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: Casablanca (1942)  ( 9855 )
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« #45 : October 28, 2017, 11:20:46 PM »

There is a new book out called "Destination Casablanca," by Meredith Hindley, about what the city was like during the time period around which the movie was set.

Here are book reviews by:

Public Affairs:

New Republic:

The Washington Post:

And here is one in  Wall Street Journal

I will paste the WSJ review here:

REVIEW: ‘Destination Casablanca’ Rounds Up the Usual Suspects
By Caroline Moorehead

Early in 1943, eager to capitalize on the recent Allied landings in North Africa, Warner Bros. rushed to release the motion picture “Casablanca.” Its tale of collaborators, spies, black marketeers and refugees soon won mass audiences, not least because of the memorable performances by Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, and before long the film became one of the best-loved and most-watched of all time. As Meredith Hindley shows in “Destination Casablanca,” the image painted by the movie was not far from the truth. “The morality play that unfolds,” she writes, “perfectly captures the real choices that real people faced.”

Casablanca was indeed a hotbed of intrigue. But it would be a mistake to confuse Ms. Hindley’s book with the film. What she has produced is a detailed account of the war years in Morocco, the country’s feuds between pro- and anti-Vichy officials, its diplomatic deals and stand-offs, and the setbacks and successes of the Allied landings. This is a book for historians, not film buffs.

Morocco fended off colonial conquest until relatively late, but it succumbed to German, French and Spanish advances and was carved up for economic spoliation not long before World War I. Three-quarters of it went to France, which added to the bloc of countries across North Africa under French control. Morocco’s first French resident general, Hubert Lyautey, was not only an able administrator but deeply respectful of Islam. The French brought roads, trains, schools and power plants but left the benign sultan to run religious and cultural affairs. Casablanca, a picturesque but ramshackle little port, became an elegant and modern international city. By 1939, one-third of its 350,000 inhabitants were European.

Under the terms of the June 1940 armistice signed by Marshal Henri-Philippe Pétain, the Germans agreed to leave France’s colonies under Vichy control. But there was considerable disagreement among the senior French officials on the ground over the extent to which the North African colonies should toe the German line. Casablanca quickly attracted a disparate array of people: repatriated French and Moroccan soldiers, evacuees from Gibraltar, deserters from the Foreign Legion as well as spies from the Allied secret services masquerading as consular officials and eager to support a resistance army opposed to Vichy. Two hundred ships carrying Jews from across German-occupied Europe docked in the port, all of them desperate to obtain visas for the U.S. or South America, easy prey for predatory agents and touts. In the overcrammed, uneasy city, the Jews found help from a number of small, altruistic groups that helped them escape from internment.

Ms. Hindley is good at evoking these adventurers, schemers and idealists. Accounts of the progress in diplomatic horse-trading and in the war across Europe alternate with vignettes on the main players, as well as some of those caught up and buffeted by unfolding events. There is an engaging portrait of Josephine Baker, champion of the Free French, who arrived in Casablanca from Paris in January 1941 with a Great Dane, three monkeys (of varying degrees of viciousness), two white mice, 28 pieces of luggage—and secret messages for the Allies she had gathered from the resistance and while traveling around North Africa that she kept pinned inside her bra or written in invisible ink on the back of her sheet music.

In 1942, fearing a German takeover and needing Morocco as a base for the war in North Africa as well as a launchpad for the liberation of Europe, the Allies put together Operation Torch, and in November prepared to land at various spots along the coast. They needed 74 hours to take Casablanca, in what became World War II’s only full-scale naval battle in the European theater as the Americans and the French pounded each other from both sea and land. On mainland France, with the Americans now at war with the Axis powers, Vichy broke off relations with the U.S. while the Germans and Italians swept across France and overran the country. The last illusions of a free France were finally dispelled. But with Casablanca captured, the Allies now had airfields from which to launch attacks on occupied Europe. American troops poured into Morocco. Vichy France was allowed to hold on to much of the daily administration, but since it was steered by men of differing and often concealed loyalties—to Pétain, to Charles de Gaulle or to other French generals and factions—the situation on the ground remained as murky and ambiguous as ever.

Digging deep into military archives in Britain, France and the U.S., Ms. Hindley has produced a scholarly narrative, weaving her way deftly among a large cast of characters, both familiar and unfamiliar. Roosevelt and Churchill, arriving in Casablanca in January 1943 to discuss strategy, feature prominently, as does De Gaulle, whose stubbornness maddened both the Americans and the British and who, after a “stony” meeting with Churchill, stalked his way “out of the villa and down the little garden with his head high in the air.” The parts played by the French generals, Henri Giraud, Charles Noguès and Maxime Weygand, as well as Adm. Jean-François Darlan —who signed the armistice with the Allies and was assassinated on Christmas Eve, 1942—are all dissected, as are the roles of the American generals who took part in the landings and who would later go on to victories across France and Germany. Clark, Eisenhower and Patton were all present in Casablanca, as was Robert Murphy, Roosevelt’s secret envoy to North Africa. The many archives consulted, however, do not include German ones.

Though the Americans and the British never succeeded in brokering peace between the warring French generals, Casablanca was the place where the controversial demand of “unconditional surrender”—of the Germans, the Italians and the Japanese—was later first spelled out as the ultimate goal at war’s end. Another two and a half terrible years would pass before that was achieved.

By the late spring of 1943, the war moved on from Casablanca. The interned refugees were released and once again desperately seeking ways to reach the U.S. The American and British spies, for the most part, left to spy elsewhere. Plans were under way for the Sicily landings, the long war in Italy and the Normandy campaign. But, as Ms. Hindley shows in her authoritative and entertaining book, French Morocco remained, in the words of one journalist, a “confused, dizzy country.”

--- Ms. Moorehead is the author of “A Bold and Dangerous Family: The Remarkable Story of an Italian Mother, Her Two Sons, and Their Fight Against Fascism.”

« : November 26, 2017, 01:32:13 PM drinkanddestroy »

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« #46 : November 26, 2017, 01:25:21 PM »

Today, Nov. 26, 2017, is the 75th anniversary of the premiere of Casablanca, on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26, 1942, in New York.

Here is an op-ed from The Wall Street Journal.

We’ll Always Have ‘Casablanca’
By Robert Garnett

The Great American Novel may never be agreed on, and may not exist, but there’s little doubt about the Great American Movie. Seventy-five years ago this week—on Thanksgiving Day, 1942—“Casablanca” premiered in New York.

“Gone with the Wind,” the great romantic epic of defeat and resilience, might be a plausible challenger, were its Old South sympathies not out of fashion in these virtuous times. The showy cinematic virtuosity of “Citizen Kane,” beloved of film professors and art-house theaters, interests few others. “The Wizard of Oz ” might contend, if only Dorothy had encountered Clark Gable instead of the Tin Man.

But “Casablanca” stands alone. “The most wonderful claptrap that was ever put on the screen,” esteemed director Billy Wilder said. “Claptrap that you can’t get out of your mind.”

This American classic is set entirely outside the U.S. and follows an expatriate who, for unexplained reasons, can’t return home. Virtually all the other characters are foreign, as were the actors who played them. In 1942 Hollywood was awash with out-of-work European refugees: Of the 14 actors receiving screen credit, 11 were foreign-born.

Likewise director Michael Curtiz, a Hungarian martinet with shaky English. “Next time I send some dumb son-of-a-bitch for a Coca-Cola, I go myself,” he once memorably complained. He and Humphrey Bogart “argued so frequently,” producer Hal Wallis recalled, “that I had to come on the set to control the quarrels.”

On screen, the warm translucent sensuality of Ingrid Bergman perfectly complemented the dark, brusque Bogart—but off-screen they didn’t click. Unhappy in a foundering marriage, he kept to himself during filming and drank heavily. A veteran film crook, he was uncomfortable in love scenes: “I don’t do it very well.”

“I kissed him but I never knew him,” Bergman said. She thought her film-husband Paul Henreid a prima donna. During filming she was eagerly looking beyond, to a role in an ambitious—and now forgotten—film of Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” with Gary Cooper, who at 6 feet 3 inches tall would give her a co-star to look up to. She was noticeably taller than Bogart, an awkward disparity disguised by shoe lifts and camera angles. They never worked together again.

“Casablanca” was adapted from an unproduced play full of “sophisticated hokum” which Warner Bros. acquired shortly after Pearl Harbor. The plot groans with inconsistencies and absurdities. “Don’t worry what’s logical,” Curtiz advised. “I make it go so fast no one notices.” The screenplay was incomplete as filming began, the ending uncertain as it proceeded, and Bogart’s final line written and dubbed in weeks after filming concluded.

“Every day they were handing out the dialogue and we were trying to make sense of it,” Bergman recalled. The scriptwriters couldn’t agree on the point of the story. Two wrote witty repartee. A third wanted to dull it down with politics and uplift. The fourth worried about the script’s ambiguous romance.

So did Bergman. Which man was her character in love with? Her bitter ex-lover Rick Blaine (Bogart) or heroic resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Henreid)? “There is a little bit of difference in acting towards a man that you love and another for whom you may just feel pity or affection,” she pointed out, reasonably.

Glooming over all was the war—with its restrictions, shortages and uncertainties. Studio workers and actors were disappearing into the military. Jimmy Stewart and Ronald Reagan had already left. Clark Gable enlisted while “Casablanca” was being filmed in the summer of 1942. Wartime rationing began to pinch, from silk and wool for costumes to nails for set-building to celluloid for movie film itself. Sets were recycled. The Paris train station in which Rick finds himself jilted had recently served as Boston’s Back Bay Station in “Now, Voyager.”

Meantime, the U.S. Bureau of Motion Pictures, a division of the Office of War Information, pressed studios to pad their films with propaganda. “What war information problem does it seek to clarify, dramatize or interpret?” a government manual asked of every film. “Does it contribute something new to our understanding of the world conflict, and the various forces involved?” The anti-German thrust in “Casablanca” earned the bureau’s warm approval; but for ridiculing Vichy French collaboration—a delicate issue—it was withheld from export to French Morocco, then under Vichy control. Casablancans couldn’t watch “Casablanca.”

As shadows waver on the walls of Rick’s Café and Ilsa listens to Sam the piano-player sing “As Time Goes By,” the politics and propaganda dissolve. We are drawn into deeper human rhythms of love, and loss, and long-lasting regret. It was the year of Midway and Guadalcanal, perhaps America’s finest hour. With “Casablanca,” it was certainly Hollywood’s. Easier, more comfortable times—and flashier filmmaking—have produced nothing to match it.

--- Mr. Garnett is a professor of English literature at Gettysburg College.

« : November 26, 2017, 01:32:25 PM drinkanddestroy »

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« #47 : November 26, 2017, 01:31:24 PM »

and here is an article by the WSJ's TV reviewer

Best Enjoyed, Not Dissected
By John Anderson

Even movie fans who don’t consider “Casablanca” Hollywood’s crowning achievement have to agree it’s among a handful of the most beloved movies the studio system ever created. It’s a tale of redemption. A hero’s journey. A heartbreaking love story. A fount of deathless dialogue. The Best Picture winner on Oscar night. And a Manichean face-off, made when the world was in the middle of one.

One reason it all works, despite what Pauline Kael once described as its “appealingly schlocky romanticism,” is the architectural wonders of the script by the Epstein brothers, Julius and Philip, and Howard Koch. Another is the direction of Michael Curtiz, who was never regarded as an auteur but who, over a storied career that included such disparate gems as “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “ Mildred Pierce, ” always served the material. The Koch-Epstein screenplay is all fat-free forward motion. Curtiz puts it on a treadmill.

Beginning with the newsreel-style intro—breathless, urgent and providing all one needs to know about Casablancan politics—the film never stops moving: One of the usual suspects is shot and dies under a poster of Marshal Petain. There’s a survey of Rick’s café, which establishes the desperation of the dispossessed. Rick is revealed at first only by his hands, signing a tab, playing chess; by the time the camera reaches his face, we know who he is.

Curtiz is great at this kind of shorthand, and he has a cast of almost cartoonish character actors abetting him: the tubby/avuncular S.Z. Sakall as the waiter Carl; Leonid Kinskey as the “crazy Russian” bartender Sascha; the corpulent, lordly Sydney Greenstreet, whose Signor Ferrari has one of the best lines in the film: “As the leader of all illegal activities in Casablanca, I am an influential and respected man.”

But Curtiz also knew the power of the lingering close-up: Rick’s tortured grimace at first seeing the evanescent Ilsa in his bar; Ilsa’s shattered look when Rick denies her the letters of transit; the two saying a final, silent goodbye with their eyes, Ilsa angelically mouthing “God bless you” before larking off to Lisbon. Laszlo? He may as well be a waiter hurrying champagne cocktails to underage Bulgarians.

But to try to reverse-engineer “Casablanca,” to figure out exactly what elevates it from mere movie to masterpiece, is to disbelieve in movie magic. Of course it’s greater than the sum of its parts—the best films are. And like no small number of them, “Casablanca” seems to have come together almost as a series of accidents—or, at the very least, undistinguished circumstances. It was based on a play no one had actually produced; it starred an actor ( Humphrey Bogart ) no one had really known how to cast. And yet, as sometimes happens, an unlikely collection of parts—think of a Frank Gehry building, or certain Mahler orchestrations—adds up to something ineffable and sublime. To study it too closely, in fact, is to risk bursting a delicate bubble.

That said, there remains something very basic about the now-75-year-old “Casablanca,” which premiered in New York on Nov. 26, 1942. For all its glamour, heroism and patriotism, “Casablanca” also speaks very intimately to the idea of belonging—not in the sense of nuclear family, necessarily, but in a manner classic films have often explored.

The poignancy of “The Wizard of Oz,” for instance, isn’t about Dorothy returning to Kansas, but about having left behind, in Oz, the characters she (and we) really love. In “The Searchers,” John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards is left to wander in exile, not by virtue of word, deed or a lack of family, but through an existential inability to connect with his fellow man. “Citizen Kane” is haunted by its protagonist’s ruined childhood and the birthplace he’s always, perhaps subconsciously, longed for.

In “Casablanca,” the tears we shed for the hopeless romance of Rick and Ilsa are certainly genuine. But there’s also a pang for what we leave at Rick’s Café Américain: an idealized sanctuary—chic, cosmopolitan but somehow democratic—led by a strong (American) male, a benign despot, perhaps, but one whose rough exterior masks a heart of gold. Rick’s nightclub is also a mirror of the America to which so many minor characters are trying to flee. Only three of the principals were American-born; of the other 70-odd players, many had actually fled Europe as Hitler rose to power, and the fact that refugees are actually playing refugees gives the movie a genuineness of tone—and some genuine accents—it would otherwise have lacked.

Not everything in Casablanca makes sense. Those letters of transit taken from the murdered German couriers and signed by Charles de Gaulle ? (“Cannot be rescinded. Not even questioned.”) Why would the Germans have honored letters signed by Gen. De Gaulle? Why does the French prefect of police, Capt. Renault ( Claude Rains ), sound like an Englishman? Why are Rick and Sam ( Dooley Wilson ) perfectly dry when they board the train leaving Paris, after having waited for Ilsa ( Ingrid Bergman ) in a drenching rain?

But, in the end, it’s a bit like the question Rick asks, drunk and mourning for Ilsa: “If it’s December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York?” Not everything has to be right to be poetry.

--- Mr. Anderson writes on TV for the Journal.

« : November 26, 2017, 01:32:35 PM drinkanddestroy »

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« #48 : November 26, 2017, 02:40:13 PM »

Pretty good write up. I didn't know what was going on in my one watch of the movie. Gonna purchase this and give it another look...

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« #49 : November 27, 2017, 01:34:14 PM »

Thanks for posting John Anderson's article. It hits the nail on the head.

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« #50 : December 03, 2017, 12:45:54 AM »

The first-ever biography of Michael Curtiz has just been released, entitled Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film, by Alan K. Rode. 681 pages! I reserved this at my library.

Here is a book review in WSJ

Review: ‘Michael Curtiz,’ Seeing in Pictures

By Scott Eyman

Michael Curtiz is the best director most people have never heard of. They know his films, though: “Captain Blood,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” “Angels With Dirty Faces,” “The Sea Hawk,” “The Sea Wolf,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Mildred Pierce,” “The Breaking Point.” And, of course, “Casablanca.” And that’s just the top tier. These pictures helped define Warner Bros. in the 1930s and ’40s, when it was the scrappiest, most exhilarating studio in the business. Below them are an additional dozen or so beautifully directed professional entertainments.

Curtiz’s secret was a dazzling technique that could be fitted to any genre except comedy—noir, westerns, musicals, love stories, whatever was on offer. His camera was an active participant, a searcher after crucial emotional moments, making for a dynamic style that was a strong influence on the young Steven Spielberg. Curtiz liked artful compositions and rapid push-ins from a medium shot to a close-up. The camera and the editing of prime Curtiz films tend toward the energetic, the better to make the scene come alive. His visual sense was so acute that, according to writer-producer Robert Buckner, Curtiz was the kind of “cinematic genius” who “could make a picture when he didn’t know what it was about.” Casey Robinson, who had worked on the script for “Casablanca,” called him “one of the great directors of scenes. . . . He saw it in pictures, and you supplied the stories.”

Yet until now nobody has taken up the case for Curtiz in a soup-to-nuts biography. The good news is that Alan Rode’s massive book is exhaustively researched, well written and frequently witty. (“ Peter Lorre was the knuckleball of Hollywood character actors,” Mr. Rode writes.) There are also numerous anecdotes of accidental humor arising from Curtiz’s garbled English, which made it hard to take him seriously. “Please, please, make me a love nest from out of it,” he told Bette Davis and Errol Flynn before a passionate scene. David Niven used Curtiz’s exhortation to “bring on the empty horses” as the title for his autobiography.

Born Emmanuel Kaminer in Budapest in 1886, Curtiz changed his name to Mihály Kertész to dodge anti-Semitism, then later changed it again to the anglicized Michael Curtiz. First an actor, he became a director in 1912 and came to Hollywood and Warner Bros. in 1926, immediately becoming the studio workhorse. To the critics, Curtiz’s problem was that he was a company man, happily churning out movies at Warner Bros. for more than a quarter-century. During one five-year period, he averaged six films a year, perennially driving his actors and crew to exhaustion. On the horror picture “Doctor X” (1932), he worked at least one 20-hour day—the sort of abuse that helped bring unions into the business a few years later.

Since Warner Bros. was full of employees who weren’t company people—who, in fact, loathed the company and the men who ran it—Curtiz’s enthusiasm was an irritant, as was his indifference to the safety of the stunt men and the dignity of actors. After Davis became an above-the-title star, she made only one picture with Curtiz, “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex,” and avoided him thereafter. Flynn, with whom Curtiz made several hugely successful swashbucklers, including “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” tried to strangle him on the set of 1941’s “Dive Bomber,” their final collaboration. (The two men shared a private history that would have been trouble even if their personalities had meshed—Curtiz once had an affair with the actress Lili Damita, who became Flynn’s first wife.)

In fact, Curtiz was interested in little other than making movies and having sex. He had a limited psychological range and was a notorious lothario even for the studio-system era, making him a dicey biographical subject. Mr. Rode gives equal time to those who loved the director as well as those who hated him, although the author’s zeal leads him to devote too many pages to some highly forgettable films. Curtiz would have rather directed anything than nothing, but even he must have swallowed hard reading the scripts for “Mountain Justice” or “Gold Is Where You Find It.”

Mr. Rode’s seamless research makes it clear that Curtiz was always respected by his co-workers but hardly ever liked. The generally mild-mannered James Cagney called him “a pompous bastard who didn’t know how to treat actors, but he sure as hell knew how to treat a camera.” When Bradford Dillman, who worked for Curtiz on 1961’s “Francis of Assisi,” was asked for his memories of the director, he replied: “Just thinking about him fifty years later gets me excited in the wrong way.”

The good times ended when Curtiz left Warner Bros. in the early 1950s and entered a precipitous creative decline until his death in 1962. His energy lagged, and the supple snap and compositional depth of his mature style flattened out, leading to the suspicion that Warner Bros. did at least as much for Curtiz as Curtiz did for Warner Bros. Nevertheless, he amassed a body of work without parallel at a great movie studio. His films are his best advocate of that, but Alan Rode’s book is a close second.

--- Mr. Eyman is the author, most recently, of “Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart.” He teaches film history at the University of Miami.

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