Top 50 - #1 - Casablanca

Well, I really can't put it off any more, not after watching this wonderful, wonderful film for what was probably the 6th or 7th time yesterday. See, there was a house dinner. And one of my house mates has a Casablanca poster in his room, but had never seen the film. I'd been pestering him to watch it for a long time, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. "But it's black and white!" he protested. "I'll fall asleep!".

I bristled. So did another one of my house mates -one who had been mildly OK with watching the film - but not for the same reason. "Wait, it's BLACK AND WHITE? No, no way, it'll be boring." Luckily, I can be pretty persuasive, and I managed to coerce them into watching 30 minutes of the film. If they found it too boring then, the deal was, we'd switch it off and pick a color film to watch. Needless to say, we watched until the moment Louis and Rick walk off in the fog.

I know, lists of this kind, those made by the more discerning film buffs at least, are usually dominated by another black and white film, one that doesn't even appear on the list: I am talking, of course, of Citizen Kane. Thing is, while I greatly admire Citizen Kane, while I can see why it is revered and still innovative after all these years, I can't muster up any love for it. It's just too cold and analytic an exercise, with no room for real emotion, for any lovely flaws.

Casablanca does have flaws. When Ilsa says "was that cannon fire, or is that my heart pounding?" it's corny, too corny in this instance, and "The Germans wore gray. You were blue" is also stretching it a little, but the film's willing corniness works, it wins you over. And I mean, who can remember any quotes from Citizen Kane besides "Rosebud"? Contrast this with this film, which gave us "Here's looking at you, kid", "Play it once, Sam, for old times sake" "If she can stand it I can! Play it!", "I stick my neck out for nobody", "We'll always have Paris", "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!" "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship", "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine" and so many more.

Ah, but you say, Citizen Kane is all about cinematography! To which I reply, Citizen Kane is all about showing off. Yes, the camera in Casablanca moved in much more conventional ways, but it is above all effective. Take the shot which introduces us to Rick: first the check, the hand signing it "OK Rick", then taking the cigarette and in one smooth movement showing us the face of our hero.

Ah, Rick. Yes, Ingrid Bergman is glowing here, more beautiful than ever, but to me this movie belongs to Bogart. His Rick is so wounded, but he doesn't want to be pitied, doesn't want to be weak, and it's through his bitterness that it shows. The way he delivers lines like "Or aren't you the one that tells", with a sneer: it's mean, it's lashing out, but it's also profoundly touching, more so than any doe-eyes could ever have been. He doesn't "emote" in the way male actors sometimes try now, but his emotions are obvious.

Well, I don't pretend to be able to add something to all that has already been said about this film, let alone something insightful. I just love this film. And I don't think I can share that any better than by leaving you with some more wonderful exchanges:

Captain Renault: Carl, see that Major Strasser gets a good table, one close to the ladies.
Carl: I have already given him the best, knowing he is German and would take it anyway.


Captain Renault: Rick, there are many exit visas sold in this café, but we know that you've never sold one. That is the reason we permit you to remain open.
Rick: Oh? I thought it was because I let you win at roulette.
Captain Renault: That is another reason.


Ilsa: Don't, Rick! I can understand how you feel.
Rick: [scoffs] You understand how I feel. How long was it we had, honey?
Ilsa: [on the verge of tears] I didn't count the days.
Rick: Well, I did. Every one of 'em. Mostly I remember the last one. The wild finish. A guy standing on a station platform in the rain with a comical look in his face because his insides have been kicked out.


Major Strasser: You give him credit for too much cleverness. My impression was that he's just another blundering American.
Captain Renault: We musn't underestimate American blundering. I was with them when they blundered into Berlin in 1918.


Rick: And remember, this gun is pointed right at your heart.
Captain Renault: That is my least vulnerable spot.


Major Strasser: Are you one of those people who cannot imagine the Germans in their beloved Paris?
Rick: It's not particularly my beloved Paris.
Heinz: Can you imagine us in London?
Rick: When you get there, ask me!
Captain Renault: Hmmh! Diplomatist!
Major Strasser: How about New York?
Rick: Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade.


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.


Major Strasser: What is your nationality?
Rick: I'm a drunkard.
Captain Renault: That makes Rick a citizen of the world.



cjKennedy said...

The weird thing for me Hedwig is not that you share one of my all time favorites as your favorite (and curse you for making us wait so long!!), but that you would capture my same feeling about seemingly everyone else's favorite movie Citizen Kane.

Don't get me wrong, CK is terrific fun and it's an exercise in the possiblities of cinematography and editing and all that jazz, but it's a fundementally cold piece of business where Casablanca grabs you by the heart...if you HAVE a heart that is.

You might take some crap for making this your #1, but not from me.

And it IS Bogie's movie. Here's a dirty litty secret about me...I'm not a huge Ingrid Bergman fan (though she was never better than in Notorious), but Bogie is so sad in this movie! There's a point where he realizes that Ilsa didn't betray him, but that she was doing the right thing and he KNOWS it but it doesn't make him feel any better. It almost makes it worse that he can't hate her for leaving him!

Great great stuff, and how can you not love him for that??

I love love love this movie. Nice pick!

john said...

Just wanted to say thanks.

I StumbleUpon'd the blog and saw the top 50 - I was so scandalised by the Big Lebowskie being so low I came back for the no.1.

I dl'd Casablanca having read the review & having always avoided it before - it was absolutely superb. I'm looking for Jules et Jim and I may stretch to the Princess Bride :)

Hedwig said...

You know, comments like yours show me that the blog is worth all the effort: I'm so glad you gave Casablanca a try, and I'm very happy you liked it. Jules et Jim might be a bit harder to 'get', but I hope you enjoy that one too!