>> Tuesday, July 15, 2008
USA/B&W-102m./Dir: Michael Curtiz/Wr: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch/Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund), Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo), Claude Rains (Captain Renault), Dooley Wilson (Sam), Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser)
Everybody comes to Rick’s, and eventually everyone watches Casablanca. It is the finest example of glossy studio moviemaking from the classic period of Hollywood; and with eighty percent of the action taking place within Rick's Café Américain, it is also unequivocally a “booze movie.”
Casablanca, we are told, is an important stop that World War II refugees must make on their route to America, and Rick's Café Américain is the most popular stop in Casablanca. The bar is owned and managed by Rick Blaine (Bogart), an American expatriate who cynically observes the dealings of the petty thieves, refugees, corrupt police, and Nazis that gather at his watering hole. He doesn’t drink with the customers, and he doesn’t stick his neck out for nobody. But all of that changes when a resistance leader (Paul Henreid) walks into the bar with a woman from Rick’s past (Ingrid Bergman). For the first time in years, Rick takes action--both in terms of his love life and by ingesting large quantities of bourbon.
Over the years, Casablanca has come to be regarded as a cinematic classic (ranking #2 on the AFI’s 2007 list of the 100 greatest American films), but no one, with the possible exception of producer Hal Wallis, expected much of the film back in 1942. It was just one of many flicks that Warner Brothers cranked out that year, and it was a bit of a gamble in that it starred Bogart, an actor mainly associated with gangster pictures, and Bergman, a Swedish actress with only a few moderately successful American films under her belt. Of course, Bogie triumphed in the part, proving once and for all that a short, ugly man with a toupee and a speech impediment could pull off a romantic lead. The camera also fell in love with Ingrid Bergman, even though she was forced to perform much of the film in a slouch, because she was actually a few inches taller than Bogart. The rest of the ensemble, including many of Warner’s finest character actors, all provide fine work; but the real unsung star of the film is Claude Rains as the corrupt, skirt-chasing Captain Renault. He plays the part with a glass in hand and a twinkle in his eye; and his enthusiasm is infectious.
Part romance, part war film, part musical, Casablanca is a complex cocktail that holds together wonderfully well, despite the diverse ingredients. It is a true classic that deserves its classic status.
Drinks Consumed--Champagne, whiskey, brandy, cognac, wine, and unnamed cocktails
Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, soused sentiment, harmonizing, and bar tossed
Potent Quotables--MAJOR STRASSER: What is your nationality?
RICK: I’m a drunkard.
RENAULT: And that makes Rick a citizen of the world.
Video Availability-- Warner Brothers has recently released the Casablanca (Ultimate Collector's Edition) DVD and the Casablanca (Ultimate Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray].
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Bogie juggles booze and romance once again in The African Queen (1951).