Major Strasser: We have a complete dossier on you. Richard Blaine, American, age 37. Cannot return to his country. The reason is a little vague. We also know what you did in Paris, Mr. Blaine, and also we know why you left Paris. [hands the dossier to Rick]
Major Strasser: Don't worry, we are not going to broadcast it.
Rick: [looks up from the notes] Are my eyes really brown?
This month marks the 70th anniversary of the film Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. How this is the case, I’m not sure, since filming started in MAY of 1942 and the film wasn’t widely released until January of 1943.
Stories about this film are myriad: a lot of the writing was done during shooting, many times the actors weren’t quite sure what was going on, the film had a very low budget and had to make a couple of cost-cutting moves (perhaps most notable was that the plane at the end of the film was made of cardboard and used both little people and forced perspective to make it look larger; this also explains all the fog), the director’s Hungarian accent often made things tough for the crew, and so on. But the undeniable fact is that it all came together to create one of the finest, most perfect films of all time. Like so many others that get that designation, it’s a very rich tapestry of characters, plot, humor, danger, love, sex (mostly implied but that’s OK), drama, acts of heroism and complicated bad guys.
Last night, to mark the occasion of the 70th anniversary of it being six weeks before the first day of principal shooting—that’s all I can come up with for this date—Turner Classic Movies staged a nationwide big-screen showing of Casablanca. Locally, it took place at the Egyptian Theatre in Hanover, at the Arundel Mills Mall. So last night, I took Wife and Wee One out for A Sold-Out Night In Casablanca.
The Egyptian is the largest movie theater in Maryland and possibly on the East Coast. And, given the décor, they really took the name to heart: columns abound with hieroglyphics on them (they also have “cracks” in the facades to make them look older), a statue of Anubis guards the entrance from the parking lot, and there are murals of desert scenes everywhere. Once you’re into the theater area, it’s strictly a modern setting, with stadium-style auditoriums of about 500 high-back rocker-style seats. It’s a pretty sweet setup.
Because it was put together by TCM, the show itself begins with an introduction by Robert Osborne. This one, however, was more extensive, featuring interviews with some of the actors and production staff, including the woman at Warner Brothers who talked Hal Wallis into buying the unproduced play script. This was interspersed with LOTS of clips from the film itself. It got to the point where Wee One finally asked, “Are they going to show us the whole movie here?” From my standpoint, it seemed as though nearly everyone in the audience was not seeing the film for the first time, but I can imagine many of those clips being spoilers for someone who hadn’t seen it before. It also made it sound especially disingenuous when, at the end of the introduction, Osborne says something about, “Whether you’re seeing it here for the first time, or the hundredth time…”, clearly oblivious to the fact that the film was kind of ruined for the ones seeing it for the first time. (Frankly, I’m not positive that Wee One had seen the film in its entirety before last night; I know she’s seen pieces of it.) Most of those clips could have been cut shorter, or replaced with production stills, and nobody would have minded.
Wee One has been taking some art classes in school, specifically concentrating on pencil drawings lately, and this came through at one point during the film itself, when she looked at one particular shot of Ingrid Bergman with the gauze filters and the catch lights (they make her eyes sparkle), and said, “I want to draw her.” Then she pestered me to find a still from that specific scene after we got home. But for a kid with attention issues, she really stuck with the film. Even if she didn’t necessarily get all of the politics involved, she got most of the jokes, she caught a lot of nuances, she pointed out a couple of production issues (specifically Dooley Wilson’s piano “playing” and Bogart’s coat miraculously drying as he got on the train), and came away with a generally positive experience about a truly great film.