-hearted talk of a sequel.  Times change.


OPENING: A narrator explains the situation in Vichy-controlled Morocco. It is a transit point for refugees hoping to get to Portugal and then to safety in America. Most are stuck and waiting…waiting…waiting… The search is on for the murderer of two Nazi couriers. The criminal has taken two “letters of transit” which will fetch a great price. Capt. Renaud (the local Vichy police chief) is rounding up the usual suspects.

Henreid, Bergman, Rains, and Bogart
SUMMARY: At Rick’s Café Americain, the cynical expatriate Rick Blaine is visited by Ugarte (Peter Lorre) who is a petty criminal who has two letters of transit for sale. Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) arrives in Casablanca. He has escaped from a concentration camp and is on the lam. He is accompanied by his wife Ilsa (Bergman). He needs the letters of transit. The typically loathsome Nazi Maj. Strasser (Conrad Veidt – an anti-Nazi who had fled Germany) of the Gestapo is in town to get Laszlo, but cannot simply arrest him in Vichy jurisdiction. When Ilsa asks the house piano player Sam (Dooley Wilson – a drummer who could not play the piano) to play “As Time Goes By”, Rick realizes his ex-lover is in town. He gleefully greets her like a lovelorn schoolboy. Not really.

     A flashback reveals the reason for Rick’s bitterness. Rick and Ilsa had had a fling in Paris in 1940. They drove around in front of a movie screen and also boated in front of a screen (so much for 1940s special effects). We get a montage of romantic moments. We are left to wonder whether they had sex. It seems likely. They are scheduled to flee as Paris falls, but Ilsa does not show up at the train station. She leaves a note saying she loves him, but it’s over. She runs out of ink before she can explain why.

     We find out that Rick was a gun runner to Ethiopians fighting the Italian invasion and then later he fought in the Spanish Civil War. These are his bona vides as a cynical fascist hater. In the café, “La Marseillaise” wins a duel with “Die Wacht am Rhein” (“Watch on the Rhine”). Movie audiences must have high-fived at this point.

Bergman preferred her left side
     Ilsa visits Rick to beg for the letters. He refuses. She pulls a gun, then cries. (Not realizing if she had done the crying first, the gun would have been unnecessary.) He cracks (he may be Bogart, but even he cannot withstand the ultimate female weapon). She explains why she left him in Paris (in an amazing coincidence, her assumed-to-be-dead husband showed up the day of the train rendezvous. Better late than never.) They rekindle their love. He promises to help Laszlo escape with the understanding that she will stay.

     Laszlo arrives to beg Rick to use the letters to escort Ilsa to safety. It turns out he figured out the love of Rick and Ilsa because of the steam. Laszlo is arrested on a trumped up charge before the conversation is over. Rick makes a deal with Renaud to entrap Laszlo on a more serious charge. Renaud releases Laszlo, and then Rick turns a gun on Renaud.

scenes from the satanic colorized  version
CLOSING: Come on, if you don’t know what happens you would not have read up to this point because either you don’t know how to read or you are a teenager (or both). Anyway, at the airport, Rick insists Ilsa leave with Laszlo because if she doesn’t she will regret it. “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life. Plus, the motion picture code will not allow you to stay because you are married.” (That last sentence was cut from the final version.) Rick says “Here’s looking at you, kid” for the fourth and last time. He kills Strosser and goes walking off with Renaud (who has ordered the rounding up of “the usual suspects”) and they plan to join the Free French. “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”. A friendship based on cynicism and back-stabbing.

RATINGS:

Acting - 10


Action - 5


Accuracy - N/A


Realism - 8


Plot - 10


Overall - 9

WOULD CHICKS DIG IT? Are you kidding? Bogart and Bergman. As they said about the Kennedy’s, every woman would want to be with Bogart and every woman would want to be Bergman. The chemistry between the two is sizzling. The romance is heart-tugging and realistic. Watch out guys, the movie could prompt disillusionment in your significant other. However, this should be cancelled out by the props you get for watching it with her. Also, you won’t have to talk her into watching a war movie because she won’t recognize it as such.

ACCURACY: Accuracy is not really an issue. It does not claim to be based on a true story. The general outline is accurate. Morocco in 1941 was officially part of Vichy France and thus technically out of Nazi jurisdiction. Casablanca was a transit point for European refugees trying to get to Portugal and then to America. It seems likely that under real circumstances the Gestapo would have had less scruples about eliminating a resistance leader like Laszlo. The “letters of transit” were a fictitious plot device. In my opinion, one of the most accurate statements in the movie is made by Ferrari (Sidney Greenstreet) who is Rick’s shady-operator rival. He opines: “My dear Rick, when will you realize that in this world today, isolationism is no longer a practical policy?” The screenwriters obviously agreed with that sentiment, as did FDR who screened the movie in The White House (la casa blanca).

CRITIQUE: “Casablanca” is one of the top five movies of all time. It is one of the few “classics” that holds up for modern audiences. The dialogue is crackling. Numerous quotes are among the greatest in movie history. The acting is top notch. Bogart is at the top of his game and he is matched by Bergman. Rains is outstanding in the best performance of his career. The only downer is Henreid’s stiff performance, but that was partly due to the saintliness of the character. You throw in Strasser, Lorre, and Greenstreet and you have an amazing cast. The musical score keeps pace with the acting. The song “As Time Goes By” is justifiably one of the most memorable in cinema history. The cinematography is awesome. Bergman’s face is shot in such a way to highlight her conflicting emotions. The darkness and shadows give the film a film noir feel.  The theme of sacrifice resonated in WWII America, but can be understood at any time.  The cynic who does the right thing may be stereotypical, but Bogart set the template for it.  This is an adult movie for adults.

CONCLUSION: “Casablanca” is one of the greatest movies of all time, but is it one of the greatest war movies? It certainly fits the 100 Greatest list better than "Foreign Correspondent" or “Notorious” (which incredibly is placed 8 slots higher than "Casablanca"!), for example. I am more comfortable with it being placed in that vague category of “movies set in war”. If you classify it as a war movie, how do you place it at only #65 when it is clearly superior as a movie to virtually every movie on the list? For that reason, although I love it, it will not be on my eventual 100 Best War Movies list. Watch it for the tenth time anyway.

                                                                       



6 comments:

  1. I love it as well, always did and always will. Your review wasn't to sarcstic given it is a romance. I think the rating shows that they were not a 100% with including it as a war movie. They did but rated it low whih is an oddity and a contradiction.
    Maybe it would be necessary to really do a best of combat movies.
    Anyway, Casablance is outstanding but much rather a war time movie than a war movie and war seems a bit of a pretext to tell a dramatic story.
    That colored version is sacrilegiuos, isn't it?

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  2. Sarcastic? Me?

    You and I agree on this one. I did not mention what you accurately theorize - it was rated #65 because they were not comfortable with it being a war movie. However, this does not account for "Notorious" being #57. A lesser movie that is less of a war movie - explain that.

    My 100 Best list will be heavily combat, but not totally. I will have to include Dr. Strangelove, for instance. Oh, and don't forget Col. Blimp. (I've tried!)

    I don't mind colorization if it's not a classic. In this case, whoever did it should be shot!

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  3. I saw the colored version on TV and it caused me a great deal of stress. haha. I had seen Casablance only once before and wasn't aware of a colored version. I sat there and was getting more and more upset because I really thought when I saw it the first time I hadn't noticed the colors. And what is worse, the movie didn't work in color. There was no more magic or whatever...

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  4. I watched this again the other day too. Lovely!

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  5. It's a shame that noone has the guts (other than Spielberg in "Schindler's List") to use black and white when it fits the story. However, based on my students, black and white would not sell to the modern audience.

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  6. Great movie of course. Mainly because it still holds up years later. Alot of movies made during specific historical times can seem inherently dated. Not Casablanca. The writing and the acting are too good. Plus because it is a "peripheral" war picture without need of actual combat scenes in a way it could be during any wartime period. Another drawback of some made during wartime movies is the requisite patriotic scene or monologue that seem hokey to us today. Casablanca keeps this to a minimum. Other then the famous scene where the french battle the germans in a Sing-off. And thats actually very well done.
    Your right, this is not really a WAR movie per se. And im sure thats why it is ranked where it is on their list. Perhaps also because despite its greatness as entertainment it still shows (like Stalag 13 for example) its "playness" and is not greatly expanded from the Cafe itself. But since the tension is mostly on a personal level this doesnt effect it much. I would say that Notorious is higher rated because of the Hitchcock touch. He just had a way with staging memorable scenes. Oddly enuff, Notorious is a Post-WW2 movie i think and is more for an Espionage Movies list. Go figure.
    I didnt know there was a colorized Casablanca either. That is just wrong. Like colorizing King Kong. But then i thought the Jeff Bridges King Kong would win the academy award at the time as you no doubt recall. Hey I was young.

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Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.