No 18 - Casablanca
Director - Michael Curtiz
Another massive classic film that - for reasons unknown - I had never watched until now. I think I thought it would always be very schmaltzy and had therefore avoided it.
I love to be proven wrong. Which is good, because it happens a lot.
We find ourselves in Casablanca, the cultural melting pot and pretty corrupt town occupied by those wishing to leave Europe and those rotten Nazis. At the centre of it all - the place to be - is Rick's bar where everyone comes to have a jolly wonderful time and drink away their troubles. And there are a lot of troubles. It is a kind of 'limbo' town in that everyone there is just waiting to leave... and it creates a wonderfully strange atmosphere.
Into this limbo town come two people Laszlo - a concentration camp escapee - and Ilsa, his wife. Only.... Ilsa and Rick have a shared past.
Thus we have our story, a love triangle in a seedy lawless town.
But, this is a film where the characters draw you in and where the timelessness and beauty of the mood transport you. Bogart is amazing as Rick, dry, sardonic and cruel. He is selfish enough to be a really flawed human being without coming across as a bastard. Those initial moments where he first sees Elsa in his bar are wonderful. Little looks and notable tension manages to say more than any amount of exposition ever could. The fact that we manage to get it all condensed into one perfect miserable whiskey soaked line is even better, you can see the pain on Rick's face, and you know you'll eventually find out the whole story, but already you have an idea. The script for Casablanca is not only perfect, it has melded into the public subconscious. Whole lines of it are quoted wholesale. Like Shakespeare. I'm not really going to focus on Ilsa and Rick's relationship as it is the crux of the story and I'm making a new effort to avoid spoilers. It is however an excellent example of a holiday romance that burns too intensely for too short an amount of time. And at least the film acknowledges the age gap between Bogart (43) and Bergman (27) - that is all I ask.
Instead of this I wish to talk about some of the characters that crop up. Every character is stacked with back story. Just by being at the bar you know they are escaping the Germans and they all carry this hopeless desperation which is beautiful. There are some wonderful moments, some of them genuinely moving. This musical stand against the Germans had my hair on end (though it may have been my patriotic French side finally shining through) - I think it is the woman crying as she sings and the fact that Liberté, égalité, fraternité is the direct opposite of so many of the Nazi party's policies.
The big contradiction to this hopelessness is Captain Renault (Claude Rains) - the sleaziest, seediest, most corrupt bastard who has ever walked the streets and who ends that little emotional video with a classic bit of humour. He is a classic example of everything that could be wrong with law enforcement, but by God he is amazing. He is basically the film's comic relief as his shifting loyalties and caustic one liners help keep the mood light.... even when he essentially admits to forcing women to sleep with him for visas he seems to do so in a way that seems jolly and caddish - rather than rape. Rains' timing is impeccable and his facial expressions are divine. He is a masterclass in comic acting.
The other character I wish to discuss only appears briefly at the start, but is the reason that Laszlo comes to Casablanca and is therefore the film's catalyst. Ugarte may come off looking like a horrible bug eyed disloyal creep - but that is because he is. But the reason he is brilliant is that he is played by Peter Lorre... and we all love Peter Lorre (thank you The Incredible Suit for finding the video).
Even the Genie does a bit of a Peter Lorre impression when he is playing a zombie. How random.
So, we move to the ending and through glorious levels of double crossing, Rick says good bye to Ilsa in one of the most iconic and quote-worthy speeches ever. It is a wonderful little moment, and it is so emotionally intense.
Just a fabulous film...
SHIT! I forgot to mention Sam (Dooley Wilson), who is not only utterly awesome but he is the keeper of the film's most important memory jogger. That delightful tune - the love theme between M and Admiral Roebuck.... Play it Sam.