Yesterday was an experience for sure! There’s not many places where I live where one can see classic films. Sure there’s library but that’s pretty much a projector screen in a small room. A local theater used to show classic films (where I was lucky to see Singin’ in the Rain) but due to legal obstacles it was shut down. Therefore, the only way to see classic films for many people is through TCM and Fathom Events. TCM and Fathom Events have done a few of these special releases, mostly to capitalize on the recent remastered DVD versions of these films. I missed out on West Side Story and knew I wasn’t going to miss out on Casablanca. I shouldn’t admit this but I’ve only seen Casablanca once and it wasn’t my favorite (not bad, just didn’t live up to the hype). In seeing it remastered on the big screen, I knew that’s how everyone should see it. It’s not easy for a movie to transport you but in watching Casablanca on a massive screen I easily felt like the audience of 1942 must have felt; swept up in the world of intrigue, romance, and yearning to be taken to a dive bar in Morocco owned by Humphrey Bogart.
In French-occupied Morocco, American expatriate Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) runs a dive bar called Rick’s and makes money gambling. When his former lover Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) comes into his bar, all the old feelings of their past relationship in Paris come back to him. Unfortunately, Ilsa and her revolutionary husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) are trying to get out of the country and are meeting resistance from the Germans and the Prefect of Police Captain Renault (Claude Rains). As Rick and Ilsa start to fall back in love, the two are torn at what to do in order to survive.
Let’s talk about the movie then we’ll discuss the theater experience. Having seen this before, it was a totally different experience this time. I still don’t LOVE this movie, but I really enjoyed it. The ability to transport the audience starts the minute the camera showcases the vast marketplace of Morocco at the time. Rick’s is a seedy bar, but it has an elegance not for a hole in the wall. The men are dressed in tuxes, and the women in evening gowns making this far different from your average bar. The direction of Michael Curtiz and the cinematography Arthur Edeson is just gorgeous, this was what made me happy to see this in a theater. Scenes of great shooting just stand out in this movie, especially a scene of Rick going to open the safe in silhouette. The ethereal lighting of Ilsa when she comes to see Rick is another highlight. The beautiful restoration of the movie helps in highlighting scenes that have such beauty behind them.
The acting in this is second to none and while is proof that we just don’t have actors like this anymore. Sure everyone praises Bogie and Bergman and I’m no different. Bogart went from minor gangster movies to instant stardom with this film and he’s the perfect combination of weathered, drunk and cynical with this role. He’s a man who’s opened his heart to love and lost and with that comes a deep cynicism for the optimistic in the world. A loving couple trying to get out of the country, an open comparison to Ilsa and Victor, can’t do anything to mend Rick’s heart. As the poor wife, who it’s alluded to has possibly slept with Captain Renault to secure passage, explains her love for her husband Rick coldly says “we all have problems.” Bogart is great at delivering every line with a cavalier attitude, a real “I don’t care about you” way of talking that works for the character. He says plainly “I’m a drunkard” and has no interest in how people look at him. Bergman is just stunning this movie (need I say that she’s one of the most beautiful women in the world?) and her character is a woman put between a rock and a hard place. Bogie and her have sizzling chemistry where a kiss and a hug conveys so much more sexual tension than the act itself.
I love our leads but my personal favorite was Claude Rains as Captain Renualt. The film’s wry humor and dark sensibilities come through in Rains character. Renault is a man who really goes wherever the wind blows, he’s a man loyal to no one and everyone. When the Germans invade he has every intention of keeping Victor Laszlo in country, but that doesn’t mean if a power shift occurs he won’t be willing to overlook things. This is a man who believes everything has a price and “human life is cheap.” Rains has great comedic timing that’s exemplified with his attempts to shut down Rick’s bar for gambling. Cut to a man presenting Renault with his recent winnings. Renault says “Oh, thank you” and goes right back to shutting down the bar, calm as a cucumber!
In terms of the experience of seeing it on a the big screen, TCM does an excellent job. With an introduction by Essentials host Robert Osborne, the film presents about a fifteen-twenty minute behind the scenes featurette. The feature discusses the various elements of production, casting (originally Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan were set to star!), and filming explained by those involved with the production, their family and people who love the movie. It’s a loving tribute. The only problem I had involved the video. I’m not sure if it was a restoration problem or a projection issue but in moments of bright lighting, usually overhead, there was a blue line on characters or in the background. I’m thinking it was a result of the DVD restoration and I’d probably not notice it on my television but it was distracting.
Casablanca makes the 100th movie I’ve seen in 2012 (yes I’ve seen 100 movies all the way through and it’s only March) but it’s one of the highlights. If TCM does another event (and I’m sure they will) be sure to see it, no matter what the movie, because you might find you love it more on a big screen!
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.