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.
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.