70 Years of Looking at You, Kid

19 Mar

On a morning from a Bogart movie/In a country where they turn back time/You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre/Contemplating a crime…

Al Stewart (from “The Year of the Cat”)

Humphrey Bogart (l) as Rick, and Ingrid Bergman (r) as Ilsa in Casablanca: “…it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Begging your pardon, Rick, but generations of moviegoers respectfully disagree.

On Wednesday, March 21, Turner Classic Movies will sponsor screenings of 1942 Warner Bros’ classic Casablanca in theaters all across the nation to help celebrate the movie’s 70th anniversary and to promote the launch of the Blu-Ray edition–along with a newly spruced up DVD version–the following week [1].  Of course,  Casablanca won’t officially turn 70 until November.  Interesting story, that. Casablanca opened in New York, but apparently not California, in November of 1942. If it had opened in LA at or about the same time, it would have competed for the 1942 Oscars. Instead, its wide release, which presumably included the West Coast, was delayed until early 1943, and that is how a 1942 release won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1943–at a ceremony held in 1944.

For the uninitiated, and surely that is almost no one who would take the time to read a blog such as this, Casablanca is a WWII era story of romance and intrigue that takes place in the French governed Moroccan port city which gives the movie its name.  A voiceover during an opening montage explains that people fleeing the war  in Europe–and/or the threat of Nazi concentration camps–look to Casablanca for safe passage; meanwhile, a weary  American expatriate and cafe owner (Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart) experiences conflicting emotions when an old flame (Ilsa Lund, played by Ingrid Bergman) wanders into  Rick’s place. She brings with her a courageous hero of the resistance movement (Victor Laszlo, played by Paul Henreid).  Of course, outwardly it might seem like a routine love triangle, but the tension of war, and what it means–its costs to the three principles–gives it extra heft. Plus, the picture moves at an exhilarating pace that keeps building suspense right up until the very end.

Oh sure, the age difference between Bogie and Bergman is a little disconcerting. He was in his early 40s at the time; Bergman was not quite yet 30, but chemistry works because Bergman was womanly or worldly in a way that today’s actresses are not often allowed to portray. Instead, they are often encouraged to play everything on a much more girlish level (not always, but often), which doesn’t do any of us a favor.  God forbid a woman should want to appear as a grown-up rather than a nymphet. Furthermore, the age difference between Rick and Ilsa is mentioned throughout the script, so it’s not as if the filmmakers back away from it or try to normalize it. Plus, as Ilsa’s story unfolds, it makes sense that she would look to an older man for comfort, but maybe that’s a little too easy.  Finally, that discrepancy is somewhat balanced by the fact that Bergman and Henreid are much closer in age–a difference of about 7 years. Of course, he’s still older.

There are many myths and legends about the making of the Casablanca, including an oft-reported story that it was to star Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan (the so-called “Oomph Girl”). There is another report that neither the writers nor the actors knew how the movie was going to end until the last day of shooting. I’ll leave the accuracy of those stories for scholars and other enthusiasts to debate. Here are some of the particulars that are not up for debate.  Besides Bogart, Bergman, and Henreid, the cast is chockful of marvelously memorable character actors, most notably Claude Rains as the slippery Captain Louis Renault, Peter Lorre, natch, as scheming Ugarte, ever reliable Sydney Greenstreet as the shady Signor Ferrari, S.Z. Sakall as Carl, Rick’s head waiter,  Conrad Veidt as the imposing Nazi, Major Strasser, and Dooley Wilson as Bogart’s piano playing sidekick, Sam. Of course, modern audiences will no doubt wince when Bergman’s Ilsa refers to Sam as a “boy,” so consider yourself warned. The film was directed by Michael Curtiz, whose many other credits include Captain Blood, Four Daughters, Angels with Dirty Faces. and Yankee Doodle Dandy.  Per the internet Movie Database, Curtiz was a write-in candidate for Best Director the year of Captain Blood (and came in second); he was officially Oscar nominated for the other three pictures–and that doesn’t even include the likes of  The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Mildred Pierce, and White Christmas.  Hal B. Wallis is credited as the film’s producer. Like Curtiz, he has an impressive filmography: Yankee Doodle DandyNow, Voyager, Watch on the Rhine, Rhapsody in Blue, and Come Back Little Sheba.  The official screenwriters of Casablanca are Howard Koch, Julius Epstein, and Philip Epstein though, again, there are conflicting reports about who wrote what, exactly. Plus, there is reason to believe that a number of uncredited writers contributed to the film. It was actually based on an unproduced play entitled Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett and Joan Allison.

Can you believe that at the time of the 1943 Oscars, Casablanca was not the favorite? The year’s most nominated film was The Song of Bernadette, which went into the final stretch with 12 nods though its only win in the major categories was for Jennifer Jones’s leading performance.  Even For Whom the Bell Tolls, which also starred Ingrid Bergman (and for which she was nominated rather than Casablanca) scored 9 nominations to Casablanca’s 8.  Of course, it bears repeating that back in the early 1940s, major studios  such as Warner Bros., MGM, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and RKO were in the business of releasing movies on the average of one per week (per studio).  Good pictures produced on a budget and featuring top stars were the order of the day. Of course, the studios were always in the business of making money, but the insatiable appetite to produce blockbuster after blockbuster for one target audience wasn’t the same as it is today; after all, if one picture didn’t hit, there would be another one in the marketplace the very next week–and while tie-ins were great, there was no need to produce a movie that could be translated into a video game and a theme park ride. Furthermore, each studio had its own identity, its own stars, and was often better at delivering films of one genre rather than another. Casablanca was a hit, reportedly one of the year’s 10 biggest, but not in the top 2 0r 3 and hardly a blockbuster [2]. This was also an era in which it made sense to have ten Best Picture nominees due to the sheer number of films in competition [3]; after all, the above list of studios doesn’t even include the likes of Columbia, Universal, or United Artists.  Today, the Academy has as many as 10 nominees in the hopes that a blockbuster aimed at boys ages 14 through 18 will luck into a slot in the race and potentially boost the ratings of the awards telecast.

Casablanca actually won 3 Oscars out of 8 nominations:

  • Best Picture  w
  • Best Director (Michael Curtiz) w
  • Best Original Screenplay  (Koch, Epstein, & Epstein) w [4]
  • Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains)
  • Best Cinematography  (Arthur Edeson)
  • Best Film Editing (Owen Marks)
  • Best Original Score (Max Steiner)
Not all the intrigue of the 1943 Oscars is onscreen in Casablanca. For example,  even though Hal. B. Wallis is credited as the producer of Casablanca, he did not take home the Oscar for Best Picture because in those days, the heads of studios–in this case, Jack L. Warner–were awarded the trophies for Best Picture winners. Luckily, that same year Wallis was the recipient of the Academy’s Irving G. Thalberg award for “creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.”  His filmography includes another 1943 Best Picture nominee about the Nazi resistance, Watch on the Rhine, not to mention such patriotic movies as Air Force and This is the Army from the same year.  Good call.  Wallis would later score nominations for producing such Best Picture contenders as The Rose Tattoo, Becket, and Anne of the Thousand Days.  Bogart lost in his category to Paul Lukas (Watch on the Rhine); Rains lost to Charles Coburn (The More the Merrier). Furthermore, even though famed composer Max Steiner earned a nod for his work, Herman Hupfeld’s “As Time Goes By,” the song most associated with Casablanca, was ineligible for awards consideration that year since it had been around since the 1930s.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but only an idiot would fail to see the influence that Casablanca had on Steve Soderbergh’s 2006 film, The Good German.

Casablanca‘s impact can be felt in a number of ways; after all,  grosses only show what moviegoers were flocking to at a given time, but not whether people actually liked what they saw. On the other hand, Oscars often reflect an industry bias and are really only as good as the movies being made at the time. To clarify, in his book Alternate Oscars, Danny Peary asserts that there was not a single movie in release during 1963 that was worthy of the prestige, the standard of excellence, that comes with the Academy award for Best Picture [5]. At other times, Peary only lists one or two finalists rather than the typical Academy slate of five nominees in the major categories. The Academy does not actually have that luxury: there will be a winner for Best Picture and all the other major categories each and every year regardless of how strong or weak. After all, the Academy isn’t always crowning the next Casablanca for the purposes of a time capsule. The point is to simply acknowledge what stood out the best, or the most, in a given year.  Even so, Casablanca has more than withstood the test of time:

  • In 1989, more than 40 years after it was released, it was included among the first 25 films selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Of course, the list included all the usual suspects: Citizen Kane, Gone with the Wind, High Noon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Searchers, Singin’ in the RainSome Like It Hot, Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, etc. [6]
  • In its first retrospective of 100 Years…100 Movies, the American Film Institute lauded Casablanca just under No. 1 pick Citizen Kane on its list of the greatest American movies made during the first century of filmmaking. To clarify, the AFI selections were made by  “more than 1,500 leaders from across the American film community — screenwriters, directors, actors, producers, cinematographers, editors, executives, film historians and critics” [7].
  • In the 2002 AFI retrospective, 100 Years…100 Thrills, Casablanca placed 37th.
  • A year later, Casablanca topped the AFI’s list of 100 Years…100 Passions (Gone with the Wind‘s Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler had to settle for second place, so let the bickering begin.)
  • 2003’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains saw Bogart’s Rick Blaine at number 4 on the list of good guys.  (Bogie and Bergman also came in at 1 and 4, respectively, on the AFI list of the greatest 100 stars–50 male/50 female–in 1999.)
  • Naturally, “As Time Goes by” came in at number 2, right behind The Wizard of Oz‘s “Over the Rainbow,” on the AFI roster of 100 Years..100 Songs
  • Not surprisingly, when the AFI spotlighted the 100 most quotable lines of dialogue, Casablanca had more entries–six–than any other film; the highest of those was “Here’s looking at you, kid,” which came in a number 5.
  • Casablanca came in at number 37 on the AFI list of most inspirational movies in 2006.
  • A full 10 years after the initial AFI retrospective, an updated version of the original list appeared, and Casablanca had dropped only from number 2 to number 3, being replaced by The Godfather. I respectfully disagree, but then I disagree with Citizen Kane as the number 1 choice, so there.

Still again, while being included on so many lists is noteworthy, a work of art makes a long lasting impression in other ways. Casablanca, like Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, and, okay, maybe Citizen Kane and The Godfather, is so ingrained in the public consciousness that even millions of Americans who have never seen the movie have no doubt felt its influence. Who of us haven’t at one time or another said “Here’s looking at you kid,” or something about “the usual suspects” (as I just did in a previous bullet point), or, of course, “Play it again, Sam” even though the original line has often been misquoted.  Right? Look at the 1995 winner for Best Original Screenplay, The Usual Suspects by Christopher McQuarrie, or Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam for further proof. In 1972’s What’s Up, Doc?, Barbra Streisand serves her best Bogie impersonation to Ryan O’Neal (“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…”) before serenading him with “As Time Goes By.” Go to the Casablanca page on the Internet Movie Database, click on the subheading for “Movie Connections,” and you will find dozens upon dozens, maybe hundreds, of instances in which other movies and TV shows allude to Casablanca, including multiple episodes of The Simpsons, a Warner’s cartoon short entitled Carrotblanca (with Bugs Bunny as Rick, Daffy Duck as Sam,  and Tweety Bird right on target  as Lorre’s Ugarte), the Marx Brothers’ A  Night in Casablanca, the James Bond movie Diamonds are Forever, Breaking Bad, Castle, General Hospital, The Gilmore Girls, The Good German, Gossip Girl, House M.D.,  Jeopardy, The Lion King, Lost in Translation, Modern Family, NCIS, The O.C., Saturday Night LiveSeinfeld, That ’70s Show, Two and a Half Men, Veronica Mars, The West Wing, White Collar, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Will and Grace, and many, many, more.

The American Film Institute got it right when it spotlighted so much of Casablanca‘s dialogue. As many of the shows mentioned in the previous paragraph attest, the movie is probably as frequently quoted as anything ever written by Shakespeare, including Hamlet, so here we go (in no particular order)…

  • Captain Renault:  In 1935, you ran guns to Ethiopia. In 1936, you fought in Spain, on the Loyalist side.
    Rick: I got well paid for it on both occasions.
    Captain Renault: The winning side would have paid you much better.
  • Ilsa: I wasn’t sure you were the same. Let’s see, the last time we met…
    Rick: Was La Belle Aurore.
    Ilsa: How nice, you remembered. But of course, that was the day the Germans marched into Paris.
    Rick: Not an easy day to forget.
    Ilsa: No.
    Rick: I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.
  • Senor Ferrari: As the leader of all illegal activities in Casablanca, I am an influential and respected man.
  • Ugarte: You despise me, don’t you?
    Rick: If I gave you any thought I probably would.
  • Ugarte: Rick, think of all the poor devils who can’t meet Renault’s price. I get it for them for half. Is that so… parasitic?
    Rick: I don’t mind a parasite. I object to a cut-rate one.
  • Yvonne: Where were you last night?
    Rick: That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.
    Yvonne: Will I see you tonight?
    Rick: I never make plans that far ahead.
  • Captain Renault: What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?
    Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
    Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.
    Rick: I was misinformed.
  • Rick: I stick my neck out for nobody!
  • Major Strasser: What is your nationality?
    Rick: I’m a drunkard.
  • Ilsa: Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’ (AFI No. 28)
  • Rick: You know what I want to hear.
    Sam: [lying] No, I don’t.
    Rick: You played it for her, you can play it for me!
    Sam: [lying] Well, I don’t think I can remember…
    Rick: If she can stand it, I can! Play it!
  • Rick: Who are you really, and what were you before? What did you do and what did you think, huh?
    Ilsa: We said no questions.
    Rick: …Here’s looking at you, kid. (AFI No. 5)
  • Rick: Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine. (AFI No. 67)
  • Rick: And remember, this gun is pointed right at your heart.
    Captain Renault: That is my least vulnerable spot.
  • Rick: Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.
  • Rick: Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. (AFI No. 20)
  • Rick: I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
  • Captain Renault: Round up the usual suspects. (AFI No. 32)
  • Rick: We’ll always have Paris. (AFI No. 43) [8]

I doubt I’ll see Casablanca on the big screen this week. Oh, sure, I’d love it, but the timing just isn’t right. Plus, I’m lucky because I’ve already seen it on the big screen, more than once I’m sure.  The last time was during the 50th anniversary re-release  in 1992. Yep, those were the days. I was on good terms with the manager and/or assistant manager of the Inwood theater at the time, and my friend and I were whisked inside the theater without having to stand in a very long line on a Saturday night. Good times. If you’re a film aficionado, especially classic films, you should check out the link at the end of this article and make the effort to see the movie at least once on a big screen.  Remember, this was a film that was made in an era in which close-ups–in glorious black and white–were designed to be seen on a big screen rather than a laptop computer or some other compact, smaller than life, device.

I also doubt that I’ll rush out to buy the Blu-Ray, but, of course, I’ll always have my DVD, right? Oh sure, the new DVD has all kinds of extra features, and that most definitely appeals to me, but I simply can’t buy every new edition that comes along. Actually, I’m just holding out for the 75th anniversary edition, right? The DVD that I own doesn’t have a lot of features though there is an interesting “making of” featurette introduced and narrated by Bogie’s widow and sometime co-star, Lauren Bacall.  One fun thing I learned from the documentary is that during the climactic airport scene, a forced-perspective mock-up of a plane was used for background effect, but in order for the illusion to be successful and read properly, “little people” actors had to be hired to portray the crew working on the plane (of course, the person on the DVD doesn’t use the term “little people,” but, once again, I digress).
     Since I began writing this, I’ve learned–as have we all–about the death of John Demjanjuk, the Ukrainian man who was convicted of war crimes and accused of being known as “Ivan the Terrible,” a sadistic Nazi guard at the Treblinka death camp. The passing of this man reminds me, as if I need to be, what playwright Murray Bennett saw and felt when he visited Europe in the late 1930s (before the United States’ involvement in the war), as well as the state the world was in when Casablanca was released, and why it resonated with moviegoers back in the day–and why it should matter 70 years later when people in power–or trying to win power–don’t always understand notions of dignity and human rights.  Who can forget the powerful scene in which Henreid’s Laszlo leads Rick’s house band in “La Marseillaise” to counter–to drown out–the German officers’ anthem?  The rousing scene gives me chills every time, especially the way Ilsa looks at Laszlo across the crowded room.  Ah yes, here’s looking at you, indeed.
Thanks for your consideration…

[1] More details on the TCM Casablanca event and the Blu-Ray release:

http://tinyurl.com/72xvozx

[2] Tracking the grosses of movies in the 1940s is not as easy as tracking the grosses of movies from the past 10-20 years. Part of the problem is that simple box office grosses were not the norm back in the day. In the so-called Golden era of Hollywood, the method of reporting was based on studio rentals, that is, the portion of ticket sales that were paid to the studios by the exhibitors; however, trying to extrapolate a gross based on studio rentals is complicated as well, and who knows what records–from 70 years ago–can be trusted. That noted, various, and not entirely reliable, Internet sources put Casablanca in the 1943 top 10; however, Cobbett Feinberg’s Reel Facts: The Movie Book of Records (Vintage Books, 1978) lists Casablanca, alphabetically, as one  of 1943’s top 24 hits (page 342) without further explanation.

[3] Even so, the 1943/44 race was the last time, until the 2009/10 race, that the Academy allowed 10 nominees for Best Picture. Besides Casablanca, The Song of Bernadette, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Watch on the Rhine, the rest of the race included Heaven Can Wait (not to be confused with the 1978 Warren Beatty film of the same name, which was also a Best Picture nominee), The Human Comedy, In Which We Serve, Madame Curie, The More the Merrier, and The Ox-Bow Incident. It’s interesting to me that three of the films, Casablanca, In Which We Serve, and Watch on the Rhine, deal with WWII  and the fight against fascism while For Whom the Bell Tolls is set during WWI; meanwhile, The Ox-Bow Incident, starring Henry Fonda, is a fact-based account of vigilante justice gone wrong and is included, along with Casablanca, in the National Film Registry.

[4] Koch was also nominated for 1941’s Sergeant York; Philip Epstein died at the age of 42 in 1952. His other credits include Mr. Skeffington, Arsenic and Old Lace, Romance on the High Seas, and The Last Time I Saw Paris, all of which he co-wrote with his brother. His only Oscar nomination is for Casablanca. On the other hand, twin brother Julius Epstein continued writing through the early 1980s; earning an Oscar nomination for 1984’s  Reuben, Reuben (he was approximately 75 at the time); he was also nominated for 1972’s Pete ‘n’ Tillie. He died in 2000 at the age of 91. Also, composer Max Steiner had just won the year before for his classic Now, Voyager score (which you might not be able to recall presently but would probably remember if you were to hear it).  Of course, Steiner also famously composed the familiar score to Gone with the Wind–he lost that one to The Wizard of Oz, natch.  Steiner actually boasts 3 Oscar wins out of 24 nominations though some of those nominations were courtesies afforded to him as the head of the music department at a particular studio, which was the norm from the 1930s until the 1950s.

[5] Peary, Danny. Alternate Oscars. New York: Delta, 1993.  1963: p. 168; btw: Of course, Peary has no quibble with Casablanca as the Academy’s choice for Best Picture of 1943.  He also takes away Lukas’s Oscar and gives it to Bogie (pgs 69 – 72).

[6] Official National Film Registry site: http://www.loc.gov/film/filmnfr.html

Also: National Film Registry inductees by year at the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/event/ev0000468/

[7] A complete and official  look at all the AFI “100 Years…” lists:

http://www.afi.com/100years/

[8] Memorable quotes from Casablanca at the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034583/quotes

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2 Responses to “70 Years of Looking at You, Kid”

  1. Lezlie King 30 April 2012 at 8:51 am #

    I didn’t get a chance to go see it in March, but was fortunate to get a second chance last week. I’m guessing they had a really good response to the first special screening.

    I’d never seen Casablanca on the big screen. And something I realized as I was marveling over how ethereally beautiful Ingrid Bergman was on the big screen, I’d never seen her larger than my TV screen until she was much older. It really was glorious. I don’t know if they enhanced the sound or added some in, but I’d never noticed the sound of Rick pouring his drink when he is wallowing all alone in his misery later the first night at his bar.

    I’m a terrible skinflint when it comes to paying more for movie tickets now. I’m strictly a matinee kinda gal. But the $14 for this ticket was more than worth it. ($25 for drinks at Northpark not so much!) I’m so glad I got a chance to see this.

    • listen2uraunt 30 April 2012 at 11:36 am #

      Hi Lezlie,
      I’m glad you finally got the chance to see it on the big screen at last. You make an interesting point about Bergman. Thanks for reading! 🙂

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