I Saw That!

One woman's opinions about popular entertainment.

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Amateur boxing coach, Christian (but not so heavenly-minded that I'm no earthly good) singer, writer, self-defense advocate, childfree. feminist www.smartwomenboxingtraining.org

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Casablanca (1942)

I had always been jealous of my mother because she saw this movie 70 years ago.  "Oh, yeah, I saw that when it first came out," she said casually to me when I asked her about it.  I think she paid 35 cents to see it.  That was how much movie tickets cost then.   I finally got to see it in a theater as part of TCM's (Turner Classic Movies) 70th anniversary tribute to the film.

Most people have seen this movie dozens of time on television, but I'll recap the plot for those who aren't familiar with it.  Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is an American living in exile for unknown reasons in Casablanca.  He runs a popular club, but he's not a particularly friendly host.  Rick is good to his staff, but he keeps his thoughts mainly to himself.  Word comes that a couple of German soldiers were found murdered in the desert.  They had transit papers on them, documents that are of interest to most in Casablanca.  Most of the people who stop into Rick's club are refugees escaping from conflicts in their countries of origin brought on World War II.  A person with those papers could use them to go on to Lisbon, and from there, to freedom in the United States.

Umgarte (Peter Lorre) is a crook with whom Rick is acquainted, but doesn't have much use for.  Umgarte is in possession of the transit letters, and Rick reluctantly agrees to hide them.  Not too long afterwards, Umgarte is arrested, and later dies in custody without revealing what happened to the transit letters.

Renault (Claude Rains) is a French military official (Casablanca was considered to be part of unoccupied France) who plays host to a German military official, Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt).  Strasser has gotten word that an anti-Nazi political activist named Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) is headed to Casablanca.  Strasser plans to see to it that Lazlo never leaves Casablanca.  Lazlo shows up at Rick's club with his wife, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman).  She recognizes the club's pianist, Sam (Dooley Wilson), who is uneasy upon seeing her.  She asks him to play a song called, "As Time Goes By".  Rick storms up to Sam snapping, "I thought I told you never to play that song again!"  He then looks up and sees Ilsa.  It is obvious they have a history together. 

Soon, rumors spread that Rick knows what happened to the transit letters.  Renault and Strasser keep their eyes on Rick.  Lazlo is interested in getting the papers so he and Ilsa can escape to America.  But as much as Rick tries to fight it, he still has feelings for Ilsa, and visa versa.  In the midst of the danger surrounding everybody, what is Rick going to do?

In every screenwriting class I've ever taken, the script for this film has always been taught.  It is considered to be a near-perfect, if not the most perfect screenplay ever written.  The cast is perfect, all the way down to the minor characters, such as a rival club owner of Rick's played by Sydney Greenstreet. The film ties together all its elements - romance, intrigue, danger, suspense, and some comic moments - in a neat package.  Casablanca has some of the most quotable dialogue of any film that's been made. 

My mother was ten years old when she saw Casablanca.  I had to wait until I was 50 years old to actually see it on the big screen.  The print I saw -- a new digital transfer -- was extremely nice.  The scene at the airport near the end looked and felt exceptionally grand.  As the film ended, I clapped along with the rest of the audience in attendance in acknowledgement of a film that still holds up today.

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