Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)

by Douglas Buck April 1, 2022 4 minutes (935 words) 16mm Cinéma du Musée, part of Le Cinéclub/The Film Society 2022 winter/spring program

‘What in Heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?’
‘I came for the waters.’
‘What waters? We’re in the desert.’
‘I was misinformed.’

Exotic Morocco, far off, yet just off the path of the ravages of World War II. Rick’s Place, a swanky gambling joint filled with a most disreputable international lot, including corrupt French bureaucrats, tight-lipped Nazis… and the shifty, ever-sweating and bug-eyed Peter Lorre (perhaps the most lovable cinematic creep ever, if such a thing is possible), looking to get his hands on anything he can to trade (travel papers, anyone?). Rick himself, helmed by constant fag-toting Bogie (clutching each cig with that admirable three finger pose – allowing for just the right amount of contempt at the toss of each butt), hiding his secrets behind clever banter (such as that priceless little repartee above) and a veneer of disillusionment (come now, of course we know better!)… that is, until his greatest of loves (one who just happens to be one of the most influential female figures to ever grace the screen, Ingrid Bergman), kindled in gay Par-ee (where else?), walks into his den of vipers, on the run from those villainous Reichsmen. And, let’s not (ever) forget, Claude Rains, relishing in what has to be his greatest of roles (I mean, I haven’t seen every film he’s made, but I’m making an educated guess here) as the endearing, yet thoroughly corrupt bureaucrat, Captain Renault, carefully – yet always opportunistically — negotiating between the sneering Nazis, petty criminals, gun runners and political exiles swarming about, all while taking advantage of his own occasionally carnal desires over the desperate for the exchange of one illegal favor or another.

“Play it once, Sam. For old time’s sake.”

An A-est of A pictures, gifting us one of the great international casts, delivering some of the most sublime dialogue ever captured on film (so classic, in fact, even the misrepresentations are well known by film lovers, as everyone who knows anything about cinema knows that Woody Allen’s film title homage to the Bogie film, Play it Again, Sam, is never actually said quite that way in Casablanca), filled with the most iconic representations of romance and redemption (through sacrifice, and through friendship recognized), Casablanca is one of those pure examples of the supremely powerful and confident mythmaking that was Hollywood at its finest (I know, I know, the somewhat rape-y cad Renault is offered up as one of the likably redeemed, but, hey, I didn’t make the film! I’m just celebrating it!).

For anyone ever wondering what the rabid fuss was about from all those 60’s French brat filmmakers about Hollywood cinema… I submit as evidence, exhibit 1, Casablanca. Throw in a few Ford westerns, and then it’s all there; the larger-than-life fantasy landscape that was once Hollywood at the movies.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Spurrell-conducted Cinéclub night (and what a way to start off the winter/spring session with Casablanca) if it didn’t also throw in a tasty cinematic morsel, also on 16mm, to get the evening started, with this night’s appetizer being an 8-minute Looney Tunes spoof on the film, Carrotblanca, with carrot-chomping Bugs Bunny running the Café Au Lait Americain club in, of course, the titular exotic town of Carrotblanca.

Having grown up on these cartoons, as well as eagerly introduced them to my daughter as soon as she was developed enough to focus her eyes on a screen, occasionally catching one on the big screen always provides a warm and nostalgic trip down memory lane, especially with the Casablanca international cast supplanted by a larger coterie of Looney Tunes regulars than usual; everyone from Foghorn Leghorn (well, his silhouette anyway), Tweety (amusingly as the reprobate Peter Lorre character) with his eternal nemesis Sylvester, and Daffy, of course! (as piano-playing Sam) as well as the welcome presence of that most lascivious female cat-molesting French skunk Pepé Le Pew (perfectly ‘cast’ as the stand-in for the Claude Rain’s French cad).

My one (fairly) big qualm with the cartoon is, since it was made in 1995 (many years after the original Chuck Jones originals), brilliant voice-artist Mel Blanc was deceased, so the pleasantly familiar ring of a number of their voices just isn’t there (especially in regards to whoever did the pale imitation of Bug’s voice), but it’s still great to at least physically see ‘em all… as well as to enjoy the thankfully intact way politically incorrect humor, including a prison rape gag, with the bull headed Yosemite Sam’s Captain Pandemonium getting his comeuppance by ending up in a jail cell staring wide-eyed at the very large, suspiciously dark skinned solo prisoner staring leeringly at him, his attentions clear, to that aforementioned greatest of all animated sexual predators, Monsieur Le Pew – whose French origins of love clearly required his appearance herein – continuing his unending sexual harassment of the poor desperate-to-escape female cat he keeps falling head over heels for (though the episode doesn’t even bother with the obligatory opening moment of a wet white paint streak somehow ending up on the kittie, leading to Pepe’s mistaken identity of the cute little pussy as a fellow skunk).

So, there it is. An epic start to another exciting Le Cinéclub/The Film Society season.

Douglas Buck goes to the debut show of the The Film Society’s 2022 Spring season opener, and it’s a doozy with Casablanca (I think you may of heard of it) and a Looney Tunes parody of the same, Carrotblanca.

Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)

Douglas Buck. Filmmaker. Full-time cinephile. Part-time electrical engineer. You can also follow Buck on “Buck a Review,” his film column of smart, snappy, at times irreverent reviews.

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