Monday, October 10, 2011

CANON OF FILM: "CASABLANCA"

CASABLANCA (1942)

Director: Michael Curtiz        
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay: Julian J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch based on the play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” by Murray Burnett & Joan Alison

I have spent literal weeks of my life where I did nothing but watch “Casablanca.” I’ve probably seen it more than any other film, and there’s almost nothing I don’t know about it, and yet, it never fails to enthrall me. It was made as an anti-Nazi propaganda film, and for a while, the film seems like a movie about people on the run, and the underground that’s trying to get them out, and those trying to take advantage of them. Of course, if anybody actually analyzes the logistics of the movie, they’d know there’s about three or four dozen problems and discrepancies with it compared to the reality of Casablanca, circa 1941, but that’s irrelevant because that’s not what the story’s about, it’s just backdrop and setting. It’s about a man who once upon a time, was in love with a woman who left him in the rain, and has since become the most pragmatic of loners. Of course, I’m talking about Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), who sticks his neck out for no man, making him very trustworthy to both cops and criminals alike. Underground deals go on in and around his bar, and a shooting isn’t a good enough reason to close Rick’s. Rick gets warning from Capt. Renault (Claude Rains), informing him of the presence in Casablanca of a French resistance leader named Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), who’s made it to Casablanca, and is in search of letters of transit to Lisbon, which is unoccupied, and they can board a ship to America. Those who have never seen the movie will be confused by the scene below:


It’s the exact scene when the movie shifts, from what’s been about 25 minutes of getting the lay of the world of “Casablanca,” and inserting the seeds of a morality play, and turns into a love story. All first-time viewers know is that something has happened, and something is off, and that apparently Laszlo’s girlfriend Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and Rick have had some kind of past. Those who have seen the movie before, smile, ‘cause they already know. We learn later after a flashback scene what happened in Paris. And now, I can’t stop thinking of “We’ll always have Paris,” one of many memorable lines in the movie. In fact, the film is the single most quoted in film history. (And that’s not counting, “Play It Again, Sam,” which is the single most misquoted line in film history). The film was written and rewritten seemingly on the fly as they went along, the actors didn’t know the ending until they actually shot it. The Epstein brother Julius and Philip, arguably the greatest of all Hollywood screenwriters, came up with most of the famous lines of dialogue. Roger Ebert on the DVD does an amazing shot-by-shot analysis of the film on his commentary track. He and everybody else you can probably think of has already written practically everything that can possibly be said about “Casablanca.” People are fascinated by the details of the film, me included. How nobody knew they were making a great movie as they were making it, which lines were written by who, hell there’s a long debate over the sexuality of Capt. Renault. (I think he’s bisexual.) For a revolutionary and important Resistance leader, Laszlo seems to have practically nothing of interest to say compared to the other characters. (Howard Koch, the movie’s third screenwriter wrote most of his lines) All these little details that become more intriguing on multiple viewings, and nobody can sit through only one viewing of the film. There’s little I can add or say about the movie that hasn’t already be written or said by somebody else. For other films, that can be annoying (It certainly is annoying when I’m trying to write about it), but when watching it, you don’t think about it, you just get sucked into the film, and can’t turn away. War, desperation, murder, Nazis, and yet, the only thing we care about is problems of three people that don’t amount to a hill of beans.  
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