Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Casablanca (1942)

By Eric Jessen

Classic lines are mostly schlock, almost ninety percent corn syrup. An initial cringe always comes first upon hearing one of these gems, then a chuckle – what were they thinking? I'd say about half of these lines are only famous for being so unspeakably bad. They're like a screenwriters' blooper reel.
In the movie sporting easily the most memorable lines, with Gone with the Wind a close second, a doozy lurks around every corner. It's a wonder Ingrid Bergman telling Humphrey Bogart, “From now on you'll have to do the thinking for the both of us, dear,” didn't make AFI's 100 quotes list. That one always brought tears to my eyes.
So Casablanca is one part cheap melodrama, and sometimes a bland one at that. Thankfully that isn't all it has going for it. It is also a Bogart and Bergman picture, and they're always a pleasure. In this case Ingrid Bergman is especially sweet as Ilsa, although Bogart as Rick is still who I first remember. And there's also a great supporting cast, one of the best I've been told. I was told right: Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Dooley Wilson as Sam, Peter Lorre (from M), Marcel Dalio (from The Rules of the Game) and many others.
The love triangle of Rick, Ilsa and Victor is Academy stamped and approved: Best Picture, Director and Screenplay. She showed up at his gin joint uninvited, and with a husband of all things. Sam played they're song, “As Time Goes By.” They cried and drank, Rick for the first time in a long time, and finally they made up. Just in time for him to let her go. Michael Curtiz milked the flashbacks, and good for him. Without them Ilsa is nothing but Rick's floozy.
So Casablanca is a classic, an American classic. And yet in many ways it is starkly European, with Bergman, Henreid, Rains, Greenstreet, Conrad Veidt, Lorre and Dalio contributing to a French café visual spunk.
Humphrey Bogart is the one American, and still the center of the film. He's our hero, and to some extent our reflection, a symbol of our country. At first he's a stubborn rogue with a my-way-or-the-curb mentality. And then, when it suits him, a noble savior. Casablanca peddles this kind of patriotic sentimentality with enthusiasm. And sure as the Academy ate it up, so did we, either with a handkerchief or a popcorn box at our side.
So above all Casablanca is a movie for 1942 and war time, especially when the war is just - when we as Americans can all stop, at least for the moment, acting like stubborn rogues and play the noble savior. And Rick is our embodiment. He's our hero. In fact, we're our hero. Casablanca is for us and about us and it's just like us to think so.
So get your popcorn or your handkerchiefs ready, “Round up the usual suspects,” “We'll always have Paris,” and why not, play it again.