Roger Ebert’s Casablanca Commentary

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Honorary Bogart Fix:

5 Bogie

The Lowdown

Acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert overlays Hollywood’s most famous film with his own comprehensive commentary.

What I Thought

Any regular readers will know that I drank the Roger Ebert Kool-Aid a long time ago.

As a kid growing up in the Midwest without cable TV, the two greatest things that happened to me on network television (5 channels at the time) were when newbie network Fox began airing old action flicks on Saturday afternoons, and when At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert began airing around the country in syndication.

We had one rental store in town and these two cantankerous film lovers were my only pre-internet guide to making my way through the racks and racks of films that all looked good to me. It was only after I dropped my $1.25 that I’d find out you can’t always judge a film by the VHS cover art, and I needed help making the most of my money.

I continued watching and reading Roger Ebert after Gene Siskel’s unfortunate passing. I didn’t always agree with him, but when I disagreed, I could almost always understand his point. (One of the few complete disagreements I ever had came when Ebert decried that video games were not art.)

I began to love and appreciate the man even more after following his battle with cancer on his blog. It turned out that his observations on life were even more compelling than his observations on films. I devoured his book Life Itself and the loved the subsequent documentary of the same name. Then I fell especially hard for the art of film criticism after finding this little nugget in the used book store:

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To this day, the moment I finish any new film, my first instinct is always to see if Ebert agreed with my assessment, only to realize that I’ll have to make due with the massive body of work that he left behind.

Have I spent enough time building up my admiration for Roger Ebert yet? So is it any surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed his commentary over Casablanca?

Any notable film critic’s thoughts on the film would probably be fun to hear. (I’m a big fan of David Edelstein and occasionally like to read Richard Roeper. Then there’s this podcast that never fails to deliver – http://filmspotting.net/ – always a great listen.) What sets Ebert apart though, is his PhD level knowledge of Casablancas cast, director, legacy, and place within the history of American cinema.

The man led shot-by-shot breakdown’s of the film for live audiences for goodness sake. I would argue that he probably knew the film as well or better than any man or woman alive before he passed.

So what do we get with his commentary?

For starters, I’ve seen the film more times than I can remember but now I have a new appreciation for Ingrid Bergman’s acting style. Ebert gives us a masterclass on her use of “looking down” to project inner turmoil, as well as a quick lesson on the use of shadow to disguise anything on an actor that CGI would go on to take care of decades later.

He works through many of the myths and legends that have surround the film for years. Yes, Warner Brothers wanted George Raft to play Rick at one point. No, they were never really interested in Ronald Reagan. Sure, Hal Wallis influenced the film in subtle, yet significant ways – he wanted a big band, real parrots, and less hats!

Perhaps Ebert’s most stirring observations come when discussing Casablanca’s historical context, Warner Brother’s severe distaste for the Nazi’s, and the incredible amount of foreign actors that populate the film. There’s a reason this movie seems so authentic. The emotions of fear, betrayal, and anger are more than likely all too real for nearly every supporting actor and extra as they watch Hollywood Nazi’s recreate the authoritarian march of Germany’s boots through Europe that they all lived through.

Then we come to the debate of whether or not Ingrid Bergman knew which man she’d end up with at the end of the film before she filmed the final scene. I won’t give you any spoilers, but I think Ebert makes a pretty solid case that settles the question for me.

Do I disagree occasionally with his thoughts? A little. No, I don’t think Paul Henreid was nearly as wooden as Ebert makes him out to be. And on a minor quibble, revolvers have the rotating cylinder – otherwise they’re just pistols Roger!

All of this only touches the surface of what Ebert’s lifelong passion for films adds to the enjoyment of Casablanca. If you’ve seen the film so much that you can’t imagine finding anything new within it, I would highly recommend tracking down a copy with this commentary.

Roger, we miss you dearly.

Here’s Ebert’s thoughts on the film from his site in 1992 – As Time Goes By…

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Lady Esther Presents – Casablanca – 1943

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My Review

—Another ½ Hour Surprise—

Honorary Bogie Fix:

5 radio

The Lowdown

It’s a classic radio adaption of Hollywood’s most classic film! You can read my original synopsis of the film here. Despite the drastically shortened run time, the film still retains almost all of its most important plot points, although Sydney Greenstreet’s role of Signor Ferrari has been completely excised and Peter Lorre’s Ugarte appears in name only.

What I Thought

With three of its top stars (Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid) back to reprise their roles from the film, a lot can be forgiven for what’s left out in this greatly shortened version of Hollywood’s greatest film. Would it have been nice to hear Dooley Wilson and Claude Rains reprise their roles? Sure, but the actors that they have filling in do close enough impressions that their essence is still there. Would it have been fun to hear Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre back as well? Of course, but when you really consider how their roles were in the original film, it’s not surprising that they cut them for this brief adaption.

What makes this version work so well is that they followed the same formula used for the adaption of High Sierra – keep the love story, dump a lot of the atmosphere. We still get “As Time Goes By” and Paul Henreid once again lead’s the Café in a stirring rendition of “La Marseillaise” to shut those pesky Germans up, so I felt that this adaption has a slight edge over Lady Esther’s version of High Sierra since Sierra didn’t really have such iconic scenes to recreate.

What stuck out to me the most about this version though, was the fact that Rick Blaine really seems to be toying with Ilsa and Victor when it comes to the letters of transit. He says it’s purely business, but he refuses to give them to Victor despite the offer of a large monetary sum. He says he doesn’t want to give Captain Renault any reason to close down the nightclub, yet he doesn’t turn the papers over when given the chance. He tells Victor he’ll save Ilsa. He tells Ilsa that he’ll help her ditch Victor. He takes Renault to the airport with them instead of keeping him in the dark until Victor has escaped as if he wants the good Captain to know exactly how bad he’s been fooled. (Would anyone have questioned a forged signature on the papers?)

With just the audio to tell the story, is seemed much clearer to me that Rick was enjoying himself as he played games with all of the people involved – moving them around his own personal chess board – not sure of which way he wanted the game to play out. He had his own personal grudges and amusements to satisfy before even considering what might be the right thing to do. I would even say that there was a sense in this broadcast that he might not make the “right” choice in the end despite the fact that I knew what was going to happen.

Bogart and Bergman

How come these two didn’t make more films together?!? I hate to say it, but Bergman really steals the show here – recapturing her performance straight from the film. Their scene together as they remember their time in France is especially well done.

Again, Bogart delivers on his lines just as if you’re hearing audio from the movie. It wasn’t until hearing this version though, that I realized how much of his performance from the film is visual. The white tux. The smoking. The drunken sorrow at the table after hours. The contemplative chess. The thousand-yard stare as he holds a gun at the end. Much of his humor has been removed as well, so the character’s not nearly as mischievous as he was on the big screen. Still, I have a feeling that no one will be disappointed with his performance here.

The Rest of the Cast

No names for the supporting actors were given, but the actors playing Sam and Captain Renault do a great job of making us think Dooley Wilson and Claude Rains are back!

The Bottom Line

This one will make you want to watch the film again ASAP.

Dooley Wilson

Dooley Wilson Casablanca 2

Birth Name: Arthur “Dooley” Wilson

Date of Birth: April 3, 1886

Date of Death: May 30, 1953

Number of Films Dooley Wilson Made With Humphrey Bogart: 2

The Lowdown:

Perhaps the most exciting thing that’s happened to me while working on the blog occurred one night while I was reading tidbits and trivia about Bogart films online and discovered that Dooley Wilson had cameoed in another Bogart film, Knock on Any Door, as a piano player. Could it be true? I owned the film, as it came with my Bogart-Columbia Pictures box set, and I had seen the film several times. How could I have missed it? Was this just another cameo myth like Bogart’s supposed appearance in In This Our Life or Ann Sheridan’s in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre?

Lo and behold, I pop in the film, fast forward to the nightclub scene, and there he is, sitting up behind the bar, playing piano and accepting a beer from the bartender. When you consider how the shot is framed, it becomes obvious that Director Nicholas Ray wanted our eyes to find Wilson. It’s as if Director Ray has built a tunnel of people that leads right to Wilson (check out the pic below). But the shot is fleeting, Bogart is commanding the moment with his performance, and I had missed it.

Born in Texas, performing in minstrel shows by twelve, and eventually touring Europe as a singer/drummer for his band “The Red Devils,” Dooley earned his famous nickname in his early twenties when he would perform the Irish song Mr. Dooley in whiteface. Wilson would eventually make his way to Broadway and then on to Hollywood where he would finally cement his legacy with what many deem to be the most famous musical moment in cinema history as he plays the theme song As Time Goes By for Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca.

It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I learned Wilson couldn’t even play piano. His voice is so smooth and his face is so animated that I’d just never bothered looking down at his hands. Now though, it’s pretty clear that he’s just gently bobbing them up and down on the keys. Apparently, another piano player, Elliot Carpenter, was brought onto the set and placed just off-camera so that Wilson could imitate his moves while he sang.

Is it a bit of a stretch to put Wilson into ‘The Usual Suspects’ considering that his second Bogart collaboration is an uncredited cameo with no lines? Who cares? It’s Dooley Wilson! Hollywood’s greatest wingman!

The Filmography

Casablanca – 1942

Dooley Wilson Casablanca

Wilson plays Sam, Bogart’s best friend and confidant who works as the piano player/singer at Rick’s Café Américain. A huge key to the film’s overall quality and success, Wilson’s musical numbers are incredibly well done and entertaining. Even more fun than As Time Goes By is his rendition of Knock on Wood with the whole nightclub crowd helping to back him. When Rick Blaine’s ex comes looking for him, Sam’s quick to say, “I ain’t seen him all night!” despite the fact that he just saw him. Sam knows that she’s going to be trouble, and without missing a beat, he does what any best friend would – he plays interference. Then, when Blaine’s drowning his sorrows at the bottom of a bottle, Sam suggests hitting the road and going fishing. (That could have been an entertaining film in itself!) Yes, they part ways at the finish of the film when Blaine releases Sam to a rival nightclub run by Sydney Greenstreet so he can go risk his life and lose his love, but they have one of those bromance relationships where they could be apart for years and pick right up where they left off when they meet again. Oh, how I hope they met again… You can read my original write-up on the film here.

Knock on Any Door – 1949

Dooley Wilson Knock on Any Door

With no lines and just a few seconds of screen time, this is nothing more than a cameo – although, what a glorious cameo it is! Bogart plays an attorney trying to track down the facts on a murder. While sitting in a nightclub during his investigation, we get a glimpse of Hollywood’s most famous piano player behind him, tickling the ivories and getting a beer. Knock on Any Door is a good enough film that you should see it on its own merits, but its brief re-teaming of these two legends makes it extra sweet! You can read my original write-up on the film here.

*’The Usual Suspects’ is an ongoing feature at The Bogie Film Blog where we highlight the actors and directors who share more than one film with Bogart . . . even if it’s just for a few seconds. Good grief, this guy is cool. You can read the rest of the entries here.*

Claude Rains

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Birth Name: William Claude Rains

Birthdate: November 10, 1889

Date of Death: May 30, 1967

Number of Films Claude Rains made with Humphrey Bogart: 2

The Actor

The son of British theater actor Frederick Rains, Claude Rains was raised around the stage, working various jobs backstage and onstage as he received a well-rounded education in the dramatic arts.

Rising quickly through the theater ranks to become known as one of England’s preeminent stage actors, Rains also taught acting at England’s Royal Academy of Arts where such greats as John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier spent time as his students.

After even more success on Broadway in New York, Rains finally headed west to Hollywood where he received the lead role in his first American film, The Invisible Man for Universal Pictures. After a few years, Rains would move on to Warner Brothers where he would star alongside of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca for which he received one of his four Oscar nominations.

Rains only made two films with Bogart, but ever since that first viewing of Casablanca, I’ve been a big fan of his work. Is there anyone on earth who didn’t laugh out loud the very first time they witnessed this exchange between Rains and Bogart:

Bogart as Rick Blaine: How can you close me up? On what grounds?

Rains as Capt. Louis Renault: I’m shocked, SHOCKED – to find out that gambling is going on in here!

Croupier: (HANDING RAINS A LARGE STACK OF CASH) Your winnings, sir.

Renault: Oh, thank you very much. (TO THE ENTIRE NIGHTCLUB) Everybody out at once!

The Filmography

Casablanca – 1942

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Rains gives an amazing performance as Captain Louis Renault, the ruling authority in Casablanca who also happens to be friends with Bogart . . . as long as the bribes keep coming and the the Germans don’t apply too much pressure. What a testament to Rains’ talent that he can commit completely despicable deeds one moment and then have us laughing with joy the next. In a film with a lot of great humor, Rains takes a hefty chunk of it, stealing nearly every scene that he’s in, including the one mentioned above. I can’t be the only one who wants to see just a few minutes of Renault and Blaine’s post-Casablanca adventure together! Can you imagine these two guys fighting, drinking, joking, cajoling, and swindling their way through German troops as they work for the French resistance? And, of course, Rains and Bogart close out the film with perhaps the most memorable movie-ending in the history of cinema! You can read my original write up on the film here.

Passage to Marseille – 1944

Rains Passage to Marseille

Reunited with Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet just two years after Casablanca, Rains plays Captain Freycinet, commander of an Allied air base that’s about to launch a bombing raid out of England. It’s a much more sympathetic and heroic role for Rains this time around, with a lot less snarky one liners to steal the show. Rains ends up on a steam tramp with escaped prisoners Bogart and Lorre as they try to stay out of German hands while heading off Greenstreet’s opportunist French officer. Rains especially nails his role during the funeral in the final moments of the movie where I think that he gives my favorite scene from any of his films. You can read my original write up on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing feature at ‘The Bogie Film Blog’ where we highlight some of Bogart’s most interesting collaborators. You can read the rest of the posts in the feature here.*

Sydney Greenstreet

Greenstreet Casablanca

Birth Name: Sydney Hughes Greenstreet

Birthdate: December 27, 1879

Date of Death: January 18, 1954

Number of Films Sydney Greenstreet made with Humphrey Bogart: 5

The Actor

The son of a leather merchant, Sydney Greenstreet spent some time working in both the tea industry and a brewery before finally finding his calling on the stage in England as the villain in an adaption of a Sherlock Holmes play. Adept at comedy, musicals, and Shakespeare, Greenstreet worked in both Europe and America, holding out against the call from Hollywood until he finally accepted the role of Kaspar “The Fat Man” Gutman in 1941’s The Maltese Falcon at the age of 61.

It’s pretty astonishing to consider that Gutman was Greenstreets first film role, as he seems just as comfortable in front of the camera as he supposedly was on the stage. I’m incredibly jealous of all the audiences that got to see him live and in person for years before he finally gave in to Tinsel Town’s beckoning and headed west. From his numerous pairings with Peter Lorre to his five iconic roles with Bogart, I firmly believe that there hasn’t been a big-man actor with such a commanding presence onscreen since Greenstreet’s last film over 60 years ago.

Did they really base the character of The Kingpin from Daredevil comics on Greenstreet? Was George Lucas actually inspired to model Jabba the Hut after the 300+ pound actor? Hollywood myth and legend says so, and I’m inclined to believe it because Greenstreet was certainly worthy of every praise and accolade that came his way!

This entry into “The Usual Suspects” portion of the Bogie Film Blog is long overdue, and doggone it, I think I’m going to pop in Passage to Marseille tonight just to get another dose of my favorite cinematic big man.

The Filmography

The Maltese Falcon – 1941

Maltese Falcon Greenstreet

Greenstreet plays Kaspar “The Fat Man” Gutman, the treasure seeking heavy that’s following the falcon around the globe. What an incredible film debut! Greenstreet steals nearly every scene that he’s in with his amazing laugh and exuberant confidence. His constant amusement over Bogart’s confusion is wonderful, and it’s a real shame that it took so long to get this man to the big screen, “By gad!” The scene where he turns on his henchman Wilmer is so painfully funny and well done that it might be my favorite bit from all of his films. A villain who so believably loves life while committing dastardly crimes at the same time is the best kind of bad guy a film could ever hope for. Greenstreet also reprised his role numerous times for radio adaptions of the film, which you can check out here and here. You can read my original write up on the film here.

In This Our Life – 1942

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Directed by John Huston, rumor had it that Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and a few others had appeared in the film during a tavern scene as background players to add a little “in-joke” for Huston fans. Whether the scene was cut out from the film or just a hoax to begin with, none of them are visible. Is the film still worth a watch? You bet! Bette Davis is always worth spending an evening with! Just don’t get your hopes up for this superstar cameo that doesn’t deliver! You can read my original write up on the film here.

Across the Pacific – 1942

Greenstreet Bogart Astor

Greenstreet plays the cagey Dr. Lorenz, a passenger who seems to have untoward intentions as he shares an oceanic voyage with Bogart and Mary Astor. What I really loved about Greenstreet here is that his character is an incredibly wealthy world traveler, meaning Greenstreet is dressed to the nines and drenched with a slightly more authentic sophistication than he was in The Maltese Falcon. One of my all-time favorite Greenstreet-Bogart scenes occurs when Greenstreet needles Bogart’s history out of him with an endless supply of booze. Any classic Bogart film has at least one drunk Bogie scene in it. Adding Greenstreet into the mix just makes it all the better! Greenstreet reprised his role for a radio adaption, and you can read my original write up on the film here.

Casablanca – 1942

Greenstreet Casa 2

Greenstreet plays Signor Ferrari, Bogart’s main nightclub competitor in Casablanca. Whenever I consider this film from memory, Bogart and Greenstreet always seem like enemies. But every time I view it, I’m reminded that these guys might actually be pretty decent friends – maybe even playing a few games of after-hours chess over drinks when curfew kicks in. Just consider for a moment that Blaine entrusts his entire staff, including Sam, into Ferrari’s hands at the end of the film on nothing more than a handshake deal! That’s got to be a great show of faith in a man who’s supposedly trying to beat you at your own game. It’s an amazing testament to Greenstreet’s presence here that most casual fans seem to remember this as his signature role, even though his part isn’t that big! You can read my original write up on the film here.

Passage to Marseille – 1942

Passage Greenstreet

Greenstreet plays French officer Major Duval, who happens to be traveling on a boat with a number of recently escaped french convicts trying to get to England as word breaks that Germany now occupies France. The ever-so-snarky Major Duval doesn’t feel very patriotic to his homeland, and can’t get back to France quickly enough to show his support to the Nazis as he turns over the prisoners to the proper authorities. The real story in the cast here is the alliance between Bogart and Peter Lorre as they get to play outright friends as opposed to enemies or even tense allies, but Greentstreet’s presence certainly makes this one an underappreciated classic! You can read my original write up on the film here.

Conflict – 1945

Bogart and Sydney in Conflict

Greenstreet plays psychologist Dr. Mark Hamilton, family friend to Bogart’s murderous Dick Mason. How great is it to not only see Greenstreet play a good guy in a Bogart film, but to see them actually chum around a bit before things get tense? Greenstreet is so good as the warm and gregarious Dr. Hamilton that you just want to give the big guy a hug. He seems truly happy in the role, and when you view the film for the second and third times, it’s a lot of fun to see him subtly tipping his hat towards the twist ending. Definitely a must see collaboration between Bogart and Greenstreet! You can read my original write up on the film here.

-“The Usual Suspects” is an ongoing feature at the Bogie Film Blog where we dive a tad bit deeper into some of Bogart’s most recurring collaborators. You can find the rest of the posts here.-

Casablanca – 1942

Casablanca Poster

My Review

—Hollywood’s Greatest Film—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie

Director: Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

An American expat (Bogart) running a nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco during World War II is surprised when his ex (Ingrid Bergman) shows up, married to the leader (Pal Henried) of Europe’s underground resistance.

What I Thought

This is it. The absolute pinnacle of Bogart films as far as I’m concerned, which is why I saved it for last. This was the cherry on the top of a year-and-a-half of Bogart film viewing.

Sure, I’ve seen Casablanca so many times that I’ve lost count, but this was the first time that I’ve sat down with a more analytical eye. Knowing that I was going to do a write-up, I asked myself, Why is this film so perfect in my mind? Why was this the film that served as my gateway into classic cinema? Why is this film remembered by many, if not most casual film fans, as Bogart’s greatest role?

I think a majority of the credit has to go to Director Michael Curtiz. From beginning to end, the city of Casablanca feels like a fully realized world. The daytime scenes are crammed from one edge of the screen to other with bustling crowds filling city streets and diversely populated nightclub scenes. The city is supposed to be overflowing with people looking to escape the war and Director Curtiz nailed it. This film is bursting at the seams with background artists, minor roles cast to perfection, supporting roles with some of Hollywood’s greatest character actors, and a handful of main characters that are handled deftly and given the time that they each need to establish their moments in the story.

Another huge chunk of credit goes to the twin Epstein brothers, Julius and Philip, who adapted the play for the big screen. There are a lot of great stories about how the Epstein’s regarded this script as just another studio assignment, how they wrote and rewrote scenes the very day that they were needed, and how they never really thought much of the finished film. (Julius was quoted as saying it not nothing more than “slick shit.” Hardly a ringing endorsement.)

The script is filled with dozens upon dozens of quotable lines. Yet at the same time, it was just incomplete and loose enough that the actors were able to fill in their own memorable moments when needed. Bogart reportedly supplied the line, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and it was producer Hal Wallis who supposedly came up with, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” and had it dubbed in after shooting was complete.

“Are my eyes really brown?”

“Well, there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.”

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

“I came to Casablanca for the waters.”

“You know, Rick, I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.”

“I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.”

“Round up the usual suspects.”

“Such watch?”

These are just a few of the lines that I try very hard to work into my daily conversations and I hope that the comments section of this post is LOADED with all the quotes that I didn’t mention.

But back to Director Curtiz. What strikes me as most interesting is that this was one of seven film collaborations that he had with Bogart. Curtiz worked on a limited number of scenes for both Black Legion and Marked Woman, and directed Kid Galahad, Angels with Dirty Faces, Virginia City, Passage to Marseille, and We’re No Angels. Some of those other collaborations are good. A few I would even consider to be great. But in my mind, none come close to Casablanca’s perfection.

The Bogart Factor

After so many viewings, this was the very first time that I’ve ever really noticed how the entire span of Bogart’s career seems to be contained within nightclub owner Rick Blaine. Since this was the last film in my Bogart journey, it probably helps that I’ve now sat through all of his other work from the beginning, no matter how small a part it might have been.

Especially during the flashbacks of France, we see an energetic, ever-so-slightly goofy and naïve character much like the ones Bogart played in Up the River, Love Affair, and Men Are Such Fools. It’s just enough “aw shucks” shoulder shrugging that I was really reminded of how wide Bogart’s range could be when we transition back to the darkened bar where he’s drinking away his memories of Ilsa and Paris.

There in the bar, we have the much more tightly wound, much angrier, much more depressed man who shows up in many of Bogart’s gangster roles, but perhaps especially films like San Quentin, Dead End, or The Petrified Forest. Films where Bogart seems to spend most of his time reflecting on how poorly his life has turned out and how desperately he wishes to move past his resentment and remorse.

And yet, at the core of Rick Blaine is the confident, loyal, trustworthy, stand-up man who will always end up doing the right thing, even if he tries to convince you that he sticks his neck out for no one! This is the type of character that we see Bogart playing later in his career – the Sam Spade’s, Rick Leland’s, and the majority of brooding expatriates that stick their necks out for everybody that filled Bogart’s filmography for the next ten plus years.

A white tuxedo. A trench coat and fedora. Cigarettes. Booze. A shady past. A mysterious woman. A broken heart. A pistol. These are the very things that Bogart helped define as icons of Classic Hollywood cinema and they’re all on display here in Casablanca. Of all his films, this is the one that I come back to again and again when I need a full and complete Bogart fix. I’ve found many other films where his performances might be more nuanced – more well-rounded – but this is definitively and understandably the role that establishes him as Hollywood’s greatest leading man.

The Cast

Ingrid Bergman plays Ilsa Lund, Bogart’s ex and the current wife of the underground resistance leader Victor Laszlo. I can’t say enough good things about Bergman here, as this is her essential performance as far as I’m concerned. I know it doesn’t have as much depth as a few of her other high profile roles, but doggone it if I still don’t know whether or not she was really ready to leave Laszlo for Blaine at the end of the film. That nighttime scene in the bar just after Rick’s first flashback . . . drunk Bogart . . . forlorned Bergman . . . so good.

Dooley Wilson plays the piano playing singer at Rick’s Café Américain, Sam. What an incredible job Wilson does here playing the greatest wingman any guy could ever hope for. It was only after viewing the film for the umpteenth time that I realized Wilson’s fingers are in no-way-shape-or-form playing that piano believably, yet it took me forever to notice because I can’t take my eyes off of his face and my ears away from his voice. The guy was a natural, and in my dream of dreams I would go through Wilson’s entire filmography just to see if he did anything else that was as close to great as his performance in Casablanca. (Did I JUST read on imdb that he’s an uncredited piano player in Knock on Any Door?!? I will see if this is true TONIGHT!) *It is 100% true! Just after the 47 minute mark, there he is playing piano and accepting a beer!!! – 8/14/14 BFB*

Paul Henreid plays the battle weary and aged-beyond-his-years resistance leader, Victor Laszlo. According to Hollywood lore, Henreid almost didn’t take the role because he wasn’t the lead and he was afraid that it would set him back in his career. Thank goodness he accepted the part, because so much of the film’s gravitas depends heavily on us not hating Laszlo even though he’s standing in Rick Blaine’s way to Ilsa. To be fair to his initial instincts, Henreid isn’t remembered as one of Hollywood’s greatest leading men, but I don’t think that’s any fault of his supporting role in this film. He’s a great actor and very handsome, but just didn’t have that uber-unique look or acting style that let him break into the upper echelon of Hollywood’s greatest legends.

Claude Rains wonderfully plays Bogart’s friend and sometime foil, Captain Louis Renault. What a testament to Rains’ talent that he can commit completely despicable deeds one moment, and have us laughing with joy the next. Rains was an insanely talented supporting actor, and I can never get enough of his work. I can’t be the only one who wants to see just a few minutes of Renault and Blaine’s post-Casablanca adventure together! Can you imagine these two guys fighting, drinking, joking, cajoling, and swindling their way through German troops as they work for the French resistance?

Conrad Veidt plays Major Heinrich Strasser, the head Nazi in charge of catching Victor Laszlo and making sure that he spends the rest of his life in a concentration camp, or dead. It’s not a huge role for Veidt, as he’s mainly used as an imposing villain to move the plot along, but as with the rest of the roles in the film, this one’s cast very well.

Sidney Greenstreet plays Signor Ferrari, Rick Blaine’s main nightclub competitor in Casablanca. Until this viewing, I never stopped to consider how cordial Ferrari and Blaine are when they’re together. I think these guys might actually be pretty decent friends – maybe even playing a few games of after-hours chess over drinks when curfew kicks in. Just consider for a moment that Blaine entrusts his entire staff, including Sam, into Ferrari’s hands at the end of the film. That’s got to be a great show of faith in a man who’s supposedly trying to beat you at your own game.

Peter Lorre plays the black market dealer Ugarte. How fantastic is this guy that he could make such a memorable contribution to this film with such a small part? I’m seriously shocked again and again as I watch this film and realize that he’s only in a hand full of scenes, yet his role looms very large over the legend and mythos of Casablanca.

S. Z. Sakall plays Carl, the host/waiter in Rick’s café. A wonderful, lovable, solid, hilarious, and incredibly talented supporting actor. The scene where he watches Rick help the young couple win at roulette is enough to make you want to hug him.

There’s Bogie Film Blog favorite Dan Seymour playing Abdul the doorman! He very few lines here in this tiny role, but he is namechecked by Rick!

And there are TONS of other supporting actors who deserve a mention, but I gotta stop somewhere!

Classic Bogie Moment

How? HOW do I pick here?!? There is too, too, too much to choose from. Trench coat and fedora? White tux? A pic with Lorre? One with Greenstreet? I gotta go with this one, because Dooley Wilson just doesn’t get enough love on this blog:

Casablanca classic

The Bottom Line

I came home from high school one afternoon and my mom was just at the beginning of this film. I’d never sat through an entire classic film before, but decided to give it a try. I’ve never looked back. After 465 days and 115 posts of my own personal nonstop Bogart movie marathon, I’ve grown to appreciate not only Bogart in a much greater capacity, but Classic Hollywood, and film as a whole.

Long live the legacy of Humphrey Bogart.

Peter Lorre

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Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, The Maltese Falcon, 1941

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The Usual Suspects:

Early on during the first few weeks of this blog, I had the idea to start a section where I would write about some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators and costars – actors, directors, writers, etc. – that worked with him on multiple films.  Given the contract system of the movie studios, casts and crews often overlapped from one film to another.  Character actor Eddy Chandler, for instance, costarred in thirteen different pictures with Bogart, almost exclusively in tiny bit parts, often uncredited.  But there were also those artists that Bogart had deep personal friendships with, and sometimes, strong working relationships – people that often appeared repeatedly by choice, supporting Hollywood’s most famous leading man to make some of the greatest films in cinema history.

Dubbed The Usual Suspects, this first post is in response to the “Dynamic Duos” Blogathon over at Classic Movie Hub (@ClassicMovieHub) and Once Upon a Screen (@CitizenScreen).  What better way to begin, I thought, than by kicking it off with one of Bogie’s most famous costars and close friends, Peter Lorre.

The Man

Born in Rózsahegy, Hungary, László Löwenstein began his acting career by sacrificing everything he had in life to devote himself to the theater, eventually moving to Germany to study under playwright Bertolt Brecht.  Brecht latched onto Lorre right away and knew how to use him, bringing the unique looking actor much acclaim during their long and productive collaboration together.  Adopting the stage name Peter Lorre in 1925, Lowenstein received his big break in the starring role of his second movie, playing a child murderer in Fritz Lang’s M.

When the Nazis fully took power of Germany in 1933, Lorre left, traveling Europe and eventually arriving at London.  His performance in M got him noticed by director Alfred Hitchcock and led to a role in Hitchcock’s film The Man Who Knew Too Much.  After working with Hitchcock, Lorre would make his move to Hollywood where he found great success with his unique look and soft speech pattern playing an assortment of bad guys and shady characters.

Lorre would go on to star in the Mr. Moto movie series in which he played a Japanese detective in eight different films.  He also became a longtime collaborator with actor Sydney Greenstreet, making nine films with the English stage legend.

Lorre is perhaps best known, though, as the five-time costar and good friend of Humphrey Bogart.  Working together on some of Hollywood’s most legendary classic films, Bogart and Lorre left behind some great stories of onset pranks, drinking revelry, and a deep friendship that reverberate through Hollywood lore to this day.

It was at Lorre’s house where Bogart would sleep off many a drunk night rather than go home to face his third wife, Mayo Methot.  It was also at Lorre’s ranch where Bogart and Lauren Bacall would hideaway for weekend rendezvous when they needed to stay out of the limelight as they courted.  And perhaps most famously, it was Lorre who gave this advice when Bogart fretted that he was too old for Lauren Bacall – “Five good years are better than none!”

THE FILMOGRAPHY

The Maltese Falcon – 1941

joel cairo 2

Lorre plays Joel Cairo, an associate of Sydney Greenstreet’s Kasper ‘The Fatman’ Gutman.  Both men make attempts to hire Sam Spade (Humprhey Bogart) to acquire a valuable jewel-encrusted falcon statue – perhaps the most famous cinema ‘MacGuffin’ of all time.  Cairo, who’s portrayed overtly gay in the novel on which the film is based, has his homosexuality toned down considerably in this film due to the Hay’s Code of film censorship.  Instead of direct references, Cairo’s sexuality is inferred through his effeminate fussiness, and occasional physicalities with his cane:

Reportedly, the cast and crew got along very well during the filming of this movie, and would go out for drinks at the end of the day as they were often ahead of production schedule.  They were also a very close knit and private group, unappreciative of outside influence either from the studio or the public.  One particularly famous story relates that one of the main actors, either Bogart or Lorre, played a joke on a visiting women’s club as they walked by the set.  One of the two actors supposedly exited Mary Astor’s trailer, zipping up his fly, and calling out “Bye, Mary!”  A. M. Sperber credits the story as happening to Lorre in her Bogart bio, Bogart (p 160), while Stefan Kanfer names Bogart as the perpetrator in his Bogart bio, Tough Without a Gun (p 65).  Neither author cites specifically where they got the story, but I suppose what’s most important is not the actual culprit, but the reputation that the cast had earned as ornery tricksters and close friends.

All Through the Night – 1942

pepi

Lorre plays Pepi, the Nazi hitman and sometimes piano accompanist to Kaaren Verne’s Leda Hamilton.  Pepi kicks off the storyline by murdering “Gloves” Donahue’s (Humphrey Bogart) favorite cheesecake baker, setting off a chain of events that leads New York’s most notorious gangsters up against the Third Reich in this comedy thriller.

Lorre enters the film walking through the door of a baker’s shop, eerily humming a tune before teasing the poor baker and then beating him to death.  Referred to as “the goggle-eyed little rat,” by ‘Gloves,’ Lorre is wonderful, and one of the true highlights of the film.  Only two actors are capable of smoking in such a way as to defy gravity – Lorre and Bogart – as their cigarettes dangle at an impossible 90 degree angle from their lips.

Karen Verne would go on to leave her husband for Lorre, becoming Lorre’s second wife, although their marriage would prove to be tumultuous and short lived.

Casablanca – 1942

ugarte and rick

Lorre plays Ugarte, a black marketeer who hides valuable letters of transit with Bogart’s Rick Blaine before being arrested by the police.  Ugarte’s plan is to sell the papers for a small fortune in order to pay for his escape from Casablanca.  His relationship with Blaine seems to be one of mutual loathing and respect.  They don’t necessarily like each other, but they occasionally find one another valuable.

Just before giving Blaine the transit papers, Ugarte tells him “You know, Rick, I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.”  Blaine tells Ugarte that he’ll hold the papers for him, but doesn’t want them in his nightclub overnight.  We then get perhaps the most ominous moment in the film when Ugarte lightly puts his hands upon the papers and gently tells Rick “Don’t be afraid of them. . .”  The papers are Casablanca’s ‘MacGuffin,’ and once again Peter Lorre is here to play a hand in the treasured objects of fate.  Men died for Ugarte to obtain the papers, and more people would die before they are finally used.  As the objects of everyone’s desires, even Blaine himself contemplates stealing the papers to run away with Ilsa.

Lorre’s part in the movie was small and shot so quickly that he had no idea how much the role would go on to help define his place in cinema history.  On the set, he supposedly carried a hidden dropper of water that he would use to extinguish Director Michael Curtiz’s cigarette with when he wasn’t looking.  (Kanfer, 79)

Passage to Marseille – 1944

marius

Lorre plays Marius, one of Bogart’s fellow escaped convicts from Devil’s Island.  I found this to be one of Lorre’s most likable roles, as he’s a full-on action partner to Bogart in the film, teaming up to both escape from prison, and then later to take down a Nazi bomber as it attacks their ship.  Seeing both men take their shots at the German plane with machine guns, occasionally stopping to wave to one another and smile, is one of my favorite moments in Bogart / Lorre cinema history.

marius 2

There’s a lot of delight to be had watching both men squint, smoke, and plot together as they make their way back to France.  This is the only film out of the five in which they are on completely friendly terms, and their chemistry is superb.

As the story goes, Bogart and Lorre took great fun in pranking Director Michael Curtiz on the set.  Both would take turns stalling shots as they told long and tedious anecdotes.  The monologues would only end when they got a laugh from Curtiz.  No laugh from the director meant more jokes and stories from Bogart and Lorre.  (Kanfer, 96)

Beat the Devil – 1953

devil

Lorre plays Mr. O’Hara, a member of the criminal ring that’s in league with Bogart to obtain and exploit some African land that’s rich with uranium.  Bogart and Director John Huston wanted Lorre on this film as they believed that he was a lucky talisman for Bogart after The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. (Kanfer, 175)  Not to mention the fact that Lorre and Bogart were good drinking friends, and always enjoyed each other’s company.  Huston and Bogart asked Lorre to take a significant pay cut in order to keep the budget low, and Lorre accepted the role in order to work with a good friend.

Lorre’s costar, Robert Morley, on the other hand, considered Lorre to be “an intensely tiresome little chap with quite the foulest vocabulary I have ever had the misfortune to listen to.” (Kanfer, 178)

Sporting some extra weight and a short crop of blond hair, Lorre is great as the smooth-talking little crook that is excited for the swindle, but always ready to cower behind one of the other criminals if things look rough.

If you haven’t seen it in a while, the film is a lot of fun, and it’s great to hear Lorre’s distinctive speech pattern saying lines written by scriptwriter Truman Capote:

O’Hara:  “Time, time, what is it?  The Swiss manufacture it, the French hoard it, Italians want it, Americans say it’s money, Hindus say it does not exist.  You know what I say?  I say time is a crook.”

Truer words were never spoken as you consider the fact that this was the last pairing of the two great Classic Hollywood actors.

In Closing

Five films.  All of them are classics in their own right.   One of them is considered by many to be the greatest film of all time.  The friendship and working relationship of Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre has etched a large and permanent mark onto the landscape of cinema history.  Powerfully gifted apart, but even greater together, I can’t think of a better duo to kick off the inaugural post for The Usual Suspects portion of this blog.

Bonus Lorre Facts:

He was the very first actor to play a bond villain when he portrayed Le Chiffre in the 1954 TV version of Casino Royale!

When asked by the House Un-American Activities Committee to name the names of anyone he considered suspicious and possibly a communist, Lorre gave them a list of everyone he knew.  The same group would go on to assemble a thick file on Bogart and cause him considerable mental turmoil over the years despite the fact that he was a diehard U.S. patriot.

The Boo Berry ghost mascot from General Mills was inspired by Lorre.

*All research for this post was done with Stephen D. Youngkin’s Peter Lorre biography, The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre, A. M. Sperber’s Humphrey Bogart biography, Bogart, Stefan Kanfer’s Humphrey Bogart biography, Tough Without a Gun, Peter Lorre’s Wikipedia page, The Maltese Falcon’s Wikipedia page, the official website of The Humphrey Bogart Estate, and various movie entries on IMDB.  All screen caps were done by the author and are intended for review/criticism of the films mentioned.  Any portion of this post that could not be correlated with at least one other source is credited specifically within the post.