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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.

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Action/Adventure Mystery/Noir Romance

Notorious


Nazis in hiding! Smuggled uranium! Espionage! All minor distractions from the central tantalizing mystery that keeps the audience in delicious suspense: Does Cary Grant’s character really love Ingrid Bergman’s or not? It’s all there in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 classic Notorious.

The plot: Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman, in one of her career-defining roles) is the alluring daughter of a Nazi sympathizer. She has a notorious reputation as a drinker, party-goer, and sexual libertine. After the war ends, her father is convicted of aiding the Nazis. At a party where she deep in her cups and flirting with all the men, she meets a handsome, mysterious secret agent who is appropriately named Devlin (Cary Grant, just perfect…again). Devlin eventually persuades Alicia to go investigate Nazis who are now hiding out in South America. Does she agree out of patriotism, guilt over her father’s crimes or growing love of Devlin? He seems at times to love her back, by why then does he seem not to care when her assignment requires her to bed and wed an old friend of her father’s (Claude Rains)? The mystery of the Nazi plot and the maddening complexities of Devlin and Alicia’s relationship become intertwined as the thrilling story unfolds.

This movie vividly demonstrates how the presence of stars can shape how audiences react to characters. Without Bergman’s high-wattage stardom, audiences might have viewed Alicia as a pathetic, boozy, scrubber. Without Grant’s fame and on screen magnetism, audiences might have viewed Devlin as a cold, calculating bastard (Indeed, if Claude Rains weren’t a Nazi, the audience might have rooted for him to get the girl — after all, at least he loves her unreservedly). The instinctive liking the audience had for the stars allows the two film icons to develop multi-layered characters rather than having them rejected out of hand. Quite simply, Bergman and Grant tear up the screen here and they get tremendous support from Rains and from Leopoldine Konstantin as a memorably terrifying mother (even by Hitchcockian standards!).

Notorious (1946, Alfred Hitchcock) | Slices of Cake

In the eyes of many film buffs, Notorious is the pivotal film in Hitchcock’s career, and not just because he famously managed to make Grant and Bergman’s Production Code-allowed three second kiss last for several minutes. When David O. Selznick sold the film to RKO to deal with a money crunch, Hitchcock finally didn’t have to choose between a big budget and production control. From this film onward through the rest of his U.S. career, he was able to be producer-director of marquee projects with A-list stars. Notorious also showcased The Master’s maturing ability to handle grown-up romantic story lines. There were love stories in his earlier films (for example The 39 Steps which I recommended here) but they were generally frothy and light-hearted. The love triangle in Notorious — scripted by the brilliant and prolific Ben Hecht — has much more psychic weight, adding a new dimension to Hitchcock’s work to accompany his already matchless ability to keep an audience on the edge of their seats. Last but not least, Hitch’s visual style, already impressive, took a major leap forward with this film: It’s enthralling to look at and comprises some of his most memorable images.

There’s only one Hitch, and Notorious is among his best works. Do not miss this classic romantic thriller!

p.s. Watch VERY carefully as Cary Grant ascends the stairs to Bergman’s room and compare what you see to the nerve-wracking conclusion as he and Bergman descend the same staircase. Why are there more steps on the staircase in the latter? Because Hitchcock knew how to string out excruciating tension.