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Blogs on Film

My Favorite Line in Casablanca

Everyone has their favorite quote from Casablanca – so many to choose from: “Round up the usual suspects!”, “I’m shocked, shocked, that gambling is going on in this establishment”, “Are my eyes really brown?” etc. After about 10 or 15 viewings, my favorite switched to a lesser known line. I love it because of how it’s said, how it’s the key to the love story, and most of all how it’s untrue.

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As in a Shakespearean romance, there’s a young couple who are a foil to the central romance (between Rick and Ilsa). Jan and Annina Brandel are just-married Bulgarian refugees, desperate to get to America. Annina Brandel (Joy Page) comes to Rick for advice.

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She is considering prostituting herself for exit visas but worries about her husband’s reaction. She asks Rick if “Someone loved you very much and your happiness was the only thing she wanted in the world and she did a bad thing to make certain of it, could you forgive her?”.

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Whence comes my favorite line. Rick says “Nobody ever loved me that much”. Bogart delivers it with a perfect mixture of hurt, bitterness, and vulnerability. Underneath his cynical shell, Rick’s still standing at that train station with a comical look on his face because his insides have just been kicked out, thinking that Ilsa never really loved him.

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And of course he’s wrong! Casablanca’s love story is fundamentally about Rick realizing that Ilsa did indeed “love him that much”, so that they both “get Paris back”. Casablanca in many stories at once, but at least for the love story, this is the line upon which it turns.

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p.s. This as you might have guessed was originally a Twitter thread, and one of the nice things about putting it there is that I got a kind comment from Monika Henreid, daughter of Paul, who played Victor Laszlo.

Categories
Documentaries and Books Drama Mystery/Noir

In a Lonely Place

To hell with happiness. More important was excitement and power and the hot stir of lust. Those made you forget.

Dorothy Hughes’ bewitching and disturbing novel In a Lonely Place was thankfully re-issued by New York Review of Books in 2017. It very much recalls some of Jim Thompson’s darkest works, though she’s arguably an even better writer than he was. Hughes’ stylish evocation of a psychopathic psychology is like one of those sweetened Russian cocktails that tastes wonderful going down even though you know it’s burning out your insides and will leave you full of the blackest regret in the morning. I can’t recommend the book strongly enough, though not for the faint-hearted.

Once you have read it, consider watching the unforgettable film adaptation, which I review below.

I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.

Amazingly, there are people who consider themselves Humphrey Bogart fans who have never seen the brooding, powerful 1950 film In a Lonely Place. In one of his greatest roles, Bogart plays bitter, hard-drinking Hollywood screenwriter Dixon Steele, whose best days seem to be behind him. After being tasked with adapting a dreadful novel for the silver screen, he asks a ditzy hat check girl who loves the book to come to his apartment and tell him the plot. The next morning, the police inform Dix that the girl has been murdered and dumped by the side of the road. As the audience, we do not know what really happened. Steele is initially alibied by sultry neighbor Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame, all eyebrows, curves and nimbly masked emotional turmoil), who promptly yields to his romantic advances. They fall in love and Dix is able to regain his gifts as a writer. But as Laurel sees Dix continue to be volatile and aggressive, she begins to wonder, Suspicion-style, whether Dix is a murderer after all.

This movie is cynical about fame, Hollywood, and human relationships, but tantalizes us with the possibility that new love can redeem it all. The suspense emerges less from the murder mystery than from the warring internal emotions of the characters. Director Nicholas Ray knew life’s dark places and how to get actors to go there. His marriage to the volatile Grahame ended in the most sordid way imaginable while they were making this movie, and the anguish and anger on the set comes out in the electric performances of the cast. The film is also remarkable for its opening five minutes, which are a clinic in how a great director and actor can establish a character with ruthless economy (incidentally, the bar in the opening scene was modeled after Romanoff’s, Bogart’s favorite watering hole).

There are countless movies told from the man’s point of view in which a beautiful, younger woman falls in love with the protagonist (indeed, Bogart himself made a number of such films). The women in those movies are flat characters and we aren’t told why they go for the hero. He wants her, the story needs them to fall in love, so they do. What is truly remarkable about this movie’s structure is that it follows this formula about half-way through and then flips the perspective to the woman’s point of view.

Categories
Action/Adventure Drama Romance

To Have and Have Not

Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a good example of how recycling characters and plot from a wildly popular movie can led to tedious viewing. An infinitely more successful effort to rip-off a prior cinema classic is Howard Hawk’s To Have and Have Not.

Perhaps the greatest film ever produced via the old Hollywood studio system — Casablanca — was still playing in a few theaters when production began on To Have and Have Not. Although putatively based on a Hemingway novel, To Have and Have Not recycles Casablanca’s characters, plot, style and indeed some of its cast to tremendous effect. In the Ingrid Bergman role of a resourceful, beautiful woman with a past, the incomparable Lauren Bacall became an instant star as well as Bogart’s real-life bride.

The plot: Humphrey Bogart again plays an outwardly cynical man of the world who doesn’t want to get involved in World War II intrigue, despite the pleas of the idealists around him. But the better angels of his nature and an alluring stranger (Bacall) pull him into the fight on behalf of the Free French versus the hateful, corrupt Vichy regime that oversees the Island of Martinique. Nearly peerless entertainment ensues.

The movie has exciting moments of high tension as well as some laughs, but what positively sizzles here is the interaction between “Bogie and Baby”, who were soon to become an enduring Hollywood power couple beloved by millions. May-December romance in the movies can be unrealistic and even downright gross, but here it’s so deeply felt that it works. The two stars were in each other’s thrall, which puts spark and wit into their scenes together. Some immortal lines in the script (“You know how to whistle don’t you?”) enliven their exchanges, which is a credit to Jules Furthman and William Faulkner (Since the average Faulkner sentence runs about 50 pages, I lean towards crediting Furthman with the best one-liners).

The film also features one of Walter Brennan’s many memorable supporting actor turns, this time as Bogie’s alcoholic friend Eddie (See Carl Rollyson’s thoughtful take on Eddie here). Also on hand is the appealing actor-musician Hoagy Carmichael (for another fine Hoagy performance see my recommendation of Canyon Passage). He’s well-cast as the piano player at Rick’s Cafe, um, I mean, Frenchy’s bar. In one of the movie’s highlights, Hoagy and his band back up Bacall as she gives a sultry rendition of his song “How Little We Know”. The studio has originally planned to dub her, but she pulled off the musical number on her own.

I first saw To Have and Have Not as a teenager, and immediately fell in love with Lauren Bacall. I suppose it may reflect a lack of emotional development on my part that I am still just as enchanted by her four decades later…but what can you do?.

p.s. The film might have been the only high point in Lauren Bacall’s career if not for some luck and favorable Hollywood politics surrounding The Big Sleep.