Monday, June 27, 2016

"Casablanca" Week at Cultureshark

I know I promised to catch up on some other features this week, but you know what? I just experienced my annual viewing of "Casablanca," and I'm declaring this whole week a celebration of my favorite (and the best) movie of all time.

I like to watch the film every year on or around my birthday for several reasons: For one, it's the one that got me "into" older movies. I still remember catching it for the first time on a late-night screening by a local PBS station and being mesmerized by it. Perhaps more importantly, it gives me a certain sense of renewal. Each time I watch "Casablanca," I am reminded that there is good in the world and in humanity, that people are capable of making decisions based on ideals and concepts larger than their own immediate desires, and that S.Z. Sakall is funny as hell.

It still holds up for me every time, and it still feels like about a 30-minute movie instead of a 104-minute one. Over the years I focus on different things. For a while my favorite scene was the one in which Rick helps the Bulgarian couple get money for exit visas by manipulating the roulette game. Lately I find myself admiring Sam more and more but wishing he didn't have to address Rick as "Boss" and "Mister Rick."

Another thing I note as the years go on is that I like Paul Henreid's Victor Laszlo more than I ever did. In many ways it's a tough part, but you know, Victor's a pretty good guy. It would be easy to make him a humorless, insufferable bore, but even compared to Bogart, he comes off pretty well. His charisma is just a different kind, and it's an appropriate contrast in this setting.

I'm also more convinced that Claude Rains delivers one of the finest comic performances ever in this movie and that he deserves more acclaim for his work as Captain Renault. And I notice that while there are some plot elements that make no sense, the movie at least tries to offer explanations for most of them. Besides, who cares? The whole "Letters of Transit" thing always makes me smile, but there are worse gimmicks to build a narrative around.

It's hard to say new things about one of the most beloved and discussed motion pictures in history, but I have a few more thoughts I'll share this week. Stay tuned for more "Casablanca" thoughts, and I suggest you watch it again because...because why not?

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