Are you bored with your life? Are you tired of your job? Had it with wrestling with stuttering Exchange servers, farting computers and whining end users who make your plump, obnoxious nephew sticking his finger up your dog’s ass seem like pleasant behavior? Has selling auto insurance to narcoleptic truckers killed your hard on for life as quickly as seeing a naked Paula Deen flopping around in Crisco like an epileptic seal? Why not fight alongside Spanish revolutionaries, or become a gun runner in Africa? Maybe you can meet a Euro-hottie and live the good life in Paris? What is that commotion below on the Champs-Elysees? Do you hear that foreign sounding voice coming through the megaphones? Why are Parisians grabbing bread and wine and running scared? Is that German coming through the speakers? It sounds like Wagner having sex with an IRS agent. You look at the calendar on the wall and you realize it is 1940. What the fuck is a computer and who is that fat pig rolling around in Crisco anyway? She sure doesn’t look like Betty Grable. At least your girl will meet you on the train platform tomorrow morning, so you can escape together. She seems a little off today, a bit skittish. Who wouldn’t be? The news of the day would stress the sturdiest of souls. That is just women. She will show up. They never keep secrets. Make sure you purchase her a train ticket.
Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz, deserves its place among the all time classics. Sure, there is ample romance in this. If you’re a dude, don’t get your ball bag in an uproar. You aren’t turning soft by watching this. You won’t become adept at picking out curtains and wallpaper once you see Humphrey Bogart and a stunning Ingrid Bergman canoodling on a couch. Casablanca also has intrigue, humor and is filmed in stark black and white that will keep testosterone levels up, so that you can masturbate to a female super model and bench press four hundred pounds right after Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Captain Renault (Claude Rains) are at the beginnings of a beautiful friendship. The wickedly intelligent dialogue pops and snaps like lizards getting electrocuted on the third rail. Watch Rains’ performance as the easily corrupted but jovial Captain Renault and you realize what many comic actors might be shooting for in some roles. Wake me up when someone approximates it. Casablanca is 73 years old, but it doesn’t feel ready for the assisted living home. Sophia Loren is eighty and you would still hit that shit if it was spread out in front of you like a salami platter. You can lie, but we know the truth. The Gestapo didn’t believe sweaty and bug-eyed Ugarte’s (Peter Lorre) story and we will take you to task, as well. We have ways of making you talk.
Bogart’s Rick is a cafe owner who is wasting away in the purgatory of a Casablanca occupied and filled to the brim with Nazis–the ultimate fucking party poopers and just sub-human trash. The scenes in Rick’s Cafe Americain have a surreal quality to them. We are watching the world’s bad dream. I half expected Rod Serling to step into the foreground and tell me all about a man named Rick and how he had just taken his first drink in The Twilight Zone. All the patrons have one eye on their bourbon and another on the shady character who will sell them papers so they can board that midnight flight to Lisbon. Their laughter and merriment is punctuated by nervous glances and sweaty brows. The specter of the Nazi occupation is everywhere. Rick doesn’t care about any of this. He is only in it for himself and his loyal piano playing buddy Sam, played by an excellent Dooley Wilson. Sam’s character might be a stereotype, but it doesn’t take away from the performance or the inherent goodness of him. Rick has that Han Solo swagger and they both liked to smuggle contraband and give the middle finger to whatever empire was oppressing the people. You ask Rick his nationality and he spits back “drunkard”. A citizen of the world.
Bogart was rarely the best looking dude in the room, but he had a presence and confidence that make you believe women wanted him and men could be weary of him. He was able to rock the white tuxedo jacket and that is no small feat. Watching Rick share a table with unsavory characters, paying more attention to his booze then the serpentine faces speaking with him, hitting out with a brutal verbal jab when required, we are reminded of a drunk Indiana Jones and his nemesis, Belloq, trading insults in a Cairo cafe in Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is fun stuff. When men were fucking men. Cigarette smoke didn’t make their eyes water and irritate their lungs. They welcomed the burning ash invading their retinas the way we now welcome non-offensive words on our computer screens. Rick might get down because some dame left him alone on a train platform, but he never cried about it. I am not even sure men had tear ducts until 1976. The only therapy Rick needs is a stiff drink and Sam playing the piano and giving him a pep talk. You don’t even need health insurance for that.
Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa Lund is a world class beauty. She is intelligent, graceful and demure. She almost glows in the camera’s eye–a beacon of light cutting through the dark shadows of the beginning of WWII. Her caress could probably stop men’s hearts and a smile turn a bodybuilder’s legs into wet noodles. When she walks back into Rick’s life after leaving him high and dry in Paris it is a kick in the teeth. When she strolls past Sam playing on the piano, he reacts as if a great white shark just brushed by him underwater. The fact that Ilsa is arm and arm with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) is like sweeping Rick’s teeth down the sewer as he is trying to pick them off the ground just so he can have a keepsake when he was a happier man. Laszlo is one of the leaders of the resistance against the Nazi’s and his detention in Casablanca would be a great victory for Major Strasser, played by an eloquent and evil Conrad Veidt.
Watching Bogart and Bergman together, the audience can believe they were once in love, and perhaps, still are. We can understand the torture on Bogart’s face as he orders Sam to play “As Time Goes By” again. Goddamn those songs that make you remember your past loves. There isn’t usually enough alcohol on the planet to dull that exquisite pain that those musical notes hammer into your heart. That doesn’t stop us from playing them over and over again. We are all sadists and sentimental fools. Ilsa seems saddened by how she has hurt Rick, but she also has a mission to accomplish. She needs to get her husband out of Casablanca so he can continue the good fight against the Nazis. How can she convince a wounded and aloof Rick to help? There is a famous scene in this that involves dueling anthems sung in Rick’s cafe in which we might be witnessing a cynical man starting to believe in something bigger than himself.
If you are a fan of movies, Casablanca is definitely something you should see once. I resisted for the longest time until about five years ago. I am very glad I watched it as it definitely is a timeless classic. Maybe show it to that someone you are trying to get between the sheets. It might just work.