Wednesday, March 21, 2012

#3 CASABLANCA (1942)

Plot summary (with spoilers): The setting; the city of Casablanca, in Morocco. It's 1941. Rick Blaine owns and runs Rick's Cafe Americain, a nightclub where everybody knows your name and German Nazi soldiers mingle with European refugees of all stripes, as well as the occasional American like Rick.
Creepy Russian guy Ugarte is a regular at the club, and he corners Rick one day and asks him to hold to some papers for him. They're two "letters of transit" which allow the holders to jump to the head of the line at most Disney rides as well as unfettered access throughout all of occupied Europe, which in turn can allow refugees to escape to Switzerland or Norway or one of those neutral commie places.
Rick takes the papers and suddenly Ugarte is arrested by some French officials, including Captain Louis Renault, a self-confessed corrupt official. Renault and Rick exchange witty banter for a bit, and then Renault lets it drop that the famous Czech resistance leader Victor Lazlo has recently escaped from a Nazi concentration camp and is rumored to be somewhere in Morocco looking for safe passage to America.
So then Nazi solider Major Strausser shows up, looking for Lazlo. Strausser randomly decides to try to get Rick's goat and asks Rick if he cares that the Germans are winning the war. Rick does not. What about the fact that we took over Paris? Doesn't bother you. Nope. What if we take over London? Fine with it. What if we arrive in New York City?
Rick bristles slightly and allows that "some people" would probably have a problem with that, but not him. Strausser smiles triumphantly. Man, Nazis are just dicks.
And then Lazlo and his wife the Norwegian Ilsa Lund show up at Rick's as it is apparently the only nightclub in all of Morocco. Ilsa first notices the black piano player Sam, and is momentarily flustered. Then Strausser immediately recognizes Lazlo and goes over and confronts him. Lazlo admits that he is Victor Lazlo, escaped Nazi prisoner, and Strausser's all like, "you suck", and then he walks away. ?????
(About half an hour later Ilsa exposits that Morocco is neutral territory and Nazis have no authority to make arrests here, but that info would've been useful at the time to ignorant Americans from the future such as myself).
Ilsa has a moment alone at the table and asks Sam to tell her how Rick is doing. Sam says Rick is doing just great, has a girl, has some kids, everything is wonderful for good ol' Rick. Ilsa says he's a terrible liar. Sam confesses that Rick is none of those things and is totally depressed and lonely ever since she left him. Way to be a wingman, Sam.
Ilsa asks Sam to "play it once, Sam. For old times sake. Play 'As Time Goes By'". 
Psst. Ms. Bergmann. The line is "Play it again, Sam". Oh, never mind. It's fine. We'll fix it later.
Rick comes running up angrily to Sam saying he told him to never play that song again!. Sam sheepishly points to Ilsa and Rick wobbles and wavers and stutters some more. Then Lazlo and Renault come walking up and Lazlo's like, "you two know each other" and the two of them continue to stare in that unsubtle "we used to fuck"  kind of way TV and movie characters stare at each other and then Lazlo and Ilsa leave the club.
That night, Rick's drinking himself into a stupor. Sam tries to get him to stop and go out on the town with him, but Rick's in the mood for a flashback instead.
We see Rick and Ilsa and Sam for some reason, frolicking in pre-occupied Paris, living it up, drinking champagne and pretending to drive a car in front a a green screen. Suddenly, the word gets out that the Nazis are coming and everyone must flee. Rick and Ilsa agree to meet the next morning on the train and make their escape to Morocco.
The next morning comes, and Sam comes up to Rick and says Ilsa gave him this letter. It says she won't be coming with him and will never see him again.
Present day, back at Cafe Americain, Rick continues to mope and drink and orders poor Sam to play As Time Goes By so he can continue wallowing in his sorrow. Ilsa shows up and offers to give him an explanation for what happened in Paris. He basically calls her a whore (in a roundabout, 1940's kind of way) and she storms out.
The next morning, Ilsa's shopping at some outdoor Farmer's Market or something, and Rick approaches her and apologizes for last night. He says it's very hard for him because she's married now. She says she was married then, too.
Rick's eyes bug out and Ilsa sashays away as her exit.
Then she meets up with Lazlo and they start questioning shady people to see if they have any magic Disney transport papers. Someone who was a friend of Ugarte says that Rick is rumored to have them. Ilsa looks like she regrets her most recent moment of triumph and goes a little green. Or, you know. Gray.
Lazlo approaches Rick and asks for the papers, and Rick says NO COMMA HELL TO THE. Why not, says Lazlo. ASK YOUR STUPID WIFE WITH HER STUPID FACE, says Rick and kicks Lazlo out.
So Lazlo goes back to Ilsa and tells her what Rick said and wants to know if she has anything to tell him and she does not.
Then for some reason they go back to Cafe Americain that night and Lazlo leads all the French refugees in a rousing rendition of the French National Anthem, which they sing with great anger and fervor. It's pretty great. Strausser gets scared and orders Renault to shut down the club. Renault says for what reason and Strausser says make one up. Renault blows his whistle and orders everyone to leave the club and tells Rick he's shocked to learn that illegal gambling is taking place and then a busboy runs up to him and hands him his winnings for the night. Heh.
That night Ilsa breaks into the club and into Rick's bedroom and begs him to give her the papers. When he refuses, she pulls a gun on him. He knows she won't shoot him though, and slowly approaches and disarms her. She tells him when they knew each other in Paris she thought Lazlo was dead. She'd only heard of his escape the day before the Nazis invaded. She couldn't tell him the truth. And she couldn't tell Lazlo either because it would upset him and his resistance movement would suffer. But the truth was she was no longer in love with him and instead in love with Rick. They start kissing. Ilsa says she's just a girl and all this is too confusing for her and will Rick please take over? Tell her what to do? Rick wants her to stay with him and they'll give Lazlo the papers to escape. Then suddenly Lazlo shows up downstairs wanting to talk to Rick.
(One of my favorite lines from the show Cheers: "Most people go to their homes at the end of the night. You people come to this bar"). Rick runs downstairs and Lazlo says he knows that he and Ilsa had an affair when she thought he was dead and he begs Rick that if he won't give the papers to him, that at least he'll give them to Ilsa. He says take them and run away with her, I don't care. Just help her escape.
Rick looks conflicted. He tells Lazlo he'll talk to him in the morning.
He then goes to Renault and says that he's going to tell the transport papers to Lazlo in the morning and tells Renault to hide and watch it go down, and as soon as Lazlo gets the papers Renault can arrest him for illegal paper having or whatever and Strausser will give him a promotion and then Rick and Ilsa can use the papers to fly away. Renault's down with this.
But Rick has a super-secret other plan. When Renault tries to arrest Lazlo, Rick pulls a gun on him. He then orders Renault to call the airport and have a plane ready. But in actuality, while on the phone, Renault calls Strausser and pretends it's the airport, and tips Strausser off to the fact that Lazlo's escaping. So they all show up at the airport and then Ilsa thinks that just Lazlo is leaving and Lazlo thinks that Rick and Ilsa are leaving but Rick then reveals that Ilsa and Lazlo are the ones who are leaving. Ilsa protests, but Rick reminds her that she's just a girl and doesn't know what she wants, and that if she doesn't leave with Lazlo she'll regret it at some predetermined time in the future at least two days hence and such regret will be immediate and permanent.  He also says something about beans, then says "here's looking at you, kid" and kisses her. Ilsa and Lazlo leave on the plane as Strausser comes rushing up. Renault says Lazlo's plane is taking off, and Strausser runs to a payphone to have the plane stopped and Rick shoots him dead. Some other German soldiers come running up. They look at Renault. Renault pauses dramatically and says "Major Strausser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects" and the soldiers salute and run off. Rick smiles at Renault, and says this is the start of a beautiful friendship and then presumably they do it in the fog.

Review: Pretty darn good. I'm very surprised by how much I liked it. It was quick-moving, densely plotted yarn with lots of characters with conflicting motivations and emotions. Everything I love in a movie, really. I like how Rick accidentally doubles as a metaphor for America's involvement in the war as well. Rick claims neutrality throughout the film and then is finally forced to choose sides and enter the fray. The movie was made before Pearl Harbor happened, and was a play even before that, so they couldn't know how it was all going to shake out, so it's kind of just blind luck that the metaphor works so well. It's a little funny hearing so many lines that are now cliches, I'm wondering if this movie has the most famous lines ever. I'm thinking it does. "Play it again, Sam, "hill of beans in this world...", here's looking a you, kid", "maybe not today, not tomorrow...", "beautiful friendship". That's five, at least, all super-famous lines. Pretty cool.
I also really liked the club and how the camera would cut quickly from one side of the room to the next as we'd follow people walking across it. For the first forty five minutes or so, we never even leave the club and I was kind of hoping it would be that way all the way until the end. I think that would've been a better choice, but I guess they didn't want it to look that claustrophobic.
Anyway, Bogey's definitely an odd choice for a romantic lead, but he makes it work, and Claude Rains is pretty funny as Renault. I'm glad I finally saw this.

Stars: Four out of five.

Next, horse heads and tomato plants in "The Godfather".

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