Monday, December 7, 2009

Casablanca 2: Electric Boogaloo

So yesterday, while the wife, the mother-in-law, and I were enjoying our frozen pizza, we watched Casablanca. Now my track record with classic films is not the greatest so you can take this with a huge grain of salt: Casablanca is really, really terrible. Over the years, I'd run into this film, watch a few minutes, get bored and turn the channel. For the longest time, my only knowledge of Humphrey Bogart came from dying from boredom while my dad watched The African Queen again and again when I was a kid.

Recently, I finally saw The Maltese Falcon and was completely blown away. Next up was Dark Passage which was amazing too. So when Turner Classic Movies finally played Casablanca (for the 9 millionth time), I decided to give it a whirl. Big mistake. Now I know I'm not the first knucklehead to come to this conclusion but sweet jumpin' Jesus, this movie needs to be brought down from its pedestal. And someone please take Gone with the Wind on down with it.

The editing and camerawork of Casablanca are both stellar (and ahead of their time), the music is great, and most of the acting is top notch. After the lengthy and totally unnecessary explanation of why Casablanca is such a special and dangerous place, the movie finally starts and it couldn't get much better. Right off the bat, we get all these fantastic scenes of refugees trying to wheel and deal to get to Lisbon and on to America where they'll be free from the Nazis. Good stuff. Peter Lorre is superb as Ugarte, a slimy little bastard that gets way too little screen time before exiting the film in the first half hour or so.

So yeah, I figure the clunkiness is over, the film has hit its stride. Wrong. Then Ingrid Bergmann shows up and fucks up everything. Even Sam gets depressed when he sees her and he's right to do so. The love story of Casablance, though well written in terms of moving the plot forward and providing a great ending, is so maudlin and mind-numbingly banal that it caused me physical pain. The dialogue between Bogart and Bergmann during their lovey dovey scenes is trite and both of these actors are thrown to the schmaltz dogs for their courageous efforts to get through it all. The whole focus of the movie becomes these two lovers whose doomed passion hinges on little more than a candy ass flashback.

So yeah, this is by no means a classic (at least not the end all, be all of film-making that some claim it to be) and what makes Casablanca even more frustrating for me is that there are brilliant moments. Every scene between Claude Rains and Bogart is genius. Come to think of it, most of the movie is excellent. But once you throw in the love triangle between Bogart, Bergmann, and that boring duder, it all falls to pieces. Meh, whatever. Just give me more scenes with the relentlessly creepy Sydney Greenstreet and the relentlessly um... gay S. Z. Sakall. Was his character supposed to be gay? I don't know. Anyway, I think I'll stick with gialli and leave the classics to somebody else.


  1. If you liked Maltese Falcon and Dark Passage, you should definitely check out Key Largo, The Big Sleep and Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

    Bogart's almost a cliche these days, but he really made quite an impressing number of excellent movies. Not a very big Casablanca fan either, but I still like it well enough, as you said, there's plenty of excellent stuff in it, so "terrible crap" seems a bit too harsh to me.

  2. Thanks for the recommendations. Bogart did some pretty tremendous stuff. As far as Casablanca goes, I don't think I was being too harsh. I wanted to turn it off and never watch it again several times and it made me feel ashamed of myself as a human being too. That counts as terrible crap in my book.