I wish I could have been on the set when they were filming “Casablanca.” What a great story, and what a great cast! Wartime Hollywood must have been a lot like Rick’s Café Américain. Refugee actors desperate for work, preyed on by studio executives who knew they could get them on the cheap. But something about the exotic mix of nationalities, along with the high stakes involved, brought out the best in people.
All those Europeans, their nuanced performances, make Humphrey Bogart’s straight-talking American stand out like a sore thumb. Don’t get me wrong. Bogart is perfect as Rick, the cynical nightclub owner who retrieves his sense of purpose while letting go of the only woman he ever loved. Against the shadowy elements of “Casablanca,” his clear-eyed character emerges in sharp relief, the way a searchlight cuts through the night fog. No wonder the exquisite Ilsa fell in love with him!
I’ve never liked Peter Lorre better than in the role of Ugarte. “You know, Rick,” he says, “I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.” Even a thief like Ugarte can disarm with his honesty. Then there’s the fine French actor, Marcel Dalio, in a bit part as Emil the croupier. Mere minutes onscreen, but he is luminous. Sydney Greenstreet as Signor Ferrari: pure pleasure to watch this master actor at work. And Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault. Seeing him come around and commit himself to the anti-Nazi cause makes me smile every time.
“Rick, you’re a sentimentalist,” he tells Bogey. Well, count me in, guys.
(18 January 2011)