(1942) director Michael Curtiz
viewed: 02/11/11 @ the Paramount Theater, Oakland, CA
It’s only one of the most famous and beloved movies in the world. It was my first film professor’s favorite film of all time. Doubtlessly it falls on many people’s lists. It’s peppered throughout with iconic dialog and moments that are as transcendently famous as any film clips. I mean even people who have never seen it are familiar with lines like “Here’s looking at you, kid.” It’s one of the big films, period, populist yet critically respected as well.
But you know? I think I’d maybe seen it once before. And because that was a long time ago, I don’t know that I appreciated it quite so well. In that sense I likened it to Citizen Kane (1941) in that it’s so iconic, so revered, so talked about, that when you first see it, maybe you’re expecting something more than any film can offer you. Then again, in citing Citizen Kane, I often note that the film’s innovations have been so co-opted over time and become such standards that looking back on it now, without an educated eye, it’s understandable how some might not appreciate it. But Casablanca is different in that sense. I can’t tell you why it didn’t strike me so well the first time other than over-inflated expectation.
This time, on the big screen at the Paramount Theater in Oakland (a more ideal experience I’d be hard pressed to imagine), the film hit home for me in the way that it doubtlessly has for so many others. The Paramount, every other week, does a Friday night show of classic films (a selection that is quite often from the most popular, populist film titles out there — in other words, great films but not the most original selections). As well as the feature, there is an old newsreel shown, a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and a raffle. And the Mighty Wurlitzer. And then there is the Paramount itself, which is well worth the $5 admission alone. I’d only been there once before myself, some many years ago. It’s Oakland’s Art Deco jewel, designed by local architectural legend Timothy L. Pflueger, and it may well be more accurately referred to as a movie palace than a movie theater.
I’ve been on a Michael Curtiz jag of late, since stumbling on his remarkable Doctor X (1931) and then more recently in watching his terrific The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). While he’s not a top name in the auteur theory, his name does appear as director on a number of awesome classic films. And while Casablanca may be his most famous and most beloved, I’m continuing on a march toward seeing more of his films.
Casablanca is a romance, a political thriller, set in the Moroccan city of the title. Humphrey Bogart is Rick, an American ex-pat, who runs a bar and tries to stay neutral to the politics of the world. Ingrid Bergman is Ilsa, and when she and her political refugee husband wind up in Casablanca, in Rick’s Cafe Americain, well, all the backstory comes to the fore, and Rick’s chance at staying neutral as the politics and romance come alive ain’t worth a hill of beans in this world.
Frankly, the dialog is terrific. Claude Rains, as the corrupt but highly affable Captain Louis Renault, does the most with the most, quipping along quite amusingly throughout the film. Of course, most of the film’s most famous lines are spoken by Bogart in his most iconic role. The funny thing about seeing the film in this day and age is the constant awareness of the classic lines, cultural icons as they are, so much bigger than their context in the film. Of course, the audience members who are more familiar with the film, having seen it God knows how many times, all can anticipate the lines and perhaps appreciate their context as much as their pure recognizability, give more weight to it all and often broke out in applause and cheer.
I have to say that it was a damn good time. The Paramount is a marvel. Frankly, you could go see a Justin Bieber film there and still feel like you didn’t get ripped off. But Casablanca at the Paramount, now there is a match made in heaven for a film aficionado. Though this is the first time in 17 some odd years that I made it there, I can tell you, that I plan to go back soon.