81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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September 4th, 2009 · No Comments · 1943, Black and White, Casablanca, Claude Rains, Composer: Max Steiner, Drama, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Michael Curtiz, Original Screenplay, Peter Lorre, Smoking, Sydney Greenstreet, War, Warner Bros. Pictures

Casablanca Every scene. Every song. Every character. Every line of dialogue. Every plot twist. Everything about Casablanca is perfect. If you haven’t seen this move, shame on you. Frankly, this is the one movie that should be issued at birth. “Mr. and Mrs. Stevens? You have a lovely baby daughter. Here’s the birth certificate. And her copy of Casablanca.”

Casablanca is the story (as if you didn’t know) of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), an American expatriate living in Casablanca during World War II. He owns Rick’s Cafe, a nightclub that is the hub of activity in Casablanca. When he was in Paris some years before, he fell in love with a beautiful woman named Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman). The two are madly, joyfully in love and speak of marriage and of leaving France together before the Germans occupy it. However, the day they are to leave by train, Ilsa doesn’t show up. Instead, she leaves Rick with a note that she’d given to Sam (Dooley Wilson), Rick’s piano-playing friend, that says she will never see him again. Rick boards the train and leaves, utterly heartbroken, without her.

One night, freedom fighter Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) arrives in Casablanca with his wife, Ilsa Lund, on his arm. He needs the letters of transit signed by General de Gaulle that Ugarte (Peter Lorre) had just killed two couriers to obtain. These letters will allow Laszlo and his wife to leave Casablanca without questions or detainment. Unfortunately, Ugarte had been captured by French Captain Renault (Claude Rains) and his men, then later killed by Nazi Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt). But not before Ugarte gives Rick the letters of transit for safekeeping. Rick sees Ilsa in his cafe and is heartbroken all over again. As the Nazis close in on Laszlo, Renault warns Rick not to get involved. Rick says, “I stick my neck out for nobody.” With time running out, and no letters of transit, Laszlo and Ilsa must find a way out of Casablanca. Rick let’s slip that he has the letters in his possession. So Laszlo appeals to Rick’s patriotism to obtain them. Rick, still hurt by Ilsa’s betrayal in Paris, refuses.

That’s the movie’s plot, simply stated. But what happens throughout is pure cinematic magic.

There are so many classic lines in Casablanca that I could fill a book with them. No movie has ever contained more snappy, clever, quotable lines. Ever. Examples:

Ugarte: You despise me, don’t you?
Rick: Well, if I gave you any thought, I probably would.

Ugarte: (laughing) But think of all the poor devils who can’t meet Renault’s price. So 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.
Yyvonne: Will I see you tonight?
Rick: I never make plans that far ahead.

CasablancaRenault: How extravagant you are, throwing way women like that. Some day they may be scarce. You know, I think now I shall pay a call on Yvonne. Maybe get her on the rebound, huh?
Rick: Well, when it comes to women, you’re a true democrat.

Renault: …I’ve often speculated on why you don’t return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Did you run off with the Senator’s wife? I’d like to think that you killed a man. It’s the romantic in me.
Rick: It was a combination of all three.
Renault: And what in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Renault: The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.

Strasser: Do you mind if I ask you a few questions? Unofficially, of course.
Rick: Make it official if you like.
Strasser: What is your nationality?
Rick: I’m a drunkard.
Renault: And that makes Rick a citizen of the world.

Renault: Oh, please, monsieur. It is a little game we play. They put it on the bill. I tear up the bill. It is very convenient.

CasablancaRick: Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.

Rick: …you know what I want to hear.
Sam: No, I don’t.
Rick: You played it for her. You can play it for me.
Sam: Well, I don’t think I can remember it –
Rick: If she can stand it I can. Play it.
Sam: Yes, boss.

Annina: Could I speak to you for just a moment, please?
Rick: How did you get in here? You’re under age.
Annina: I came with Captain Renault.
Rick: I should have known.
Annina: My husband is with me, too.
Rick: He is? Captain Renault’s getting broadminded.
Annina: Monsieur Rick. What kind of a man is Captain Renault?
Rick: Oh, he’s just like any other man. Only more so.

CasablancaWho can forget that stirring scene in Rick’s when Victor Laszlo battles the German’s in song, telling the band to play “La Marseillaise” rousing the audience to join in, drowning out “Lieb Vaterland,” the song the Germans had just (loudly) begun to sing. At the crescendo of “La Marseillaise,” The teary-eyed French shout “Vive La France!” The Germans concede they lost that musical battle and Major Strasser tells Captain Renault to close Rick’s Cafe.

Renault: But I have no excuse to close it.
Strasser: Find one.
Renault: Everybody is to leave here immediately! This cafe is closed until further notice! Clear the room at once!
Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Renault: I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Renault: Oh, thank you very much. Everybody out at once!

Rick: …inside of us we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work. The thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it.
Ilsa: No.
Rick: Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.
CasablancaIlsa: What about us?
Rick: We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we’d, we’d lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.
Ilsa: And I said I would never leave you.
Rick: And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, 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 o’ beans in this crazy world. Some day you’ll understand that. Now, now. Here’s looking at you, kid.

Renault: Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.

Renault: And that ten thousand francs should pay our expenses.
Rick: Our expenses?
Renault: Uh-huh.
Rick: Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

What a cast! Can you imagine assembling this line-up of actors:

Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957), Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982), Claude Rains (1889-1967), Peter Lorre (1904-1964), Sydney Greenstreet (1879-1954), Paul Henreid (1905-1992), Dooley Wilson (1894-1953), Madeleine Lebeau (1923-). According to Wikipedia: “Since the death of Joy Page in April 2008, [Madeleine] is the last surviving credited cast member of Casablanca.”

If I had to single out one actor (besides the obvious leads Bogart and Bergman), I’d choose character actor Sydney Greenstreet. His performance as Signor Ferrari in this movie is every bit as riveting as his role as Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon (1941), a movie in which he also starred with Bogart and Lorre. Greenstreet is a scene-stealer just by showing up, a joy to watch in every role he plays.

And let’s not forget director Michael Curtiz (1886-1962) and screenwriters Julius J. Epstein (1909-2000) and Philip G. Epstein (1909-1952) and Howard Koch (1901-1995).

Casablanca won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.

Screenwriting guru Robert McKee analyzes Casablanca frame by frame in his fabled Story seminars. As well he should. Casablanca is a screenwriter’s dream come true. The Holy Grail of screenwriting. If I live to be 499 years old, I’ll never write a script this good.

Casablanca is a sublime love story, wrapped in political intrigue, brimming over with memorable songs, and capped off by witty comedy. It is the perfect movie. Gone With the Wind may have been grander in scope – and, as of Casablanca in 1943, was still the only Oscar-winning movie in color – but Casablanca is the movie by which all others are measured. It is a masterpiece, a three-hanky tear-jerker that will be analyzed by film makers, and enjoyed by film lovers, forever.

“Mr. and Mrs. Baxter. You have a beautiful baby boy. Here’s the birth certificate. And his copy of Casablanca.”

All is well with the world.


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