Casablanca (DVD, 2009, 2-Disc Set, Special Edition) Reviews
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Casablanca (DVD, 2009, 2-Disc Set, Special Edition)

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Everybody Comes to Rick's

Jan 17, 2012
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Some of its expressions and aphorisms have entered our English language.

Cons:Some of its language is necessarily dated by now.

The Bottom Line: Arguably the best movie of all time.


The usual suspects

After Pearl Harbor ("Dec., 1941 in Casablanca") a diverse lot of refugees was trying to come to America, getting squeezed through French Morocco and bottled up in Casa­blanca, awaiting an exit visa. Two German couriers coming by train to Casa­blanca have been murdered and robbed of “two letters of transit signed by General DeGaulle” giving the bearers un­limited travel privi­leges. One Ugarte (Peter Lorre) has come upon them who in turn passes them to Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) for safe keeping. He is the owner of Rick's Café Américain, a night­club cum gambling den cum espion­age hub (“Every­body comes to Rick's.”) Ugarte is killed with­out revealing their where­abouts.

Coming to Rick's in hopes of acquiring them is renowned Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and his lovely wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) who has met Rick before (“I knew there was some­thing between you and Ilsa.”) Coming from Germany to stop Laszlo from fleeing Casa­blanca is Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt) aided by the local prefect Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains.) We see in flash­back how Rick became jaded from a dis­as­trous love affair with Ilsa, so who knows how he'll react to her husband's request?

Play it again, Sam.

“Casablanca” conveys overtones of a musical for its lively big band playing at Rick's. “[T]hat boy playing the piano” could have been re­ferred to, in the par­lance of that time & place, as a black­a­moor, or to use a PC term from our own time (going from here to there rather than coming from there to here) an American-African, or to translate that into French (with their reverse word order) Africain-Américain. His musical number des­cribing him­self was “Shine.” Before we get all bent out of shape over what to call him, I'd like to point out that what has passed into legend is the expression, “Play it again, Sam,” which is respect­ful enough. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

The rest of the characters don't have each his own defining musical number, but most get screen time to define who they are. Ilsa hums a tune “As Time Goes By” to persuade Sam to play it, being a defining song of her relation­ship with Rick. There is a musical duel between the “Horst-Wessel-Song” and The “Marseil­laise,” the German patrons competing with the French & French sympathizers, with as much character partici­pation as one will see in any musical.

Married women

At the heart of the plot of “Casablanca” is the interplay of three types of marriage: ancient, Christian, and romantic. In ancient times women were chattel, property of their husbands. Here in Casa­blanca some wives became a bargaining chip for their husbands' freedom, used to persuade Captain Renault (“I'm only a poor corrupt official”) to grant them exit visas in exchange for “doing a bad thing.”

According to Dr. Ide, “The Contem­porary Christian standard was defined not by the bible but generated by Roman law as defined by the jurist Modest­inus who argued that marriage was ‘consortium omnis vitae, divini et humani iuris communi­catio: a life-long partner­ship, and a sharing of civil and religious rights’” (83-5). Ilsa and Laszlo have entered into a life-long part­ner­ship where civil rights have to do with carrying on the cause, and religious rights with the spiritual support needed of Ilsa after Laszlo endured torture from the Nazis. She'd married him from being over­awed by his famous persona, but still, marriage is marriage.

The romantic marriage is everybody's dream, what Rick had for Ilsa, they being genuinely in love, according to the words of their song: “Woman needs man, and man must have his mate/ Which no-one can deny.”

For the plot of “Casablanca” to resolve itself, each of these three marriage endeavors must set aside its own self-interest for the greater good of every­body. It is as Elder Porphyrios described in his treatise “On Love For One's Neighbor”: “On the Holy Mountain I once saw some­thing I liked very much. In a small boat out at sea there were monks who were carrying various sacred objects. Each of the monks came from a different place, but for all that they said, ‘this is ours’, and not ‘this is mine’” (181).

Knock on wood

The director originally slated for “Casablanca” was Howard Hawks who had trouble directing musical scenes like “La Marseil­laise,” so he switched movies with Michael Curtiz a Hungarian Jew who was supposed to direct “Sergeant York” but didn't under­stand American hill­billies. Curtiz did a fine job with the opening number at Rick's, “Knock on Wood.” Verse after verse, line after line, he had the whole joint knocking on cue, and even the viewing audience knocked with them, it was so infectious.

The custom of knocking on wood likely stems from pagan times when spirits were supposed to inhabit or guard trees. Christians appropriated it with wood standing for the cross. The cross meaning is conveyed in the movie when a heraldic (botonée) cross set in a signet ring was used as a means of identification. The scriptural basis for knocking on wood would be, (Prov. 3:5-6) “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own under­standing. In all thy ways acknow­ledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Knocking on wood to signify trust in the LORD removes inter­ference from ones own under­standing that would assert itself in a verbal prayer. This knocking on wood (trusting the LORD) sets the tone of the whole movie. A divine directing of paths is intimated by Rick's lament, “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

Leaning not to ones own under­standing can take many forms in practice; here we get our pick:

There is the Leuchtags' practicing (barely comprehensible) English in anticipation of their going away (“You will get along beautiful in America.”)

There's a banker's gruff, “Do you know who I am?”

Ugarte puts his foot in his mouth: “Hm, what right do I have to think, huh?”

There are mistakes about Laszlo's death: “We read five times that you were killed, in five different places.” ¶“As you can see, it was true every single time.”

There are mixups in table seating and mixups about Rick's past political allegiances.

There are questions just why Captain Renault allows Rick's to remain open (“Your winnings, sir.”)

There are questions about the captain: “Monsieur Rick, what kind of a man is Captain Renault?”

Sam has trouble playing “As Time Goes By.” “Oh, I can't remember it, Miss Ilsa.”

Rick and Ilsa may have changed since last they met (“I wasn't sure you were the same.”)

Rick doesn't know whom he was left for.

Captain Renault is the charmer. “I was informed that you were the most beautiful woman ever to visit Casa­blanca. That was a gross under­state­ment.”

Not understanding the war is nothing new, “Don't you sometimes wonder if it's worth all this? I mean what you're fighting for.”

Is Rick overestimated? “You give him credit for too much cleverness.”

Ilsa doesn't know what Rick thinks, “A franc for your thoughts.”

Who knows how the war will end. “Are you one of those people who cannot imagine the Germans in their beloved Paris? … How about New York?”

There's the bet between Renault and Rick whether Laszlo will escape.

Ugarte selling exit visas wonders about his reputation, “You despise me, don't you?”

Ilsa's logic for Rick is, “You have to think for both of us.”

Suspicion. “Where were you last night?”

Annina wonders if her new husband will forgive her if she takes up Renault's offer.

Why did Rick even come here: “What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?”

Major Strasser asks Rick, “What is your nationality?” ¶“I'm a drunkard.” ¶“We have a complete dossier on you.” … ¶“Are my eyes really brown?”

Victor Laszlo thinks he knows something: “I know a good deal more about you than you suspect.”

Rick and Ilsa knew little enough about each other (“Who are you really, and what were you before? What did you do and what did you think, huh?” ¶“We said no questions.” ¶“I'm sorry for asking. I forgot we said ‘no questions.’”)

Who is escaping, and with whom?

How unique is Nazi-ism? “You repeat Third Reich as though you expected there to be others!”

“Have you lost your mind?”

“Are you sure this place is honest?”

“Did you abscond with the church funds?”

“I was misinformed.”

“Are you pro Vichy or pro French?”

“I don't know what's right any more.”

And that is just a sampling. “Casablanca” is such a black hole of fundamental ignorance that we need to be knocking on wood just for every­body to come out okay who should.

Production values

“Casablanca” (1942) was based on a Broadway play that was never produced. Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein wrote the screen­play Every­body Comes to Rick's, but it was comedic in nature until Howard Koch made it a serious patriotic Casa­blanca to reflect war­time values. In fact he was writing it as they were producing it, the actors being given their lines the same day, so no­body knew exact­ly how it would turn out, who's the hero and who's the villain. For­tuitous­ly, that played right into the theme of having to trust Providence for an out­come that no-one could fore­see.

Before the war, movies had a narrative arc of a quiet reserved male hero whose woman had to teach him normality. “Casablanca” changed that to one where: we love each other, but we must give up our relation­ship for the good of every­body.

“Casablanca” was a B+ movie shot on the sound stages in Burbank, except for the air­post scene. Because of the delays as actors learned their lines made on the run, Warner Bros. Pictures had low expec­tations for its success. It was border­line propa­ganda / enter­tain­ment that now holds the gloss of a classic.

Ronald Reagan was supposed to have the part that went to Humphrey Bogart. Thank God for small favors.

Conclusion

“Casablanca” is arguably the best motion picture ever made. It is beyond my purview in a single review to make such a judgment, but you get the picture.

My recommendation is that you bring or sit on something wooden in order to participate in the “Knock on Wood” number. I used my 80% sugar­cane-based note­book whose cover is solid as a board and makes a nice “thonk” then I bonk it. The tune is infectious enough that you might find your­self hit­ting your port­able elec­tronic device it that's all you have, which might not be so good for the electronics. On second thought, remembering all the dis­tractions coming from palm-held glows in theater seats in front of me, knock your­self out.

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                                    Works Cited

Scripture taken from the King James Version, 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Ide, Arthur Frederick. Noah & the Ark: The Influence of Sex, Homo­phobia and Hetero­sexism in the Flood Story and its Writing. Las Colinas: Monument Press, 1992. Print.
.
"La Marseillaise" (1792). Written by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle.
Arranged by Max Steiner. Played during the opening credits. Sung by Madeleine Lebeau and others at Rick's. Variations played often in the score.

Modestinus. L. 1, Dig. 23:2. Extracted.

Porphyrios, Elder. Wounded By Love: The Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios. Limni, Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey Pub., 2005. Print.


Recommend this product? Yes


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