Your Voices: On “Casablanca”

Your Voices

Your Voices is a simple concept created to encourage conversation and opinions between movie lovers. It works like this: I throw out a certain topic and I’ll take time to make my case or share my opinions. Then it’s time for Your Voices. Head to the comments section and let fellow readers and moviegoers know your thoughts on the topic for that day!

TALLER

Bogart and Bergman – “Casablanca”

As regular readers have noticed, this is a week-long celebration of the 1942 classic “Casablanca”. Now many films have been granted the title of “classic” but they often times don’t deserve them. Some of these films have stood the test of time while others have seen their praise shrink and new criticisms surface. So how does “Casablanca” stand now that over 70 years have passed? Has it maintained the magic that once heralded it as a motion picture classic or has it faded like many of the Golden Age flowers?

For me the answer is simple. “Casablanca” is the greatest movie ever made (yes I know that is an impossible title to justify). “Casablanca” managed to capture the perfect mixture of ingredients that not only produced a phenomenal movie of its time, but it has only gotten better with age. The cinematic mastery both in front of and behind the camera is a true rarity. The simmering chemistry between Bogart and Bergman. The top-notch supporting cast featuring Henreid, Rains, Veidt, Lorre, Greenstreet, etc. Curtiz’s impeccable direction. The Epsteins (and Koch) flawless script. For me “Casablanca” is the perfect film and it is one of the few movies that I would categorize as timeless. But those are my thoughts. What about you?

YOUR VOICES: “Casablanca” – One of the best films ever made or just a good movie?

Now it’s time for Your Voices. So what do YOU think of “Casablanca”? Does it deserve the high praise it has received? Do you even like the film? Please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below. After all, this is all about Your Voices and I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

REVIEW: “Casablanca”

CASAposter

How is it that I have been movie blogging in some fashion for over three years yet I’ve never reviewed my favorite movie of all time? Well it’s time to remedy that. That opening line probably spoils any mystery about my final score, but that’s perfectly okay. To me “Casablanca” is a perfect film and I owe a lot to it for broadening my appreciation for classic cinema and for introducing me to my favorite actor of all time – Humphrey Bogart.

The world of cinema has long regarded “Casablanca” as a true classic. Often times I rebel against that kind of establishment recognition but in some cases they get it right. This is one of those instances. “Casablanca” is a classic in every sense of the word. Whether your talking about the flawless direction from Hungarian born Michael Curtiz, the brilliant screenplay brought together by a number of people including brothers Julius and Philip Epstein, Casey Robinson, and Howard Koch, or the spectacular cast led by the cool confident Bogart and the stunningly beautiful Ingrid Bergman. “Casablanca” not only has all of the ingredients for a true classic, but it doesn’t waste any of them.

CASA2

Warner Brothers didn’t have very high expectations for the film. In fact it was rushed through to its release in order to capitalize on the North African campaign of World War 2. The initial response was lukewarm but the film would quickly prove itself and ended up winning three Oscars including Best Picture. Over the years the appreciation for the film has only grown and with good reason. It truly is something special. Romance, patriotism, humor, suspense – “Casablanca” has it all.

Bogart leads the way as the complex Rick Blaine. He owns and runs Rick’s Café Américain, a popular nightclub in 1941 Vichy controlled Casablanca. He keeps his business flourishing during a tumultuous wartime by being neutral and “sticking his neck out for nobody”. He’s surrounded by a great assortment of supporting characters, many played by some of Hollywood’s best at the time. Claude Rains received an Oscar nomination for his turn as a corrupt Vichy Captain with a special interest in Rick. The great Sydney Greenstreet plays a rival club owner. Consummate character actor Peter Lorre plays a crook who is in way over his head. And there’s Dooley Wilson as Rick’s loyal friend and club piano player Sam. Fun fact – Dooley was a drummer and didn’t know how to play the piano at all. Yet his character’s singing and playing of “As Time Goes By” is unforgettable.

But Rick’s well controlled life takes a dramatic turn when the former love of his life Ilsa (Bergman) shows up at his club. Ilsa’s husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a well known Czech resistance leader and fugitive from the Nazis, is with her. They seek Rick’s help to get out of the country before the Nazi Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) catches up to them. Rick is reluctant due to the bitterness of having his heart broken and his desire to maintain his establishment’s neutrality. Does he risk it all for the woman he once loved?

CASA1

“Casablanca” captures and utilizes so many things well. There’s a high level of suspense. There’s a small touch of humor. There is a great realization of wartime tensions. And right in the middle of it all is what may be the best romance in cinema history. Bogie and Bergman have a sizzling chemistry and the looming threats and high stakes all around them adds such a pop to their relationship. Bogie is a hurt man hiding behind a convincing facade of tough coolness. Bergman is brave but torn and she was never more beautiful than in “Casablanca”. It’s impossible not to be completely absorbed in these two and the intense circumstances surrounding them.

There isn’t a bad performance in “Casablanca”. There isn’t a wasted line or wasted shot. There’s never a down moment. It’s pacing its absolutely perfect. The camera work and stage design is impeccable. The romance simmers. The story is smart and fluid. I could go on and on. As I said, “Casablanca” is rightly called a classic. It accomplishes so much that modern movies with their massive budgets and greater technologies seldom lay hold of. It’s beautiful storytelling with one memorable line after another and a Bogart performance that forever etched his name in film history. It’s my favorite movie and I can never see it enough.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5 STARSs

5STAR K&M

REVIEW: “Mildred Pierce” (1945)

Classic Movie SpotlightMildred PierceJoan Crawford had an interesting career to say the least. In 1937 she was called “The Queen of the Movies” by Life magazine but she would be called “Box Office Poison” only one year later. A few moderate successes would follow before her 18 year run with MGM studios was ended. Hungry for a new start, Crawford signed with Warner Brothers. One of her first pictures with her new studio was “Mildred Pierce”. The film was a huge success and Crawford would go on to win the Best Actress Oscar. Her performance was rightly recognized and her career was revived.

“Mildred Pierce” was directed by Michael Curtiz. The acclaimed director didn’t want Crawford as his lead but after his first choices bowed out (Bette Davis, Barabara Stanwyck, Olivia de Havilland), she got the job. The film was adapted from James Cain’s edgy 1941 hardboiled novel. Several plot lines from the book couldn’t be included in the picture due to the movie content code restrictions of the time. This allowed for the film’s introduction of the murder angle and several other creative differences.

Speaking of that, the movie opens with a murder. In a wonderful opening scene dripping with noir flavor, a man is shot several times by an unseen assailant who then flees the scene. The police bring in a successful restauranteur named Mildred Pierce (Crawford) for questioning. The murder victim turns out to be Mildred’s second husband Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott) and the cops believe they know who did it. The main plot structure is built around her interrogation. Through flashbacks we are introduced to the main players and we follow Mildred’s rise from a hard working single mother to an owner of multiple restaurants in the Southern California area.

But we are also introduced to a darker side of Mildred’s life. It’s a side featuring two failed marriages, an unthinkable tragedy, and a bitter, contentious relationship with her oldest daughter Veda. It’s Veda who may be Mildred’s biggest failing. We watch her become a selfish and materialistic young girl who is actually a product of Mildred’s own making. Her desire to shower upon her daughter the most lavish things creates a scheming young girl who looks down with great haughtiness on the ‘have-nots’. Ann Blyth plays Veda and she is sublime. Blyth was actually on loan from Universal Studios at the time. Her performance garnered well-deserved praise which culminated in a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Blyth would make several more films but none as memorable as “Mildred Pierce”. She was only 17 at the time but this performance showed an astuteness and attention usually associated with the greats.

Mildred Pierce1

There is an assortment of other great side characters that help tell Mildred’s story. Bruce Bennett plays her first husband Bert who subverts any good intentions he may have with his carousing and disrespect. Yet you end up wondering if he knows more about Mildred than we first do. Then there is Bert’s real estate partner Wally (Jack Carson) who is never beyond an occasional flirt or a shady business deal. He’s a rather slimy fellow who also has self-centered intentions. Eve Arden gets some wonderful lines as Mildred’s friend and restaurant manager. And Butterfly McQueen has some good moments as Mildred’s maid.

While the film revolves around the murder of Beragon, the life of Mildred Pierce is the centerpiece. Much of the movie’s brilliance is shown in its storytelling style and in the clever ways it depicts Mildred’s changes. She’s an entirely different person by the film’s end. She becomes a woman enslaved by the poisonous relationship she has with her daughter. Things become darker and more twisted as the film moves along which gives “Mildred Pierce” a unique sense. It slices up and mixes portions of film noir, mystery, and romance to form a sordid yet thoroughly compelling whole.

I’m a big fan of “Mildred Pierce” and it’s easily one of my favorite Joan Crawford pictures. She is exceptional here as is her supporting cast, particularly young Ann Blyth. Ranald MacDougall’s adaptation is smart and crafty and it works seamlessly with Michael Curtiz’s style of direction. The film takes a few unavoidable diversions from the novel but they nicely translate cinematically. It all resulted in a spirited film that showcased a still relevant Crawford. It’s also true classic that still packs a hefty punch today.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS