“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” “Here’s looking at you, kid.” “I’m shocked — shocked — to find that gambling is going on in here!” “I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.” “I stick my neck out for nobody.” “I don’t mind a parasite, I object to a cut-rate one.” “Go back to Bulgaria.” “Major Strasser has been shot…round up the usual suspects.” “Louis, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” The list of well-loved quotes and dialogue exchanges from Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942) could go on for pages. Practically, the entire script could be quoted by many people — and that’s ironic for a movie that stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman wanted out of because they thought the lines they had to say were so bad and so corny. One could say, they — like Bogie’s characrer Rick about the waters in Casablanca — were misinformed. In all honesty, some of the dialogure is corny, but it plays like a dream.
Is there anything new to be said about Casablanca? Probably not. The film has been written about so much that it seems unlikely there’s much that remains unknown. It is the classic of the nostalgia boom of the 1960s — always guaranteed to pack a college theater, always getting a warm reception. But unlike many films from that boom (which ended about 1974), it has never fallen out of favor, or fallen by the wayside. Even in the fickle flsvor-of-the-week world of the largely worthless IMDb ratings, Casablanca still comes in at no. 26 of the “greatest films of all time.” Its staying power is incredible. It has survived being taken for its camp value. It has survived countless parodies. Long after such things as Blue Parrot cafes (the name of Sydney Greenstreet’s establishment in the film) have disappered from college campuses, the film itself endures. It still entertains and holds an audience captive — even when they know the story. It is as close as you’re likely to get to a “perfect” movie — in part, I think, because it is so lovably imperfect in so many ways. The model work is sketchy. Some of the overdubbed dialogue is pretty obvious. Big name supporting players are barely in the movie. And yet, none of this hurts it.
What makes Casablanca work — apart from the actors — is that it is the epitome of the Hollywood studio film, much like Gone with the Wind (1939) is the epitome of a corporate filmmaking. The difference is that the studio film — while being a huge conglomeration — can still retain the identity of the filmmaker. No one really thinks of Gone with the Wind as a Victor Fleming film. Not only did he not direct all of it, but any identity that movie has comes from producer David O. Selznick’s micro-,management and the production design of William Cameron Menzies. Casablanca, on the other hand, still feels like, comes across as a Michael Curtiz film. It isn’t bloated into a kind of faceless creation. There’s passion to the filmmaking that’s lacking in GWTW. It makes all the difference in the world.
When this was booked for its single showing engagement, I realized with some surprise that I had never seen Casablanca on the big screen. I think the fact that I had owned a bootleg 16mm copy (an old TV print) had made me think otherwise. (Well, I at least had seen it 70 inches wide.) But on the big screen — no. And certainly, I have never seen it with an audience (half a dozen friends aren’t really an audience), and never from a theatrical format copy. Seeing it 15 feet high with a crowd in a real theater from a sparkling new digital cinema print will be a new experience for me as much as anybody. Even though I’ve seen the movie probably 50 times, this will be like seeing it anew. I hope as many of you that can take advantage of this. It should redefine the phrase “the silver screen” with its gorgeous, luminous black and white imagery — not to mention how that will enchance the content.
The Asheville Film Society is showing Casablanca Wednesday, June 18, at 7:30 p.m. at The Carolina Asheville as part of the Budget Big Screen series. Admission is $6 for AFS members and $8 for the general public.