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Casablanca: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Casablanca

by Howard McQuitter

*****
1942 Warner Brothers
Parkway Theater
Drama/Romance/Mystery
Running time: 102 minutes
B/W, English, French, German
Director: Michael Curtiz

“Casablanca” is one of those special films I have seen many times over the last 50 years, but every time I see it, the feeling is like the first time. The first time over many times, the Humphrey Bogart/Ingrid Bergman duo, the cynical Claude Rains as Captain Renault, the Czech freedom fighter and escapee from a Nazi concentration camp, the memorable piano player “playing” “As Time Goes By” in Bogart”'s character Rick Blaines”' Rick”'s Café American, and so forth.

However, as many times as I have seen “Casablanca”, there were things I didn”'t know until now. At a showing of “Casablanca” at the Parkway Theater in South Minneapolis last month, poet par excellence John Flynn explained that there were 35 nationalities represented in “Casablanca”, and all but the beginning scenes are set on stages. Another point he brought out, to my surprise, was that the famed “African American” pianist Dooley Wilson, a drummer by trade, had his playing “As Time Goes By” and “It Had To Be You” dubbed. Although Michael Curtiz”' “Casablanca” premiered at the Hollywood Theater in New York City on November 26, 1942, it received general release on January 23, 1943. Warner Brothers issued the “late” release coincident with the Casablanca Conference, a crucial meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt in the city.

Much of the activity in “Casablanca” occurs in Rick”'s fabulous club, Rick”'s Café American, where refugees, spies, and Nazis congregate for drinks, intrigue, finding Rick or others and the mellifluous music coming form stage bands and Sam”'s (Dooley Wilson) “hands” at the piano. Rick is an American expatriate from New York City and is involved with mercenaries fighting against fascism in the Civil War in Spain in the late 1930s. He”'s cynical, ingenuous, ingenious and heartbroken over Ilsa ”“ played by Ingrid Bergman, who disappeared before he and Ilsa were supposed to leave Nazi-occupied Paris together. No wonder the song “As Time Goes By” is beautifully in sync with the romance of Rick and Ilsa, temporarily separated for various reasons, spurred on by the Nazi occupation in Paris.

When Ugarte (Peter Lorre) enters Rick”'s Café American he”'s looking to sell “letters of transit” swiped from two murdered German couriers. Ugarte”'s “letters of transit” are almost priceless for the refugees from all of Europe, who are attempting to escape the Nazis and immigrate to America. The papers allow the person or persons through German-controlled Europe to America via neutral Portugal. Ugarte only trusts Rick with the papers but does Rick have the papers before Captain Louis Renault and the local police arrest Ugarte? Ugarte tries to escape but doesn”'t get far before he”'s shot down dead by the local police. Ugarte never reveals to Renault, local police or the stoic German Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt ”“ who after “Casablanca”, starred in his last movie “Above Suspicion” before his death) where the papers are.

The turning point for Rick and the movie is when Ilsa and Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a stranger to Rick, enter Rick”'s club. Laszlo is a fugitive Czech resistance leader wanted by the Nazis. Laszlo needs the papers for himself and his wife, Ilsa, to go to America so he can continue his work against Nazi Germany. Rick, Ilsa, and Victor know it wasn”'t safe in Vichy France. Laszlo tells Rick he”'s aware of his love for Ilsa. Although Rick is bitter about the separation between him and Ilsa, he has no malice toward Laszlo.

Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet) is Rick”'s benevolent business rival and a major player in the criminal underworld. Ferrari tells Laszlo he thinks Rick has the papers. Meanwhile, Major H. Strasser wants Laszlo and the papers in his hands. Laszlo meets with Rick, privately, to obtain the papers which Rick refuses to release. In the café, Strasser incites his German officers to sing a German patriotic song “Die Wacht am Rhein”. In turn, Laszlo encourages the band to strike up “La Marseillaise”, the French national anthem. Rick nods his head for the band to play to offset the Germans”' singing.

Back to Rick and Ilsa, when she catches Rick after the café is empty she demands the papers. He refuses. She pulls a gun on him but can”'t shoot because she”'s still in love with him. They make up. Why not? As far as the transit papers go, see the movie if you haven”'t seen it, and even if you have seen it, watch it again. And if Rick”'s line, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” doesn”'t move you, nothing will.

One of the most misquoted lines in “Casablanca” is when Ingrid Bergman tells Dooley Wilson, “Play it again, Sam”. She actually says, “Play it Sam. Play ”˜As Time Goes By”'”.

Thanks to the screenplay writers Julius J. and Philips G Epstein, and cinematographer Arthur Edeson, producer Hal B.Wallis and Warner Brothers Company may have made the best film ever.

1943 Academy Awards:
Best Picture
Nominations:
Best Actor: Humphrey Bogart
Best Supporting ”“ Claude Rains
Best Cinematography (Black and white): Arther Edeson
Best Film Editing: Owen Marks
Best Original Music Score: Max Steiner

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