Sunday, November 10, 2013

My Log 394: Watching “Casablanca” start to finish, a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon

Screenshot of Paul Henreid, Ingrid Bergman, Cl...
Screenshot of Paul Henreid, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains and Humphrey Bogart from the trailer for the film Casablanca. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This screenshot shows Humphrey Bogart holding ...
This screenshot shows Humphrey Bogart holding a gun in the airport scene. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This screenshot shows Ingrid Bergman in a flas...
This screenshot shows Ingrid Bergman in a flashback scene with Humphrey Bogart. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This afternoon I watched Casablanca for the umpteenth time, but it was the first time for many years that I had seen it right through from the beginning.
It was preceded by Ben Mankiewicz on TCM saying people were divided between those who thought it the greatest movie ever made and those who thought it the second greatest. Probably it was Woody Allen who stimulated this exaggerated praise for the film.
Certainly I found from the beginning that from the moment Ingrid Bergmann walked into Rick’s café in Casablanca just after the French had collapsed, and it had become vulnerable to Nazi pressure, from that moment it became powerfully moving. From her first words, her voice seemed laden with nostalgia, regret and sadness. She spotted the piano-player, said to him, after gazing at him intently, “Play it, Sam.”
Oh, shucks, says Sam I am a bit rusty, I have forgotten it
“Play it,” she repeats, and when he still demurs, she says, more firmly, “Play it, Sam, I will hum it.”  So she starts to hum it, and pretty soon Sam has picked up the tune that will forever be identified with this movie, the ruminatory As Time Goes By, and as her eyes fill with tears, we are hooked. But I mean hooked.
Then Bogart, playing his well-known impersonation of a real person, a real man, tells Sam, “Didn’t I tell you never to play that!”  And we know what it’s all about, this movie,  immediately, and that his tough-as-steel act, his never showing his emotions to anyone, is all a show and will never last, we know it from that moment, even after the pianist has warned him to stay away from her, “She’s trouble, boss.”
Then she comes to his room. He knew she would, but he begins to assail her with having stood him up, left him standing in the rain at the railway station where they were supposed to go off together and he is still aching inside because of it, but, of course, never showing it to anyone, pretending it is all done and finished with.
I had forgotten that there is a fairly long flashback sequence of them in Paris, magically in love although they  met only two days before, and it is all compounded because their love affair is being played out against the spectacle of the German tanks rolling towards Paris. And there, in a café called La Belle Aurore, that looks exactly like Rick’s Place, there is Sam singing the same song, their song. He said he knew nothing about about her. What was she doing ten years ago? She says, “I thought there were to be no questions. I guess I was having the brace put on my teeth,”she says, “what were you doing?”
“I was looking for a job.”
Back in Casablanca, she comes to his room again, to apologize, and ask for his help, but he is harsh with her, tells her he can’t be worked like that, just to get what she wants out of him, so she leaves again, and, he being a man who has emotions only in private, he puts his head on the table between his hands, something he hasn’t done in years.
Then comes the big sequence, a thrilling one, where the customers of the cafe rise and sing La Marseillaise to drown out the Nazi song being sung by a group of German officers, an event that causes the café to be closed. The local chief, played by Claude Rains,  is amiable but crooked, ready to do well out of everyone else’s misfortune, and he  does the Germans’ bidding, and explains, when asked why, “I am shocked, shocked, to find gambling going on here.” (I heard that line quoted recently by someone commenting on the Rob Ford imbroglio, which, he said reminded him of the movie line.
Of course the denouement is, strictly, unbelievable. But we know, we have been allowed to pick it up that against everything he has said and is saying, Ilse, his lost love has again touched Rick’s heart. So he arranges for a young couple desperate to get to the United States from Bulgaria to win some money on his (Rick’s) crap table, (Rick being this man with a heart of gold).
Again, Ilse comes to him, he agrees to get her husband out of the country, if she will stay with him, Rick.  She is desperate to lose him, he says they will always have Paris, and she says, “I said I would never leave you.”
“And,” says Bogie, “you never will,” finally letting his emotion out, free to sit on his shoulder.  Later, when she realizes he plans to save her husband and to let her go with him, and so it is arranged, she says (the words sounding as if wrenched out of her), “I don’t have the strength to leave you again….”  What a master actor she was, this woman, able to breathe such life into his fairly banal dialogue.
So the husband gets on to the plane with his wife and they disappear into the mist, Rick having shot and killed the Nazi chief who has tried to stop the plane.
And so to the ending, light-hearted, insouciant, the man back to his manly ways, as he says to Claude Rains, who has just told him they will have to leave Casablanca together,“I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship…”

It is, no matter how many times you see it, a great movie. There are not that many of them that can repeatedly tug at your heart like this, but it is a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon, believe me.
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