Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The fundamental things apply

Casablanca is one of the best stories ever told.

And it will be told again Wednesday evening, July 16, at 8 pm at the Goldsmith Family Cinema on Wesleyan's campus. It's part of a series honoring and featuring Ingrid Bergman. Actor Edward Herrman will provide an introduction before the film is screened.

I've loved the film since I first saw it, chopped to shreds and interrupted by commercials for the Veg-o-matic, or Wonderbread, on some afternoon movie series on TV.

The casting, including the magnificent supporting players (Sydney Greenstreet, Claude Raines, Paul Henreid, Dooley Wilson), is perfect. The story that Ronald Reagan was being considered as the original first choice for the role of Rick, is apocryphal, and was a fiction created by Reagan's publicity agent. George Raft was apparently considered, because he was lobbying Jack Warner for the role, but reliable sources say the rights to the script were purchased for Bogart. Ingrid Bergman was "borrowed" from David O. Selznick for the role of Ilsa.

The film was directed by the underrated Michael Curtiz (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Angels With Dirty Faces, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Life With Father, Mildred Pierce and many others), who reportedly traded directorial assignments with Howard Hawks. Curtiz was scheduled to shoot Sergeant York, and Hawks, Casablanca, and they agreed to take on each other's assignments.

And of course, there's the script. Originally written as a stage play (which was never produced) by high school teacher Murray Bennett, and called Everybody Comes to Rick's, it was purchased for a record $20,000. It was reworked simultaneously by the team of Julius and Philp Epstein (twin brothers), and Howard Koch. All the writers worked on the film, particularly the ending (which was in question until late in shooting), as it was being shot.

My favorite scene, still, is the "dueling anthems" scene in which drunken German officers begin singing Die Wacht Am Rhein and French expatriates stand to sing La Marseillaise, drowning the Germans out, and raising the hair on my neck, each time.

And then, there's that other song, As Time Goes By, a favorite of original writer Bennett, and lobbied against by the film score composer Max Steiner, it became a hit for Rudy Vallee, who had recorded his version in 1931.

The film will be shown, as are all others in the series, on archival 35mm prints.

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