Monday, November 26, 2012

Casablanca is 70? I'm Shocked!

There are some lines from "Casablanca" that I heard so often when I was growing up that it sometimes seems as if I have always known them.

Those lines have become cliches, I suppose.

And it tends to make me lose my perspective a little, to forget when I first saw "Casablanca" — but, in the end, I always remember.

I'm not sure of my age — must've been about 12 or 13, I guess — but I remember the night. It was a Friday night in late autumn, and the local PBS channel was showing "Casablanca" with no interruptions.

The night was cool and kind of damp. My father built a fire in the fireplace, and my mother made some popcorn, and I settled in, wrapped in a warm blanket, to watch the movie with my parents.

I've seen it many times since, and I like it. I also like Humphrey Bogart, but I would pick two, maybe three, of his movies as my favorites before I would pick "Casablanca."

But "Casablanca," which premiered on this date in 1942, is often mentioned as one of Bogart's best. (OK, it was only released on a limited basis on this date — the more general release came the following spring — but I like to observe this date as the debut because, you see, this is my birthday — and God knows how little has happened on this date of which I can be proud).

In fact, I have a friend (whose opinions about movies are generally spot on) who says "Casablanca" is his favorite Bogart movie, and I can understand why. It's got it all — established stars, wartime intrigue, romance, even a dash or two of comedy.

There can be no doubt that many lines from "Casablanca" have become familiar cliches:
"Here's looking at you, kid."

"I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

"Play it, Sam."

"Round up the usual suspects."

"We'll always have Paris."

Without a doubt, those are some of the great lines in filmmaking history.

They still resonate because they speak to universal truths and emotions.

But there were other telling moments in the movie that were just as true and just as filled with human emotion.

Like when Bogart's character, feeling hurt and betrayed by Ingrid Bergman (but not yet knowing the whole story), says bitterly — and with more than a little help from the booze he'd been drinking — "Tell me, who was it you left me for? Was it Laszlo, or were there others in between? Or aren't you the kind that tells?"

I'm sure that many people, both men and women, who have watched that movie could sympathize. Been there, done that.

And there were more subtle lines that you almost have to see the movie two or three times to catch.

For example, when Nazi toady Claude Rains tells Bogart he might make a play for a young woman Bogart has just jilted, Bogart says, "When it comes to women, you're a true democrat."

During the same conversation, Rains asks Bogart what brought him to Casablanca.

"My health," Bogart replies. "I came here for the waters."

Bewildered, Rains says, "Waters? What waters? We're in the desert."

Bogart shrugs and takes a drag on his cigarette. "I was misinformed."

(The irony of that probably wasn't clear to audiences in 1942 and 1943. Cigarette smoking had not yet been linked to numerous health issues.)

Or later in the movie when Rains, who has been permitted to win at roulette at Bogart's place, nevertheless is ordered by his Nazi superiors to shut the place down.

When Bogart insists on knowing the reason, Rains replies, "I'm shocked – shocked! — to find that gambling is going on here."

One of the casino employees approaches him a second or two later and hands him a wad of cash, saying, "Your winnings, sir."

(That's probably my favorite scene in the movie.)

It really is a delightful movie, and if I stumble on to it in progress, even if it is already half over, I'll probably watch it to its conclusion. I'm that way about many movies, though.

I'm also that way about certain stars. "Casablanca" had the good fortune of having a good story (albeit one that was still being written after filming had already begun) and a great cast.

No wonder it won three Oscars — including Best Picture.