Casablanca, the Film, Revisited

On the 13th of November, it will be 78 years since the premier of the film Casablanca in New York City. 

It is arguably, the finest movie I have ever seen.

The film mixes two strong human passions, the need for justice and the sparks of young love. The key characters are Ilsa Lund, played by Ingrid Bergman, Victor Lazlo, her husband, played by Paul Henreid, and Rick, Ilsa’s “first love”, played by Humphrey Bogart.

 The justice is expressed in the strong anti-Nazi feelings in Rick’s Cafe. All but the Nazis in the café sing the French national anthem despite the hated Nazi presence. Ironically many of those who play Nazis in this film from the early 40s are Jews, who, had escaped the Holocaust

Equally engaging is the love between Rick and Ilsa. It is a love that has never died despite Ilsa’s marriage to Victor, a hero of the resistance. Rick tells Ilsa in the final, airport scene, that, their love is of little consequence in a war-torn world, where her brave husband must escape Casablanca with her. But, Rick reminds Ilsa, “We will always have Paris.”

The film speaks to our first love, the illusory one with few conflicts and no children, mortgages or financial shortfalls. It is that part of our lives to which “You Can’t…,” in Thomas Wolfe’s words,”… Go Home Again.” We were but puppies.

Rick and Ilsa’s love gives the film an incandescent quality enriched by their song, As Time Goes By. It shines even more fully in the distinctive black and white images of the film.

The Academy Award for Best Picture was no accident. This is a film which is unforgettable in its portrayal of heartbreak mingled ever so delicately with justice.  It is a sweet, haunting melody that lingers on. It is a picture that took a piece of my heart.

The Memorable

“Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves—that’s the truth. We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives—experiences so great and moving that it doesn’t seem at the time that anyone else has been so caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before.” F. Scott Fitzgerald.

He was named after Francis Scott Key, a distant cousin. His father’s first cousin twice removed was Mary Suratt, hanged as a a conspirator in the assassination of Lincoln. His life included a schizophrenic wife, Zelda, a life long battle with alcoholism and death from a heart attack in his 40s.

Moving experiences? Funny, some of the things I remember vividly.

I was an average hitter without much power as a little leaguer. One day Tim Russ was pitching a no hitter with a blazing fastball. I held my breath, swung hopefully the instant he released the ball, and hit a ball over the glove of the leaping shortstop, Billy Fieldus, into the gap in left center field. The ensuing triple was the only extra-base hit of my entire, short lived, baseball career.

Why do I remember their two names? Why can I easily picture myself at bat that day?

Some moments in our lives just take on an extra level of intensity and joy. Such was that swing, some sixty five years ago.