Thursday, June 6, 2013

Obstruction 1: Casablanca

This is my entry in The 5 Obstructions Blogathon and as anyone that knows me can tell you Casablanca is one of my favorite movies of all time.

Casablanca is a movie that always gets ranked as one of the best movies of all time and I am not sure why.  I   don't know if it has just aged badly or it is just me.

Casablanca is a 1942 movie about an American who owns a bar in Casablanca.
In the early stages of WWII as German forces occupied Europe people started fleeing to America. One of the places that was on their trail of escape was Casablanca.  The city attracted lots of criminals and seedy characters. One of the most well known of the characters is Rick (Humphrey Bogart). His bar is the center of the underworld in Casablanca with drinking, gambling, and lots of underground sales going on. One of the hottest commodities is transit papers to Lisbon where people can then catch a flight to America. Rick and the police captain Renault have a working relationship that lets Rick stay in business for money. When French freedom fighter Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) comes to town with his wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) it turns Rick's life upside down. 

The first warning sign that this will be a bad movie is the number of screenwriters.  It's never good when more then 2 screenwriters have to be called in to write a movie but when you have 4 screenwriters on one film it is a sign of trouble.  Based on the un-produced play "Everybody Comes to Ricks" The Epstein brothers Julius and Phillip were the first ones to tackle the screenplay. When they were having problems Howard Koch was asked to rewrite the entire screenplay then Casey Robinson and Lenore Coffee were tasked with trying to combine the two and Robinson added more romance between Rick and Ilsa.  The script was not finished and the cast had no idea how it was going to end when they started filming.  Bogart even improvised some lines (including the now famous "here's looking at you kid").  No movie with that many rewrites can be good.  A movie needs to have one clear vision by one writer or two at most.  

Which brings me to my next point.  Maybe it is because so many lines from the movie have now become iconic that a lot of the dialogue feels cliched.  This goes back to my theory that it was probably better when first released.  For whatever reason lines like "here's looking at you kid", "Of all the gin joints in all the towns, in all the world she had to walk into mine" and "round up the usual suspects" have entered pop culture consciousness.  Everyone knows them so when they are said in the movie it just looses it's punch.

My biggest problem with the movie isn't the cheesy love story or the overly melodramatic music it is the fact that this is a piece of propaganda.  What rarely ever gets discussed with this movie is the fact that one of the reasons Warner Brother's made it was to boost interest in the war in Europe.  Rick the only American is the good guy and the bad guys are the Germans and Italians.  For most of the movie Rick keeps saying that he sticks his neck out for no one.  Which was the American attitude toward the war before the Pearl Harbor.  But eventually Rick realizes that he needs to take a side also mirroring the way most Americans thought about the war. I think this is why it resonated so well with people during it's original release.  It also helped that Casablanca was invaded at the time of release also putting the city and the movie in the national spotlight.  But after 60 years that same resonance doesn't work so well.  The movie just feels dated and old. If it is trying to convince me that Nazi's are bad it's too late we already know that.

1 star out of 5.  The movie is dated and just not at all appealing to modern audiences.  

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