“Casablanca”: Bigger & Better Than Ever!

How old do I sound if I start off by saying they don’t make ‘em like they used to?

I’ve seen a lot of movies in my 38 years (I mean, a LOT of movies) and I have to say that “Casablanca” is perhaps my all-time favourite. I know that’s a BIG statement – it’s hard to pinpoint a favourite movie of all-time –  sort of like choosing an all-time favourite dessert. But “Casablanca” is mine and despite being 70 years old, snappy dialogue and intriguing characters never go out of style. I didn’t grow up in a place where we had routine access to independent theatres playing classics on the big screen, therefore my previous exposure to “Casablanca” had been alone in front of my TV.

Until now.

Verdict: pure, unadulterated awesome. Experiencing it in a packed house full of other people laughing at the same parts I laugh at elevated my own excitement and enjoyment immeasurably. I loved that someone in the back row openly sobbed throughout the Parisian flashback sequence. I loved that the audience ranged in age from about 14 to 70-plus and united in applause at the end. And what I loved most of all was going with a close friend (one of the few who shares my deep obsession with all things cinematic) who had never seen it before. There’s nothing better than watching someone else discover a movie that you’re crazy about and fall in love with it right along with you.

And come on: Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman! Now they were movie stars. They had presence and chemistry and class and belong on a big screen. Is there a more iconic image of roguish elegance than Rick Blaine all gruff and heartbroken in his white dinner jacket? I think not (see below). And Ingrid Bergman is luminous – with no trace of botox or collagen or even make-up (granted she was only 27 to Bogie’s 43). You need the larger-than-life close-ups to truly appreciate the emotional nuances that we rarely see in mainstream Hollywood fare these days. And hearing the powerful “singing scene” where Victor Lazlo leads the club’s patrons in an impassioned rendition of the French national anthem to drown out the German officer’s patriotic hymn “Die Wacht am Rhein” in Dolby digital surround sound literally gave me goose bumps.

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If you’ve read the introductory post to my little corner of cyber-world, you’ll know that I don’t hold myself up as a movie critic – and besides, it’s impossible to “review” a classic like “Casablanca” (for that we can defer to the incomparable Roger Ebert’s series on Great Movies). At this point, I don’t think it’s possible to separate the impact of “Casablanca”on the pop culture landscape from the film itself – nor should we want to. The countless famous lines: “Here’s looking at you, kid”; “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”; and “I stick my neck out for nobody” are so often taken out of the context of the film itself, we forget they were part of a tightly woven, smart and witty script. I love how the rapid-fire dialogue snaps, crackles and pops throughout and if you blink you’ll miss Rick’s droll response when Captain Renault asks him how he ended up in North Africa:

Captain Renault: What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.

This symmetry came together despite a revolving team of screenwriters who were adapting the original material (an unstaged play titled “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”) well into filming and production. But what would the words be without the consummate delivery? No one, I mean no one, delivers a line like Claude Rains – dry and acerbic with the perfect dash of wickedness – and you’re never really sure if Renault is an actual villain or just a run-of-the-mill opportunist. As an audience, we can’t be certain who has the upper hand at any given moment, but as moviegoers we, like Rick, are always on the side of the underdog.

As Ebert says in his “Casablanca”review: “Seeing the film over and over again, year after year, I find it never grows over-familiar. It plays like a favorite musical album; the more I know it, the more I like it.” Regardless of whether or not you’ve seen “Casablanca”before, if you have the rare chance to see it on the big screen, go. You won’t be sorry.

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This post wouldn’t be complete without a shout out to the theatre that provided the setting for such a delightful afternoon at the movies: the Oxford theatre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. One of the few remaining freestanding single-screen movie theatres in the Maritimes, the Oxford on the corner of Quinpool Road and Oxford Street is a beautiful building with a charming retro marquis, comfortable, spacious seating and a full balcony. Its regular line-up includes a number of quality critically acclaimed films in the vein of an art-house theatre-going experience. The “Casablanca” screening came about in celebration of the Oxford’s 75th birthday. Over the next six months they will be showing pivotal movies from different eras and the best part is, the movie-going audience gets to vote on which ones will be shown! Check out the schedule and details below – and if you’re in the NS area, be sure to come by and wish the Oxford a happy birthday.

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Visit http://www.empiretheatres.com/oxford-75-anniversary to vote!

1950s/1960s: Voting Begins: July 30th | Screening Date: August 19th

1970s/1980s: Voting Begins: September 24th | Screening Date: October 14th

1990s/2000s: Voting Begins: October 29th | Screening Date: November 18th

As part of the 75th anniversary promo, the Oxford’s offering a special deal: Tickets are just $5 and each film screening will feature “The Iconic 75th Combo”, which includes one admission, small popcorn, and a bottle of water for $7.50. Note that tickets are available in-theatre only, so visit the box office before screening day or get in line early to avoid disappointment!

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6 thoughts on ““Casablanca”: Bigger & Better Than Ever!

  1. Related, but unrelated, there are a lot of Casablanca-themed restaurants in Morocco, including an “Old Hollywood” seafood restaurant in Essaouira called Chez Sam. They don’t give a fig that it wasn’t actually shot there.

  2. Marcia Sanford says:

    Love the comment.
    u
    I remember the Oxford theater ….. walking in a snowstorm with the wind swirling in twirling from the VGH nurse’s residence when I was a student nurse, to go see Jesus Christ Superstar…..

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