Movie: Casablanca (1942) #OscarThrowback

As with all movie or book blogs, there will be spoilers.

Let me start by asking this: How did a movie that premiered in NYC in 1942 qualify for a 1944 Oscar?

My Thoughts While Watching:

What a wonderful movie.  Seriously, just wonderful.  I loved the music and the outfits.  I loved the well dressed Rick (Bogart).  I am mad at myself for not having seen this movie before now.

I will insert a storyline from IMDb here: The story of Rick Blaine, a cynical world-weary ex-patriate who runs a nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco during the early stages of WWII. Despite the pressure he constantly receives from the local authorities, Rick’s cafe has become a kind of haven for refugees seeking to obtain illicit letters that will help them escape to America. But when Ilsa, a former lover of Rick’s, and her husband, show up to his cafe one day, Rick faces a tough challenge which will bring up unforeseen complications, heartbreak and ultimately an excruciating decision to make.

The backstory to the movie is that people took trains, autos and walked hundreds of miles before taking a ship to reach Casablanca in French Morocco.  France was German-occupied at the time and so Morocco was more or less in control of the Nazis.  There, immigrants and refugees would buy illegal papers and board a plane for Lisbon.  Then it was clear sailing to NYC and away from the direct impact of the Germans.  The immigrants were escaping the Nazis who seemed to be everywhere.  Rick’s (Bogart) bar is a place where immigrants can come and “exchange goods” – maybe a diamond necklace can buy a set of papers – that type of exchange.  Throughout the movie we are reminded that Rick is for the underdog (ran guns in Ethiopia and fought the fascists in Spain), and on occasion we see it first hand (the young lady from Bulgaria who was going to have sex with the official to get her papers – Rick “helps” her husband win enough money at the tables so they are able to pay with currency and not her virtue).

The movie starts with suspicious persons being rounded up (and if you have a white had and a matching white suit, well, that qualifies you as suspicious for the purposes of this movie it seems).  When the suspicious individuals the officials are looking for are not in the round up, it is noted that they will find them at Rick’s that evening.  It is where everyone goes.  Our first glimpse of Humphry Bogart is while he is playing chess (against himself?).  A little trivia on that: he was playing chess by mail with a friend during the entire movie.  Chess was a favorite game of his.

It is established that he pays the local official, Renault (Raines) (via booze and intentional gambling winnings) and so the official turns a somewhat blind eye to the black market side of Rick’s business.  In a movie full of quotable quotes, Renault questions why it is that Rick is not allowed back into his home country of the United States and then tries to guess: Abscond with the church fund?  Run off with a senate’s wife?  I’d like to think you killed a man, it’s the romantic in me.  It is never established in the movie the exact reason.  The director noted that there were several attempts to come up with an reason and ended up deciding to leave it open ended.  It is noted that Victor Laslow (Henreid) will be in the area and it is important to stop him from escaping to the U.S.  Rick simply tells Renault I stick my neck out for no one. And the viewer believes this.  In a further back and forth with Renault and a German officer, Rick is asked what he would think of a German occupied U.S., New York even.  Rick flat tells them: There are certain sections of New York you wouldn’t want to invade.

This movie has amazing dramatic headshots, and turn to face the camera scenes.  Combine that with the shadows (I am now finding that some of those shadows were actually painted onto the set), it gives “color” to the black and white film.

When Laslow and his wife Ilsa (Bergman) enter the bar, even Sam (Dooley), the piano player, knows this is going to be bad.  I had not seen the movie and immediately assumed that he was taken aback because he knew that Laslow being in the bar would be bad for Rick but NOOOO! As soon as Ilsa starts speaking to Sam I realize – this WOMAN is trouble for Rick!  Leave him alone Miss Ilsa.  You’re bad luck for him. … Play it once Sam, for old time’s sake. And he reluctantly starts to sing As Time Goes By.  (My thanks to Sleepless in Seattle for giving me the music of Casablanca without my even knowing it.)  “a kiss is just a kiss, a smile is just a smile”. As soon as the music starts playing, Rick is at the piano and chastising Sam because he knows better than to play….wait a minute….they lock eyes!  The Germans wore grey, you wore blue.  Oh the tension!

The bar closes and we see a drinking Rick with Sam trying to convince him to leave but he refuses.  He knows.  Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.  There is a flashback to Paris.  Rick looks so happy.  They are driving along in a convertible.  The thing I love about this scene is knowing that these actors were sitting in a car with a screen behind them on which the view out the rear window of a moving car is being played while two crew members on either side of the car rock it back and forth to simulate a bumpy road.  Who needs CGI and green screen?  Not this iconic film, that’s for sure!  Here’s looking at you kid. The flashback tells the story of Rick and Ilsa and how they fell in love with little knowledge of each others’ backgrounds.  With the whole world crumbling, we pick this time to fall in love.  All he knows is that there was a man once and that man is now dead.  The Germans are marching on Paris and Rick plans their escape.  They are to meet at the train station at 5:00.  Kiss me as if it’s for the last time.  She doesn’t show and Sam shows up with a note from her telling Rick she can never see him again.

And there she is, in the door, looking stunning as any woman named Ingrid should look.  Rick is a bitter bitter man, understandably.  She admits it was because of Laslow that she left him in Paris.  Victor is my husband and was when I knew you in Paris.” DAMN

It is now very apparent that Renault is exchanging sex for visas.

I really wish this movie was in color just to see if my imagination of how vibrant the scenes are could compare to reality.

Why in the hell does Laslow have a scar over his eyebrow?  Will it ever be explained?  (The movie does not elaborate.)

One of the Trivia items that made my heart ache talked about the scene where the Germans sing “Watch on the Rhine” and the patrons and immigrants in the bar start singing “Marseillaise” to drown them out.  There were actors and crew present during the filming of this scene who cried because the memories of their escape from Nazi occupied territories was still very fresh in their mind. Warner Bros, the makers of this film, were well known to be anti-Nazi and made the filming of this movie a knock against the Germans.  Of all the actors given film credit in this movie, only three were born in the United States: Humphry Bogart, Dooey Wilson and Joy Page.  This was due, in large part, to the number of people fleeing Europe (actors included).

Viva la France!

They force Rick to close the establishment.  The German’s threaten Laslow’s life.  It is now explained that while laslow was in the concentration camp, Ilsa was carousing with Rick.  Laslow leaves for an underground meeting and Ilsa leaves for Rick.  She tries to convince Rick that he should give her the papers that will allow them to get out of Casablanca and Rick is not having it.  I’m the only cause I’m interested in. He turns his back on her for a second and OH SHIT SHE HAS A GUN!  Really…really??  Go ahead and shoot, you’d be doing me a favor.  Wait…now they’re kissing??  DON’T FALL FOR IT RICK (I screamed this at the screen, scaring Phoebe).  She explains that she thought Laslow had died in the concentration camp and that is why she struck up the affair with Rick in Paris.  She found out moments before they were to run away that he was still alive and that is why she did not show up at the station (convenient, if you ask me).  She tells Rick she can no longer run away from him, she just can’t.  I don’t know what’s right any longer.  You have to think for the both of us, for all of us.

We pan back to Carl (the waiter who is AMAZING comic relief) and Laslow ducking into the bar to hide from police who have just broken up the underground meeting.  Rick sends Carl to take the hidden lady home and then goes to converse with Laslow.  Laslow is passionate about the cause of pushing back against the Nazis. We stop fighting our enemies and the world will die.  Laslow admits he knows about Rick and Ilsa and asks for Rick to protect her.  The doors are suddenly broken down and the police barge in to arrest Laslow.  It seems that destiny has taken a hand.

Rick is a flurry of activity trying to round up cash to run.  He sells the bar to the Blue Parrot Fez guy with the understanding that Sam gets 25% of the profits and Carl and Sasha (the lady who plays the neck of the guitar and sings on the regular) remain on staff.  Rick sets it up with Renault that he will have Laslow come into the bar to buy visa papers.  He will let Renault hide out of sight and then he can arrest Laslow and return him to the concentration camps and score big with the Germans.  However, this is a double play on Renault as he is suddenly held at gunpoint by Rick.  The gun is pointed right at your heart. … That is my least vulnerable spot.  Rick then hurries Ilsa and Laslow onto the airplane but not before the greatest lines ever: But what about us? … We’ll always have Paris.  The German officer tries to intervene and is shot/killed by Rick.

In the end Renault again covers for Rick.  They are walking off into the foggy mist as Mr and Mrs Laslow flies away. Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The movie ends with Marseillaise.

What a great movie!  Truly great.  I love the costumes, the shadowy dark features, the actors – all of it.  I highly recommend it to everyone.  Would not be horrible for a family to watch, however there are a few gun shoot outs and murders in the movie (no gory blood though).  In those days the censors took their jobs seriously and did not allow a storyline where Ilsa KNOWINGLY had an affair with Rick while thinking she was still married to a living Laslow.

This movie was one of those on my list of “How have I never seen this?”  Do you have one of those?  If so, what movie is on it that would surprise people that you have not seen?  Let me know in the comments below.

Some Interviews and Extra Video:

IMDB Synopsis: A cynical nightclub owner protects an old flame and her husband from Nazis in Morocco.

Starring:

Lead Actress: Ingrid Bergman

Lead Actor: Humphrey Bogart

Supporting Male: Paul Henreid

Supporting Male: Claude Rains

Others of note: Dooley Wilson

Director: Michael Curtiz

*******************************************************************

Trailer:

Additional Movie Info:

It received a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 97% Fresh.  It received a Rotten Tomato audience rating of 95% liking it.  Average Rating: 4.1/5 with a number of User Ratings: 356,519.

Movie Reviews:

Specs:  Release date: 26 November 1942 (NY Premiere) 23 January 1943 Release / Runtime: 102 minutes / Budget: $950,000

IMDB Trivia:

  • In the famous scene where the “Marseillaise” is sung over the German song “Watch on the Rhine”, many of the extras had real tears in their eyes; a large number of them were actual refugees from Nazi persecution in Germany and elsewhere in Europe and were overcome by the emotions the scene brought out.
  • Many of the actors who played the Nazis were in fact German Jews who had escaped from Nazi Germany.
  • Rick’s Cafe was one of the few original sets built for the film, the rest were all recycled from other Warner Brothers productions due to wartime restrictions on building supplies.
  • Because the film was made during WWII the production was not allowed to film at an airport after dark for security reasons. Instead, it used a sound stage with a small cardboard cutout airplane and forced perspective. To give the illusion that the plane was full-sized, they used little people to portray the crew preparing the plane for take-off.
  • Some years ago in a shop dealing with historical documents, a photo still from this film was found, showing Rick sitting at the chess board. Accompanying the photo was a letter from Humphrey Bogart to a friend in New York, indicating a specific chess move. The document dealer explained that the chess game in the movie was a real game Bogart was playing by mail with his friend during the course of filming.
  • Conrad Veidt, who played Maj. Strasser, was well known in the theatrical community in Germany for his hatred of the Nazis, and his friendship with Jews (including his Jewish wife), and in fact was forced to hurriedly escape the country when he found out that the SS had sent a death squad after him because of his anti-Nazi activities. Veidt had it in his contract that he only played villains because he was convinced that playing suave Nazi baddies would help the war effort.
  • Director Michael Curtiz’s Hungarian accent often caused confusion on the set. He asked a prop man for a “poodle” to appear in one scene. The prop man searched high and low for a poodle while the entire crew waited. He found one and presented it to Curtiz, who screamed, “A poodle! A poodle of water!”
  • Sam’s piano sold for more than $600,000 (£370,000) at a New York auction in December 2012.
  • Reportedly, many of the shadows were painted onto the set.
  • Rick never says “Play it again, Sam.” He says: “You played it for her, you can play it for me. If she can take it, I can take it so Play it!”. Ilsa says “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By”‘.
  • Madeleine Lebeau, who plays Yvonne, and Marcel Dalio, who plays croupier Emil, were husband and wife at the time of filming. They had not long before escaped the Nazis by fleeing their native France.
  • On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the Second World War. The next day a Warner Brothers reader began to evaluate the unproduced play “Everybody Comes To Rick’s” as a possible movie. It was perfect timing as studios raced to get patriotic pictures into production.
  • Dooley Wilson was, in fact, the only member of the cast to have ever actually visited the city of Casablanca.
  • Warner Brothers claimed that people of 34 nationalities worked on the film.
  • The film had six quotes on the American Film Institute’s list of top movie quotes, more than any other movie on the list. The quotes with their ranks are: (5) Here’s looking at you, kid. (20) Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. (28) Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’ (32) Round up the usual suspects. (43) We’ll always have Paris; and (67) Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.
  • Warner Brothers purchased the play for $20,000, the most anyone had ever paid for an unproduced work.
  • At the beginning of the film, the spinning globe shows the extent of three empires during the Second World War. The German “Third Reich” in Europe, the “Great Japanese Empire” in Southeast Asia and the British Empire in Africa and South Asia (notably modern-day India and Pakistan).
  • Carl’s back story is hinted at once, when he is referred to as “Professor” by a waiter.
  • Casablanca, Morocco, was one of the key stops for refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe, which is why the original playwrights chose the city for the setting of their play (though initially they had opted for Lisbon).
  • During Rick’s flashbacks to Paris, he and Ilsa are shown dancing at a nightclub. The song to which they are dancing is “Perfidia”. The theme of the song is a lover’s betrayal, a hint at what Rick thought of Ilsa when she disappeared and now, when she reappears.
  • Because “As Time Goes By” had been written years before the film was made, it was deemed not eligible for an Oscar, and was not nominated for Best Song of the Year.
  • Early in the movie, Victor Laszlo acquires a large scar over his left eye. The reason for the scar’s existence is never addressed in the movie. One possible explanation is the hint of Laszlo’s torture by the Nazis.
  • Ingrid Bergman considered her left side as her better side, and to the extent possible that was the side photographed throughout the film, so she is almost always on the right side of the screen looking towards the left regardless of who is in the shot with her. However, there are several shots where she is to the left and Humphrey Bogart is on the right, including the flashbacks to the street scene in Paris (0:41:50) and the scene at the window (0:43:40). There are also several scenes where Bergman is centered between Paul Henreid and Bogart, suggesting the triangle nature of their relationship; in these shots Henreid is usually to the left and Bogart is usually on the right, including the scene where she and Henreid enter the café at just before the famous “Battle of the Anthems” (1:07:40); the scene where Capt. Renault arrests Victor Laszlo (1:34:00); and at the end of the final airport scene (1:39:00).

 

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