Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.
Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Rick's Cafe Americain
TCM were running Oscar winners over the Academy Awards weekend, so it was nice to have another look at EAST OF EDEN, GIANT and others not seen for years, CASABLANCA was beginning just before midnight and I sat down and of course was immediately caught up in it all over again.
The original audiences back in 1942 must have felt that rush of excitement too - it is terrifically engrossing setting out the territory of North Africa and all those people converging on Casablanca. That first long evening sequence at Rick's cafe [what a great set it is] is perfect too, it plays like music as each strand is unfolded: S Z Sakall, the barman in love with Rick's discarded girl, Ugarte (Peter Lorre) with those letters of transit, Sydney Greenstreet dropping in trying again to buy Sam the piano player, the arrival of Col Renault (Rains, sublime) and Major Strasser (Veidt, relishing every line) and then that trio: Rick Blaine (Bogart in surely his best ever role), Ilsa Lund (Bergman at her most luminous) and Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), and of course all those other parts, like the young couple also desperate to escape to Lisbon and the wife is willing to do what she has to get that visa. The dialogue exchanges are masterly too - it is one of a select few films one never tires of listening to (like those mainly scripted by Mankiewicz or Wilder), and then there is Dooley Wilson singing that song; as Ilsa says "Nobody sings "As Time Goes By" like Sam".
The thing that makes Casablanca great is that each character seeks some kind of redemption. On some level, every character in the story achieves some kind of catharsis and their lives are irrevocably changed. It is perhaps if not the greatest then the most representative American film of the '40s [as BRIEF ENCOUNTER would be British film of the '40s and BICYCLE THIEVES European], director Michael Curtiz makes it as vivid as his ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD or MILDRED PIERCE, from the script by Julius P Epstein and Howard Koch.
I attended a screening of it at the London National Film Theatre probably in the late '70s with Ingrid Bergman present (one of several times I had seen her) and she was talking about its making afterwards (as she must have had done several times already) and how they did not know how it would end, and she was chatting with people and answering questions. A perfect afternoon then. The dvd I have has among the extras an episode of a tv series made in the '50s with Gene Barry and Anita Ekberg guesting! So yes CASABLANCA deserves its reputation as an all time classic.