Saturday, April 12, 2008

That movie they all talk about

I rewatched Casablanca the other night. I had watched it once before when I was much younger, and had come away feeling not very impressed. This caused immense pressure on my soul as an already-confused teenager. "Why," I thought, "does everyone rave about this film in the manner they do when it really isn't all of that?"
Such were the traumatic questions I subjected myself to in addition to more obvious troubles of raging hormones and finding of feet at that pivotal time known as teenagery.
So, in order to wipe the slate clean, to form a new, better-informed opinion about this hyped-up classic, I thought I should watch the movie once more, bringing all my so-called critique and knowledge of cinema to the table. I fancy myself able to spot a good movie when I see one and I know this is a hundred percent accurate because it is true for everyone. If you like a movie, it's a good movie to you. Hence proved. (But, seriously...)
So I watched Casablanca. I watched it in an atmosphere most conducive to movie-watching: Alone, with the lights switched off and no disturbances, all my attention on the acting, the music, the dialogue, the look of the film.
I watched Humphrey Bogart do his cynical Rick Blaine, Ingrid Bergman as the lovely Ilsa, the interiors of Rick's Café Américain, the whole anti-Nazi, pro-Allies thingamajig etc and all those things that I knew to watch out for and which were always repeated time and again in various reviews or nostalgic walks down the memory lanes of Hollywood.
In the end, as it was all those years ago, I came away unimpressed again. I mean, look, I've been hearing this is one of the greatest romances of all time. One of the best movies ever made. I beg to differ. It's an okay film. And that too on the strength of the fast pace of the story, a good supporting cast (esp Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault), and some very snappy dialogue. (Again, mostly from the quarters of Captain Renault.) Also, film noir always looks slick.
First things first. I did not like Humphrey Bogart. Forget that he's ugly and speaks funny... No, wait, let's not forget that. That may be it! I think Bogey is the biggest reason I didn't like the film all that much both times. I know I didn't much take a shine to his character from beginning till the end, even when the script tried to embellish his nature with references of his gun-running to Ethiopia, his assisting the Spanish Loyalists, when he helps the couple in his casino and his final sacrificial move at the climax of the film. Bah humbug. (Which is almost a word play for Humphrey Bogart.)
I can tell you right now that I kept thinking to myself, "Ilsa, surely you can do better than this?" I mean Ingrid Bergman deserved a hotter guy. Which Paul Henreid/Victor Laszlo was. So really, no heart-wrenching tragedy when Rick says toodle-oo to Ilsa. (Matter of fact she didn't seem too hurt about it either.) The thing is, in a movie touted to be a great romance, you'd ideally want the lovers to be together. Whereas in this case, I was gunning for the lady to run off with anyone else or at least stick to her dishy husband without so much as a glance in Ugly Bogey's direction. 'Twas never meant to be. I didn't see any crackling chemistry between the two actors even in their flashback montage. And that song, As Time Goes By, didn't do it for me either. Fuggedaboutit. I will write off Casablanca as an average film with my favourite bits being the ones where Claude Rains as the oppurtunistic, slimy, yet likeable Captain Renault makes his appearances.
I can understand why Casablanca was such a big deal in its time. The film was released in 1942, when the War was at its peak. People would have probably jumped out of their seats, cheering and clapping in the scene where the La Marseillaise drowns out the German patriotic number Die Wacht am Rhein. I mean, in its time the film's anti-Nazi motif would have certainly moved a majority of the film-viewing public. But there are countless movies which convey even that sentiment better. To conclude, I watched the movie waiting for the magic of romance to take over and that never happened even once during the film. What did happen was that I was glad the leading lady took off with Blondie instead of Bogie. (I was even hoping Ilsa'd throw a few snide comments Rick's way, about how stupid she was and what was she thinking etc.)
Oh, well.
Over-rated movie of all-time: Casablanca.


kinkminos said...

saab-ji, thank you for posting a review of (one of) my fevrittest movie(s) of the all time.

as you say, it's all in the eye of the beholder. personally i think it's a wonderful movie, and i watch it at least once a year.

on one level, however, the movie is more or less standard forties hollywood fare. it seems to have all the cliches and formulas particular to that era. but then, as is so often the case with such things, the sum-being-greater-than-the-parts factor kicks in.

similar movies (commonly shown on tcm) seeming to have all the casablancan elements... bogey, lorre, greenstreet, superfluous floozy, exotic location(s), snappy dialogue vaghaira vaghaira... just leacve me cold. the only other film of that time i really love is the screen adaptation of dashiel hammet's the maltese falcon. (vah vah, vot a fat man mister sidney plays, and vot a whinnig wretch mister lorre portrays, and vot a brilliant-bogey bogey is!)

firstly, the dialogue is great.

secondly, bergman is stunning. ilsa lund (apart from the unfortunate name) is quite simply the most beautiful character to have appeared in a hollywod movie. bar none.

thirdly, bogey's drawl and bluff manner find the perfect outlet in the (admittedly two-dimensional) character of rick blaine.

fourthly, sam dooley's as time goes by underscores the hollywood pastiche of exotica (aka casablanca) quite perfectly.

fifthly [sic], i love these old movies which tell a story straight up, instead of getting involved in superfluities like effects and scenery.

sixthly, i think bogey is absolutely amazing. such presence. such ugliness. such panache. such character. vah!

seventhly, &c.

so many great lines in the movie:

renault: what in heaven's name brought you here to casablanca?

rick: my health. i came here for the waters.

renault: what waters. we're in the desert.

rick: i was misinformed.


german emigre: liebchen, er, sweetness heart, what watch?

his wife: ten watch.

german: oh, such much?


ugarte: you're very cynical rick, if you'll fogrive me for saying so.

rick: i forgive you.


ugarte: you despise me rick, don't you?

rick: i probably would if i gave you much thought.


ugarte: think of all the poor devils who cannot meet the price. i get it to them for half. is that so parasitic?

rick: i don't mind a parasite. i object to a cut rate one!


renault: i'm delighted to see you both. did you sleep well?

laszlo: i slept very well, thank you.

renault: that is strange. nobody is meant to sleep well in casablanca.


in the end i find it a most entertaining movie (unlike the absolute crap being dished out by the totally unoriginal studios of hollywoodland today).

p.s. i agree with you that the best part in the whole fim is that of renault. claude rains is tres magnifique in the role. i love his half-serious approach to the character


rick: how can you close me down?

renault: i am shocked, shocked to find that gambling goes on in here!

rick's employee: sir, your winnings.

renault: ah, thank you very much.

longblackveil said...

Kink saheb, you have just picked out the finest lines from the film. Shabaash, cheetay, shabaash!
Yes, and it always is in the eyes of the beholder so I'm glad you and many others love the film.
I'm afraid I just didn't.

Oh, well. *shrugs*

kinkminos said...

*sigh* oh well

btw, what do you think of "the maltese falcon", and bogey's version of "the big sleep"?

kinkminos said...

*sigh* oh well

btw, what do you think of "the maltese falcon", and bogey's version of "the big sleep"?

longblackveil said...

Saab-ji must blush and tell you tat she has not yet seen The Maltese Falcon. It is on my list though. I thought I should read the book first and since that never happened, the movie is still on hold.
I shall tell you my feelings on the movie directly I've watched it, saar. Till then, I plead ignorance.

kinkminos said...

ah, such bliss
: )

i think i'm going to watch some or all of the three movies this weekend