Saturday, June 30, 2007

Favorite Movies: Casablanca

I was reading a very funny story on Valerie's blog about how a mistaken movie identity played into she and her husband meeting, and it reminded me that movies have been on my mind lately. Samurai Frog recently did his own reviews of the American Film Institute's Top 100 films, and last night, when I picked up a shift at the restaurant, Phil and I were talking about Citizen Kane and other favorite movies. I frequently talk about movies being favorites, and got to thinking about what my top ten movies are.

I'll be posting these over the next few days. I've numbered them, but the are not necessarily in order of preference.

1. Casablanca
With this movie, you have to forget some big plot holes. The biggest one involves this film's MacGuffin, the letters of transit. The letters are "signed by General Degaulle himself" and unquestionable. In 1941, when the movie is set, Degaulle was powerless, living in exile in London. He had no power in the Vichy regime, and had in fact been sentenced to death for "treason" against the Nazi puppets. Nevertheless, the letters of transit serve their purpose handsomely, doing their part, along with the arrival of Ilsa Lund, Rick Blaine's old lover.

Rick, played by Humphrey Bogart, is the American owner of Rick's in Casablanca, which was in Vichy-French controlled Northern Africa. Rick, is bitter and dissolute, due to Ilsa's jilting. This was not always the case-- he'd run guns to the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War and to Ethiopians who fought the Italian fascists. These days, as he says, he sticks his neck out for nobody.

When he comes to possess the aforementioned letters of transit, which are a means of escaping Casablanca, he suddenly becomes the most popular guy in town. As the movie comes to its crescendo, we wonder-- which man will Ilsa end up with? Who will end up with the letters of transit? Will Rick's frozen heart melt?

The cast is amazing-- Bogart and Bergmen, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and of course, Claude Rains, who, as Flannery recently pointed out, steals scene after scene-- he gets all the great lines.

A couple of notes: a few years back, I noticed something a little shocking. In the scene in which Ilsa unknowingly walks into Rick's club and recognizes Sam, the piano player, she asks the bartender who the "boy" playing the piano. Sam was portrayed by African-American actor Dooley Wilson. He was born in 1894, so he would have been 48 years old when the movie was released. It's hard to believe that a movie that had an overall liberal outlook had something that racist in it.

Wilson, incidentally, was not able to play the piano.

Conrad Veight, the German-born actor who portrayed the Nazi officer Major Strasser, was, ironically, a staunch anti-Nazi, and married to a Jewish woman. He'd had to leave Germany in 1933 when he discovered that the Gestapo was planning to murder him.

Veight, who had been a major star in Germany (he had appeared in Germany's first talking movie) was the highest-paid actor in the movie. Veight narrowly lost out the role of Dracula to Bela Lugosi in 1933.

Veight died of a heart attack while playing golf with his physician a year after Casablanca's release.


The Elk said...

I love watching the extras in the Marseillaise scene... Most of them were actual ex Patriated French and you can see the genuine emotion.


Anonymous said...

Actually, it's not "General DeGaulle" -- it's "General Weygand". Peter Lorre's accent does make it a little hard to understand the name.

Amy Guth said...

I read the newspaper backwards, too! I'm so glad you do that also; I feel like less of a weirdo. Sort of.

lulu said...

Captain Renault: What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?

Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.

Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.

Rick: I was misinformed.

God I love this movie!

Erik Donald France said...

Superb. As is the movie ;) As for Herr Veight, I always knew golf was a dangerous sport -- second only to skiing.

MacGuffin said...

One of the greatest movies EVER. To me, Bogie is the ultimate movie icon.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Am I the only person who has never actually seen Casablanca then? Does this make me a bad person?

Valerie said...

There's a reason this movie is a classic. I could watch it over and over again.

(thanks for the shout out)

GETkristiLOVE said...

By far, my favorite movie.

Did you know the airport scene was filmed at Van Nuys airport in California and that in order to give more depth to the scene (to make the planes seem further away), they had midgets working on the planes instead of full-sized people.

Johnny Yen said...

The Marsailles scene is great.

I read that Bogart had no idea what that scene was when he filmed the part where he nods his okay for the band to play the song-- Michael Curtiz, the director, just told him to "stand over there and nod once."

Thanks for the correction!

I'm finding that a surprising number of people read their paper that way as well.

Maj. Strasser: "What nationality are you, Mr. Blaine?"
Rick: "I'm a drunkard."

I never get tired of Casablanca.

Skiing certianly was more fatal for Sonny Bono.

If I recall correctly, Bing Crosby died on a gold course as well. Sounds like actors need to be cautious on golf courses.

He was marvelous, wasn't he? The Maltese Falcon (which had, of course, the ultimate Macguffin-- the Maltese Falcon), The African Queen, The Caine Mutiny-- he was incredible.

We're willing to forgive you if you promise you'll see it some day.

Absolutely. It's funny-- I didn't see it until I was about 20, when they showed it at the student union at my college. I was astounded how great it was.

In the words of Wayne: "I did not know that!"

On the DVD I have, Roger Ebert has a great discussion of the movie-- I recommend getting that edition if you don't have it already.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Another bit of trivia on one of my favorite movies:

The end of the movie had not been written at the time they began shooting, and Ingrid Bergman did not know who her character would end up with at the end. When Bergman complained that she needed to know who her character loved more, Rick or her husband, the director reportedly told her to play it as if it could go either way. It ended up being one of the most compelling aspects of her performance.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Oh, and how about the moment at the end when Renault throws away the bottle of Vichy water with disgust? Corny and classic Hollywood.