Monday, July 8, 2013

My Favorite Movie-Casablanca

 By the time I saw CASABLANCA, I had seen Woody Allen's homage, PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM, so I thought I had some idea of what to expect. I was incorrect. My first viewing of the film was on television and I was a year or two into my early Bogart phase. CASABLANCA immediately jumped into my number one position where--outside of a few situational flare-ups--it has remained ever since. 

Every single thing about the movie is nearly perfect and when one considers that the script was practically being written as the filming went along, that's amazing. But then, so are many things about CASBLANCA. Humphrey Bogart, most often a second-billed gangster for much of the previous decade, had just begun to handle starring roles in A pictures. But a romantic lead? It must have been unthinkable...and yet it became a perfect fit. 

Ingrid Bergman, with her soft focus beauty and old world class, was an odd choice as Bogart's love interest...and the script deftly flirts around several taboo areas regarding their relationship. Her eyes speak volumes and the performance, although far from flashy, is certainly her most memorable. 

Peter Lorre became fast friends with Bogart and the two appeared in several films together. Although his appearance here is brief, it is integral to the plot and Lorre's character personifies one of his most recognizable variations. Although they had no scenes together, he would also become great friends with Sidney Greenstreet who appeared here as well as with Bogart and Lorre in THE MALTESE FALCON earlier.

Black actor Dooley Wilson is almost unique for the early forties in that his important role as Rick's confidante really gives no indication that he's black. As "Sam," he's the one who memorably resurrects "As Time Goes By" as "their song."

In a different film, Paul Henreid would have been the hero in this story--the brave freedom fighter trying to escape the Nazis with his devoted wife. As it is, though, we see the world through Rick's jaded eyes rather than our own and "Victor Lazlo" seems just in the way.

Along with pretty much every role being filled by a great character actor or actress such as Cuddles Sakall or Leonid Kinsky, the last two remaining bits of genius casting are Conrad Veidt--by then a veteran film star of more than two decades--as the head Nazi and the great Claude Rains as the incorruptible--because he's already corrupt--local law.

None of the magic would or could have worked as it did without the single most quotable script in film history. Every scene has a familiar quote and so many well-known (and often MIS-quoted!) gems dot the picture, right up to its unforgettable ending line...which is said to have actually been conceived and overdubbed after the film had already been completed!

A few months back, I watched CASABLANCA on DVD with Roger Ebert's commentary. When we had TCM. I'd catch it every time it aired. In the eighties, I taped it off of WTBS. I've even been lucky enough to have seen it in revival on the big screen not once or twice but THREE times! And I'd go again. It is the one movie that never ever gets old to me in any way. If you're a film buff and you haven't seen CASABLANCA then I'm sorry, you AREN'T a film buff. 

1 comment:

  1. I first saw Casablanca on television when I was about 13 or 14. I was a total sci-fi nerd at the time, with little interest in or patience for other kinds of films... but I was utterly captivated by this one. Back then, I think it was the atmosphere that grabbed me, that gorgeous B&W cinematography with all the shadows and the cigarette smoke and the wall-to-wall music. Later, it was the romance... then the World War II intrigue... as a writer, I admire the dialog -- so many memorable, quotable lines, with only a couple of clunkers! -- and the plotting, so tight, so perfect, so improbably given the film's production history. This is as near to perfect as a movie gets, and still just as entertaining and watchable as the day it was released, if only people are willing to sit down and watch an old B&W film.

    Star Wars will always be my sentimental all-time-favorite movie... but Casablanca will always be my second favorite!