Casablanca (1942)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #17

They had a date with fate in Casablanca.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 102 minutes
BBFC: U
MPAA: PG (1992)

Original Release: 7th December 1942 (Brazil)
US Release: 23rd January 1943
UK Release: December 1942 (BBFC)
First Seen: DVD, 2006

Stars
Humphrey Bogart (The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep)
Ingrid Bergman (Notorious, Autumn Sonata)
Paul Henreid (Now, Voyager, Deception)
Claude Rains (The Invisible Man, Notorious)
Conrad Veidt (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Thief of Bagdad)

Director
Michael Curtiz (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Mildred Pierce)

Screenwriters
Julius J. Epstein (Arsenic and Old Lace, Cross of Iron)
Philip G. Epstein (Arsenic and Old Lace, The Last Time I Saw Paris)
Howard Koch (The Letter, Letter from an Unknown Woman)

Based on
Everybody Comes to Rick’s, an unproduced play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. (Despite the film’s popularity, a legal dispute between the playwrights and Warner Bros meant it wasn’t staged until 1991.)

The Story
Controlled by the German-subservient French government, Morocco in 1941 is a congregation point for German officials, collaborating French, and refugees attempting to get to neutral America. When letters of transit allowing that passage come into the possession of nightclub owner Rick Blaine at the same time as the love of his life, Ilsa Lund, walks into his joint with her husband, Resistance leader Victor Laszlo, Rick has some tough decisions to make — and quickly, with corrupt police captain Renault hunting for the letters and German Major Strasser gunning for Laszlo…

Our Hero
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, everybody comes to Rick’s. That’s because Rick is Humphrey Bogart. You’d go to a bar run by Humphrey Bogart, wouldn’t you?

Our Heroine
The most beautiful woman to ever visit Casablanca (a gross understatement), here’s looking at you, Ingrid Bergman. (Yes, I added this section pretty much just to say that.)

Our Villains
It’s set during World War 2 so, I mean, who do you think?

Best Supporting Character
Claude Rains was the Invisible Man, but here he’s Captain Louis Renault, a corrupt copper who — despite being fourth-billed in a film packed with memorable dialogue — still gets a good many of the best lines.

Memorable Quote
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” — Rick

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” — Rick

The Most Famous Misquote in Movie History
“Play it again, Sam.” — Rick
(Ilsa says, “Play it once, Sam,” and, “Play it, Sam.” Rick says, “You played it for her, you can play it for me. If she can take it, I can take it, so play it!”)

Memorable Scene
As Laszlo boards the plane out of Casablanca, Isla thinks she’s staying with Rick… until he convinces her to go. Standing in the doorway of an aircraft hanger, it’s probably the film’s most iconic scene — if you’ve not seen it, you’ve certainly seen it parodied.

Memorable Song
You must remember this: a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh. The fundamental things apply, As Time Goes By. Play it again, Sam!

Making of
Casey Robinson re-wrote the film’s romantic scenes and was offered a credit, but turned it down because he only took credit for screenplays he wrote entirely himself. Of course, with that decision he missed out on winning an Oscar.

Awards
3 Oscars (Picture, Director, Screenplay)
5 Oscar nominations (Actor (Humphrey Bogart), Supporting Actor (Claude Rains), Black-and-White Cinematography, Editing, Score)

What the Critics Said
“bear in mind that it goes heavy on the love theme. Although the title and Humphrey Bogart’s name convey the impression of high adventure rather than romance, there’s plenty of the latter for the femme trade. Adventure is there, too, but it’s more as exciting background to the Bogart-Bergman heart department. Bogart, incidentally, as a tender lover (in addition to being a cold-as-ice nitery operator) is a novel characterization” — Variety

Score: 97%

What the Public Say
“the script’s greatest strength is not quotability. It’s character development. Rick, Ilsa, Renault and Laszlo are complex individuals, about whom we care, no matter their flaws. Sam (Dooley Wilson), an African American pianist, is layered by loyalty to Rick and emotional acuity, while Major Strasser, the antagonist, is not a comic book villain. Because he’s a Nazi, we do not like the Major, but director Michael Curtiz and his writers are smart enough not to make him stereotypically evil, instead opting to develop him as determined and efficient. Because all of the characters are so genuine, the filmmakers earn our emotional investment” — Josh, Cinema Parrot Disco

Verdict

Casablanca is remembered now as much for its selection of ever-quotable lines as for anything else — you don’t have to have seen the film to know that if you go walking into all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world and someone’s looking at you, kid, then maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon you should round up all the usual suspects again, Sam, for the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Or something. It’s much more than that, though: an engaging romantic drama, with enough overtones of noir to keep it snappy, set in perhaps a ’40s equivalent of the Wild West. It may be three-quarters of a century old next year, but it still merits playing again.

#18 will see… Bond begin.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

2009 #94
Sidney Lumet | 122 mins | TV | PG / PG

Murder on the Orient ExpressMurder on the Orient Express is arguably Agatha Christie’s most famous novel, perhaps because of its widely-known twist ending, or perhaps because it’s inspired in part by a high-profile true story, or perhaps because of this multi-Oscar-nominated all-star adaptation.

The plot is the stereotypical Christie set up: a group of fairly well-off people find themselves in a confined setting, one is killed, a sleuth works out who. This time it’s a train rather than a luxurious mansion, but the basics are there. This isn’t a criticism — I enjoy a good Christie adaptation as much as everyone else who’s kept the current TV incarnation on air for 21 years (and counting) — and here at least Christie has a number of twists to her usual style. As mentioned its launching point is a true story, the Armstrong kidnapping and murder being based on the Lindbergh kidnap of 1932 (just a couple of years before the book was written); the snow-bound train’s location (very apt after our recent weather) is certainly different to a stereotypical country estate setting; and then there’s the infamous ending.

I won’t spoil it here, just in case anyone doesn’t know it. Some are very critical of this particular denouement, labeling it an unsatisfactory cop-out that doesn’t make sense. Neither of these things are true. It is not reliant on an extraordinary coincidence — it might look that way at first, but the full explanation reveals it to be anything but — and there are numerous clues along the way as to what it might be, even if some are more thematic than the actual red herrings that almost lead Poirot astray. It’s a shame that knowledge of the ending is quite widespread these days, though that’s perhaps inevitable for a 76-year-old story. Still, I’ve done my bit.

In the lead role, Albert Finney’s Poirot may have received an Oscar nomination and, more importantly, been approved by Christie herself (according to some; according to others, she wasn’t impressed), but he now pales in the inevitable comparison with David Suchet’s definitive portrayal of the Belgian detective. Suchet has defined Poirot in a way few other major franchisable characters have been (Connery may be widely accepted as the best Bond, but there are plenty who’d choose Moore, Craig, Dalton and Brosnan, and you may even find someone who likes Lazenby; equally, Sherlockians may divide themselves between Rathbone and Brett, not to mention Cushing and hundreds of others). He has the advantage of being able to perfect the role across hundreds of hours of television, but nonetheless stands proud as the high-watermark that others can only try to reach (even those who played the role 15 years earlier).

Finney’s version is more obviously comical than Suchet’s. Where humour in the latter is derived from his serious fastidiousness, Finney plays it more for laughs; where Suchet seems almost solemn in his investigations Finney frequently bursts into laughter. It’s a broader interpretation of the character, one that ultimately lacks subtlety. At least Finney is thoroughly subsumed in the role, which means that after a while one does become accustomed to it.

The rest of the cast are well suited to their roles. Ingrid Bergman won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role, though one wonders if it was a weak year for the category as her part is miniscule and not particularly memorable. Elsewhere, famous names such as Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Michael York, and many more, round out a truly star-studded ensemble where each has but a small part to play. It must be relatively easy to attract big names to Christie adaptations — as the TV series still do — when the author is so beloved and the amount of time required to shoot is (for a guest star) so small. Best here, perhaps, is Martin Balsam as Poirot’s friend Bianchi, who’s treated to several good scenes, not least the series of interviews where after each he confidently declares “it was them!”

As a standalone film, Murder on the Orient Express is a skilled effort (I can’t comment on its quality as an adaptation because I’ve never read the book). For a viewer so familiar with Suchet’s interpretation of the character, however, even an all-star cast can’t quite remove the feeling that it’s not quite right. The Suchet-starring adaptation of this particular case has been filming recently, hopefully for broadcast later in 2010 (though knowing ITV we could have to wait as long as 2012), but even though it’ll have the definitive Poirot leading its cast, this film leaves a lot to live up to.

4 out of 5

(Originally posted on 15th January 2010.)