Thursday, 5 July 2012

We'll Always Have "Casablanca"


The movie (1942)





In 1942 another new Warner Brothers movie was released into the world from the maw of the industrious Hollywood movie machine, along with over a hundred others of that year. Most of these movies are long forgotten, yet one, "Casablanca", the story of disparate refugees in the eponymous Moroccan city at the outbreak of World War Two, is still popular, still screened, and still appreciated a lifetime after its first screening. There are many and varied reasons for this success, and a great deal of ink, both digital and otherwise, has been expended analysing this popularity. Personally, it is a movie that I have increasingly come to appreciate as my taste in movies has developed over the years. Thus, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a few moments and attempt to uncover just why "Casablanca" is as popular as it is.

To begin, what is the movie about? The answer normally given is that the movie is about a war time romance, with drama and intrigue, but this is not correct. "Casablanca" is about redemption, as three conflicted people struggle to reclaim their lives and to do "the right thing", in a deadly and dark world. The movie centres on two men who love one woman, and the woman who loves them both. One of the men is a noble hero, the other a roguish anti-hero, who affirms "I stick my neck out for nobody" (though this is clearly untrue). Which should she choose? How should each man respond? The choices before each character is to either pursue their own happiness and ignore the wider consequences, or to do what is "right"—even when what is right is not clear. This struggle is the theme of the movie. Its resolution the plot.

The protagonist of the movie is Richard (Rick) Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, a stylish, white-suited, expat USA citizen, and owner of the leading Casablanca nightspot "Rick's Cafe Americaine", a nightclub and (illegal and crooked) casino, where most of the action takes place. His past is shady and sketchy, though we soon learn that he cannot return to his homeland, for unstated reasons. In the past he "ran guns to Ethiopia" and fought the fascists in Spain, but now he faces the world with a harsh and unforgiving exterior, though this is easily pierced. He is a bitter man, who drinks too much and holds others at a distance. We see him playing chess, alone, dealing only with staff, gruffly rejecting the affections of his ladyfriend, and "he never drinks with customers". This stop-gap existence is shattered when his past returns in the form of the beautiful Ilsa Lund—the cause of his despair—played by the incomparable Ingrid Bergman: "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine."

A year and a half earlier, in Paris, the two had been lovers, however, both had been deceived. Ilsa as she believed that her husband was dead, Blaine as he believed that the two had a future.  He proposed marriage. Their relationship abruptly ended when Ilsa discovered that her husband was alive. She painfully abandoned Rick—alone, at a train station, in the rain. However, even though throughout the movie they profess their love for each other, the depth of their relationship is challenged by the superficiality of two lonely people chance meeting in war time Paris. There relationship during their first encounter is typified by the two agreeing not to discuss their past and the near comically repeated statements: Ilsa: "I know so very little about you." Rick: "I know so very little about you..."

Ilsa's husband, Victor Laszlo, is the third member of this love triumvirate. He is the noble fugitive, the wronged hero. A renowned, and respected Czech Resistance leader, played by the Austrian actor Paul Henreid. He had been captured by the Nazis and then imprisoned and tortured in a concentration camp (though he shows little sign of this in the movie). He escapes and makes his way to Casablanca with Ilsa, but with the Gestapo in hot pursuit (both he and his wife have excellent wardrobes for refugees). From Morocco he hopes to travel to the USA, putting his tormentors behind him and continuing to lead the resistance movement. Laszlo: "This time I know our side will win."

Laszlo is a different man from Blaine. More than simply the hero versus the anti-hero. When Blaine is dashing, charming and witty, Laszlo is reserved and terse—by far the least animated and least likeable character in the movie—rarely doing more than offering a small smile to those around him. He does not come across as the charismatic leader of men we are told that he is. Arguably, in his defence, after time in a concentration camp, and abruptly learning that his wife was being unfaithful while he was being tortured, his sense of humour would not be what it once was. Having said this, Laszlo is the least compelling character of the three. The love story is between Blaine and Ilsa. Laszlo plays second fiddle to their passion. It could be argued that his passion is reserved for the fight against the Nazis, yet it is his "straight man" role that acts to amplify the emotions of the two lovers. He is an island of calm around which they flame and burn.

The obvious question is then, which man should Ilsa chose, her husband or her lover? The choice before Ilsa is starkly different. Which life should she select? The honourable cause or to "run away" with Blaine and lead a life of dash and romance? Conversely, should Rick abscond with a married woman? Should Laszlo force his wife to remain with him? Complex and difficult choices, though, when viewed objectively, the choices before Ilsa are different than when viewed through the kaleidoscope of love. A life with Blaine would be a life on the run in north Africa as the mistress of a petty criminal, sought by the Nazis, while her husband offered safety and comfort in the land of milk and honey as the honoured wife of a national hero, and, potentially, a political leader after the war. This situation is one more case of wrong man, right feeling!

There is a piece of cinema fable which claims that the resolution of this dilemma was undecided until moments before the scene was shot. This is not correct. While the actual form of the denouement was long debated (The screenwriter Julius Epstein stated that, "Warner had 75 writers under contract and 75 of them tried to figure out an ending!"), under the censorship rules of the time (the Hays Office) a married woman could never abandon her husband for another man. War, torture, death and assassination were ok, but not marital infidelity. Any of the three could have been shot, fled or arrested, but if Ilsa and Laslzo were alive at the movie's end, they would be together. This fable is further disproved as several scenes that appear earlier in the movie were shot after the final scene. Everyone knew the outcome. There is also a belief, unverified, that Henreid was promised that "he would get the girl" as part of his acceptance of the role.

This love affair between Blaine and Ilsa is the personal tragedy of the movie, and it is played superbly by the two stars. When with Ilsa Rick is uncharacteristically reserved and hesitant even 'stiff', not his normal debonair self. This reveals the pain of her earlier rejection, and his fear of falling in love with her again, even though he still is. It is Ilsa, who expresses the emotional affection between the two. Her smiling face and compelling body language reveal her love, and against his will capture again the heart of the heartless Rick Blaine. It is this strong "chemistry" which shines through in the movie. In fact, so convincing was this chemistry that during the shooting of the movie Bogart's then wife, Mayo Methot, accused her husband of having an affair with Bergman, something that did not occur.

During the shoot, there was a sizeable element of friction between the leads. Henreid was not happy with the movie, nor his role as the second man. He also thought Bogart to be a bad actor, while Bergman considered Henreid to be a "prima donna", a belief possibly shared by Bogart. This real friction is apparent in the movie. The two men stare aloofly at each other, maintaining a distance, speaking tersely, and with no warmth. Just about what we should expect.

This love triangle is just a love triangle, not a cigar. It is given its importance and placed centre stage by the MacGuffin of the movie—stolen "letters of transit"—"signed by General de Gaule" (a man not that important in 1941, but more so in 1942 when the film was shot), which, improbably, "Cannot be rescinded, not even questioned". With these fantastical papers in their possession Laszlo and his wife can quickly and safely leave Casablanca for the new world, but, as fate would have it, these pivotal documents are now in the hands of Rick Blaine. Thus to secure his escape from the Gestapo, protect his wife, and continue his good work, Laszlo must deal with his wife's former lover. Never an easy ask.


Rick: "You'll excuse me, gentlemen. Your business is politics, mine is running a saloon."


The permutations of this conflict are played out as the movie progresses. Time and time again each character attempts to do the "right thing", even though they are never sure just what this is. Laszlo insists his wife leave Casablanca, while he stays. Laszlo offers Blaine a fortune in exchange for the papers. Ilsa attempts to woo and then threaten Blaine into surrendering the papers to her and her husband. Laszlo asks Blaine to use the papers to escape to safety with his wife. The suspense of the movie derives from skilfully delivery of these seesaw gambits. There is never an unambiguous indication of who will win out, but at various stages of the movie each option is hinted at. It is not until the final scene that the audience learns who will truly escape with whom.

The resolution to all this, revealed at the last moment, is that Laszlo and Ilsa leave together for the USA via Portugal, while Rick remains in Africa to fight the good fight against the Nazis. Viewed critically this "right thing" can be easily dismissed as a bow to conventional morality, without regard to the needs and lives of each person, but viewed against the times these actions demonstrate a higher morality and a nobler purpose that necessarily supersedes personal doubts and fears. Bogart makes this point clear to Ilsa as she is about to board the plane. She must go with her husband, he has important work and he cannot do it without her. If she and Rick stay together she will come to regret their action:

Blaine: "Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."

She cries, but then gets on the plane with her husband. Both she and Blaine are redeemed. Blaine has re-found his purpose, she hers.

A receipt briefly shown in an opening scene dates the start of the movie to the 2nd of December 1941. At this date Nazi Germany was ascendant and dominated much of Europe, Britain was under siege, and the USA was officially neutral. This was all to change in five days (ignoring time zones for a moment). On December 7th the United States of America would be hurled out of its isolationism (a term and policy disparaged in the movie), and into active warfare against the Axis powers by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Thus the chronology of events in the movie mirrors that of the real world. In the three or four days in which the movie takes place Rick re-discovers his true purpose, as would his homeland.

To put this into its historical context, the movie was released in November 1942 and screened through early 1943. At this time the USA was engaged in combat against the Axis, the allies had just conquered Morocco, and Casablanca became the venue for a conference between Churchill and Roosevelt ("Casablanca Conference", January 1943). Viewed from the perspective of a propaganda movie "Casablanca" is all too obvious in its appeal: the overwhelming need to put aside your personal concerns and do what is necessary to win the war, and a movie temporarily glamorised by the fame of its setting.

Having agreed that it is a propaganda movie then why is "Casablanca" still popular six decades after VE Day? To understand this we must examine the timeless elements of the movie, which speak to issues and beliefs deeper than the ephemera of wartime patriotism. This begins with star-crossed love, coping with loss and pain, the struggle to resolve conflicted choices, and the desire to do the right thing. This is a challenge faced by everyone at one time or another in their life, thus, it is of interest to everyone. The audience watches seemingly "ordinary" people on the silver screen face this struggle, display elements of nobility and failure, make mistakes, express doubt and uncertainty, but then finally do what is right in such a way that everything is made right and their previous sins washed away. This element of redemption appeals to people of all eras and ages. No sin is so great that forgiveness is impossible.

This is the story, the theme, the leitmotif, the message—yet, for the movie to be successfully conveyed it had required not only the three A list top-billed stars, but also good supporting actors. Fortunately, the movie enjoyed a buffet of top actors.


Strasser: "Oh, we Germans must get used to all climates, from Russia to the Sahara."

The most visible of these, the man who personified the menacing Gestapo, was the masterly Conrad Veidt in the role of the sinister Major Heinrich Strasser. The Major flew to Casablanca in order to capture or kill Laszlo. From the moment he steps off the plane to the moment Blaine shoots him (also at the airfield), he comes across as a strident Nazi extremist, efficiently and remorselessly committed to the goal of world domination. In him the American people could see an enemy capable and fervent. The distillation of their fears.

Annina: "Monsieur Rick, what kind of a man is Captain Renault?"
Rick: "Oh, he's just like any other man, only more so."

Then there is the talented English actor Claude Rains, who brings his wit and bonhomie (his police cap always at a rakish angle), to his role as the corrupt and adaptable, even sometimes unctuous, French police prefect of Casablanca, Captain Louis Renault. A man who takes bribes, either in sex or money, for exit visas. Extending his role, he is also the closest Rick has to a friend, though at arms length. However, engaging as his character is, his less pleasant side is revealed, but not explored in the movie. Renault is unhesitatingly willing to do whatever it takes. This is shown when an important prisoner, played by Peter Lorre, is murdered while in police custody so as to appease the Germans. Renoir affably jokes as he ponders a blank police report "We haven't quite decided yet whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape."

Renault: "Ricky, I'm going to miss you. Apparently you're the only one in Casablanca with less scruples than I."

Yet, with all of this darkness in his character, demonstrated again by his steadfast determination to capture Laszlo, he is another who is capable of redemption. At the end of the movie, after Blaine has killed Major Strasser, with Renault standing to one side, after a moments pause, Renault tells his newly arrived men to "round up the usual suspects", rather than order Blaine arrested. Then, just before the credits roll, both Blaine and Renault abandon their comfortable, corrupt existences in Casablanca and leave (walking arm in arm—in the non-existent Moroccan fog), to join the French resistance movement. With this act Renault has redeemed his past sins. This redemption is highlighted by Bogart, who tells Renault "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.". This one line tells the audience that the two men's flawed past lives are now ended, and before them is a new life as redeemed noble warriors. Indicative of the fashion in which "Casablanca" was filmed, this line, important as it is, was added three weeks after the movie was completed, at the instigation of the producer, Hal Wallis.

Ugarte: You despise me, don't you?
Rick: If I gave you any thought I probably would.

A far less appealing character is that of Ugarte (only one name is known), played by Peter Lorre, who appears for only a few unforgettable minutes at the beginning of the movie. His character is both charming, in a repellant and cringing manner, and precipitate as he is the one who gives the oft sought letters of transit to Blaine. Thus starting the ball rolling as it were. He is able to do this as he had murdered the two German clerks, who were somehow in possession of the de Gaule signed papers. Blaine agrees to hold onto these dangerous goods (apparently for no good reason), until Ugarte can sell the documents for a sizeable sum, and then leave Casablanca behind him.

The interaction between the two men provides an opportunity for a great deal of exposition concerning Blaine's character and his business in Casablanca. His bar serves as a meeting ground for a vast variety of people (including, in the opening shot, a Chinese woman, inexplicably resident in north west Africa), all of whom seem to be involved in shady deals, heated negotiations, and clandestine conversations. One gains the impression that no one comes to "Rick's" simply for a drink.

Senor Ferrari: "Might as well be frank, monsieur. It would take a miracle to get you out of Casablanca, and the Germans have outlawed miracles."

Opposite Blaine is his business rival, the somewhat Machiavellian Signor Ferrari, played by Sydney Greenstreet, owner of "The Blue Parrot", a less prestigious Casablancan bar. Ferrari is head of the black market. He wheels and deals, handling and allowing transactions to take place in his bar that Blaine does not in his. Ferrari does not have a large role to play, he is there clearly to support Blaine and provide occasional exposition, yet the talented actor makes his character an object of interest. His primary scene, when he discusses with Laszlo and Ilsa their options of escape from Casablanca is witty and moves the story along well. He further expounds the harsh realities of life in "Free" Casablanca, and then unerringly directing the two back to Blaine, a man they were attempting to avoid.

Last, and least of the supporting actors is Dooley Wilson (amusingly enough, the only member of the cast to have ever visited the city of Casablanca)—the piano player who is never told by Ilsa to "Play it again, Sam". He is Blaine's friend and travelling companion, though he always refers to him as "Mr Richard" or "boss"—being black in the 1940s may have something to do with this ("the boy who is playing the piano", as Ilsa refers to him, dating them both). I venture to suggest that Sam is more the "good and faithful servant", the loyal court jester character, than a true friend, which he is not. Sam is the one happy person in the movie. He popularly plays his piano, sings his songs, and collects his salary, nothing more, nothing less, and he has a (black) girlfriend—what more could any man ask for? In this fashion he is the outsider in the movie. He observes and assists, but is not involved. It should be pointed out that he makes the single most perceptive statement in the movie "Leave him alone, Miss Ilsa. You're bad luck to him.".

Sam is with Blaine in Paris, and then with him in Casablanca. He brings a measure of personal humour to the story, and acts as Blaine's confidant and interlocutor (ironically, he is the one character of note, who never said anything deemed worthy of quotation), attempting to lighten Blaine's remorse when he is despairingly drunk after meeting Ilsa again. Though, it should be pointed out that Rick hid the transit papers in Sam's piano, which, if discovered, would have implicated his faithful "friend" in a lethal conflict, which was none of his business.

Moving away from the second billed stars we see a literal world of excellent minor actors. These are the staff of "Rick's", the various refugees in the bar, and the minor officials who walk on and off. A sizeable measure of verisimilitude was brought to these roles as all of these actors were foreigners, and many refugees. Surprisingly, only three named actors were US citizens: Bogart, Dooly and Joy Page (ironically, playing a Bulgarian woman). Add to this that the director, Mike Curtiz, was Hungarian, with a refugee background. Warner Brothers made the claim that 34 nationalities worked on the film. One could even provocatively ask if this American award winning propaganda movie was in fact an "American" movie?

This foreign, refugee element is apparent in several scenes. For example, during the "Battle of the anthems", when the French "La Marseillaise" is played against the German "Die Wacht Am Rhein" many of the minor actors can be seen with tears in their eyes. Indicative of the times, the lauded German actor Veidt was married to a Jew and both were refugees from Nazism, he and his wife having fled Germany in fear of their lives.

Putting all these actors together created the basis for a breakout movie, but to bring these people to life required that they have something to say, thus the dialogue. "Casablanca" is a movie renowned for its dialogue. It is replete with humour, charm, satire, and wit, and proved to be a cornucopia of oft repeated quotes. Also, to state the obvious to anyone who has seen the movie, this dialogue is delivered perfectly by every actor, in perfectly crafted scenes.

There are a few stories about the dialogue of "Casablanca". As is famously said, the movie was created by a committee, and was "the most decisive exception to the auteur theory", to which the reply was made "nearly every Warner Brothers picture was an exception to the auteur theory". However, either in spite of or because of this synergistic confusion/fusion, Oscars were won by the director, Michael Curtiz, and the credited writers Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch. Add to this list two other men who contributed significantly to the screenplay, the producer Hal Wallis, and the uncredited script writer Casey Robinson, who changed, amongst other things, Ilsa's character from an American tramp into a romantic European heroine.

The movie was based on an unproduced play "Everybody Comes to Rick's" by Joan Allison & Murray Burnett. The play was prompted by personal experience of Nazi prejudice. Recognising the quality of the story, the movie rights were bought by Warner Brothers for the unprecedented sum of $20,000. In order to turn the play into a movie the script was written, re-written, and re-written again, unfinished when shooting began, and with changes made on a daily basis as the shoot progressed.

Enough said. Dialogue should speak for itself. Here is the best:

Satire:
Senor Ferrari: As the leader of all illegal activities in Casablanca, I am an influential and respected man.


Humour:
Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
  [a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.
Captain Renault: [aloud] Everybody out at once!

Captain Renault: Come to my office in the morning. We'll do everything business-like.
Jan: We'll be there at six.
Captain Renault: I'll be there at ten.


Wit:
Captain Renault: Carl, see that Major Strasser gets a good table, one close to the ladies.
Carl: I have already given him the best, knowing he is German and would take it anyway.


Anguish:
Ilsa: How nice, you remembered. But of course, that was the day the Germans marched into Paris.
Rick: Not an easy day to forget.
Ilsa: No.
Rick: I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.


Patriotism:
Rick: Don't you sometimes wonder if it's worth all this? I mean what you're fighting for.
Victor Laszlo: You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we'll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.
Rick: Well, what of it? It'll be out of its misery.
Victor Laszlo: You know how you sound, Mr. Blaine? Like a man who's trying to convince himself of something he doesn't believe in his heart.

Propaganda:
Renault: ... I told my men to be especially destructive. You know how that impresses Germans?


A number of minor points contributed to the success of the movie. First, the sub-plots. Throughout the movie the stories of minor, even unnamed characters are told. These usually provide a measure of humour to what is in reality a sad and tragic tale, and distract for a few moments the audiences attention, before it is snapped back to the main characters. For example, Italian military officials appear on and off, every time attempting, unsuccessfully, to be treated as equals (a not very subtle put-down of the Italian war effort). Then there is Yvonne, Blaine's harshly discarded girlfriend, who rebounds to a German officer, until her patriotic loyalty is painfully rekindled. A source of amusement is the occasional presence of the unnamed pickpocket, who is as skilful in his speedy banter as he is at extracting wallets from unsuspecting tourists. All of these minor characters bring colour and life to the story.

Next, the location, the cafe, the exotic east, Morocco. At a time when few ordinary people travelled Morocco symbolised the mystery and intrigue of distant lands where strangeness flourished and everything was new. Many in the audience would have grown up watching Rudolf Valentino make bedroom eyes and swashbuckle his way across the desert. More than a few watching the movie must have imagined themselves sitting at a table in the near dream-like world of "Rick's", shrouded in semi-darkness,  with "champagne and a tin of caviar", while waiting for a contact to arrive, with shady business to transact, the band playing and beautiful women tantalisingly around. Escapism at its best. Reserve me a table!

Then there is the photography. We can begin by stating that the photography was good, even very good. Some of the scenes are outstanding, however, let us examine briefly one aspect of the movie which is rarely discussed—the physiological effect of the movie being shot in black and white. By eschewing the colour of the real world the human brain is forced to work harder to process what our eyes see. This increases and further focuses our attention on the movie. Black and white "Casablanca" (the white house) is compelling in part for this mundane, physiological reason.

There is an iconic refrain of the "Casablanca" movie reviewer, almost a talismanistic statement repeated to prove that one knows one's chops—to delineate the literati from the masses—the adage that "Casablanca" was never intended to be other than a standard movie of its time. It was not a Cecil B. DeMille "Ten Commandments" designed for the ages epic. The movie was to be screened for a few months, and to then disappear into the Warner Brothers archives, with the expectation that few in its original audience would see the movie again. This in an age before Netflix, DVDs, video, or, for that matter, broadcast television.

This claim, while tiresome in its timeless repetition, is correct. "Casablanca" was an A list film, with three prominent, though new, stars, and with a somewhat tight budget of around one million then dollars, but that was that. Even the stars themselves, were not overly impressed with the movie, so it is said. The success of the film is due to the synergy of the writers and actors, parsed by the law of unintended consequences, all of which came together to give us a screen legend. Happy chance produced "Casablanca". As one critique phrased it: "where intuition and mere chance suddenly meet in a happy alliance". The measure of this happy alliance is that "Casablanca" won the 1943 Oscar for best picture.

An eternal element of the creative process is criticism. No doubt the first Palaeolithic story tellers were critiqued by the tribal elders. Hellenistic scholars at the Library of Alexander tasked themselves with Homeric exegesis. Even medieval scribes found flaws with the Bible. Thus how was "Casablanca" received by their modern equivalents? Overall, well, and consistently well received. There are virtually no bad reviews of the movie.

The best example of the rare legitimate negative comment comes from the academic pen of semiotician Umberto Eco. He described "Casablanca", initially and technically, as "a very mediocre film". Going on to say that it is a mass of cliches, and when examined closely the movie falls apart, "... an anthology. Made haphazardly...". However, he concluded that it was the synergy (though he did not use that term), of these factors which combined made "Casablanca" the success that it is: "Two cliches make us laugh. A hundred cliches move us". He even speaks of "Homeric depths".

This criticism of the movie raises a point about its authorship. It was never intended to be an intellectual tour de force, it is not "Citizen Kane" or "2001". "Casablanca" was intended to entertain an every day audience and tell a simple message. Its strings were intended to pull the heart, not the brain.

The popularity of the movie is reflected in the position it holds in the numerous "lists" of great movies. The crowd sourced Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) places "Casablanca" at a respectable 19 out of 250, rating it at 8.7 out of a possible 10 (with 39% of the voters giving it a 10 v. 2.5% who gave it a 1). The American Film Institute places it at a number two position, just after "Citizen Kane". Leaving aside the vagaries of lists, without doubt "Casablanca" is highly regarded in the movie community.

Money is also a measure of success, perhaps the key measure. Movies are not made for or with peanuts. The late great Robert Heinlein stated that he was in competition for his readers beer money. "Box office" is a clear and public determinant of the success of a movie. How well did "Casablanca" do here? Overall, well. In 1942/3 it grossed $3.7 million then dollars, earning Warner Brothers a good, but not outstanding profit. This made it the seventh best movie of its year, in financial terms, however, this was just the start. Since then its total gross has amounted to $250,000,000 adjusted dollars. A respectable sum.

What can be called imperfect about "Casablanca"? The most obvious weakness of the story is the "letters of transit". Nothing, as discussed, about this MacGuffin makes sense. First, the idea of all powerful, non-rescindable travel documents, that can safely convey whoever (no matter who, just fill in the blanks), even if hunted by the Gestapo, to the USA is ridiculous. Then, why does Rick so readily agree to hold the papers for Ugarte, for no renumeration, even though he knew the Gestapo were eagerly seeking their discovery? Last, why did Ugarte not immediately inform the Gestapo that Rick had them, thus, possibly, sparing his life (but shortening the movie considerably)?

We might also ask why the Gestapo did not have Laszlo assassinated one dark night, in a dark alley, by an untraceable assassin? Surely, this was the easiest manner to dispose of an arch enemy of the Third Reich. Arguably, the bad press from such an act deterred Major Strasser (a point made in the movie), also the desire to interrogate Laszlo, also ... what? Laszlo could not die because the movie needed him. After all, if he were assassinated his ex-wife and Rick could simply walk away into the sunset, with his money, with Rick's money, and with the valuable travel papers all in hand. An undramatic and intensely practical, but non-acceptable happy ending.

It has been seven decades since "Casablanca" was first screened, how has it stood the test of time? Very well, but it is true that the movie is less watched now, certainly by younger folk, than it was a generation ago. Yet, I do not believe that this indicates the movie to be "dated" or that it has undergone an irreversible diminution in popularity, rather, the movie is lost amongst an every growing sea of entertainment competition for an audience. I will state here, that as long as people watch movies, "Casablanca" will continue to be screened, re-watched, partially forgotten, and then "re-discovered", and then appreciated again by a new audience of a new generation. Book me in for the 2042 centennial screening! A classic.


Here's looking at you, kid.

July 4th 2012.




A shortened bibliography of "Casablanca".

Behlmer, Rudy. "Casablanca" 1992.
Haver, Roland. "Finally, the Truth About Casablanca." American Film, June 1976,
vol. I, no. 8.
Harmetz, Aljean. "Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca", New York, Hyperion, 1992.
Miller, Frank. "Casablanca. As Time Goes By..." London: Virgin Books, 1993.
Siegel, Jeff. "The Casablanca Companion. Dallas", Taylor Publishing Co., 1992.

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