November 26: Casablanca

casablancaLegendary director Howard Hawkes once described a good movie as “Three great scenes. No bad ones.” So, if we are going by Hawkes’ definition, then I suppose that today we are celebrating one of the few truly perfect motion pictures. Yes, Casablanca premiered on this day in 1942.

Casablanca is a perfect film. Don’t believe me? Think about it. Not only does it have romance, action, drama, laughs and suspense; it also does all of those things extremely well. Plus its a great “hang out movie” (A term coined by Quentin Tarantino to refer to movies whose characters or world you’d want to spend more time with.): Rick’s Café Américain feels like a real bar where anything could happen. Not to mention that in addition to the main plotline, there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening on the movie’s fringes. There are whole stories that could be told about characters like Carl the waiter and Sascha the bartender and how they became part of the motley crew at Rick’s, and later members of the resistance.

The film also boasts one of the wittiest scripts ever filmed. Seriously, every line of dialogue that comes out of Captain Louis Renault’s (Claude Rains) mouth is golden, and that’s not even counting the often sarcastic and snappy exchanges he has with Rick Blaine (Humphry Bogart):

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.

Of course, what makes this film even more amazing is that the script was constantly being rewritten during production; when shooting began, the ending still hadn’t been finished. Several film critics and historians have pointed out that this unusual quirk of production actually helped the performances by the main cast. Since the script was still being worked on, Bogart and Ingrid Bergman did not know what would happen to Rick and Ilsa. As such, every glance and every uncertain look that appears on Bogart and Bergman’s faces are realistic and offer no hint about whether or not the starstruck lovers will fly off together at the film’s end. Of course, when the ending did arrive, it was beautiful. It’s not a “happy” ending, but it’s the ending that’s fitting for the film, with Rick (the man who we’re told early on, “,,,doesn’t stick his neck out for nobody.”) making a noble choice that goes against his own self-interests, but will instead help many, many others.

So, as you undoubtedly sit back and watch Casablanca tonight, why not enjoy a cocktail called Casablanca. It’s the kind of relaxed, fancy fare that Sascha would serve at the Café Américain. Here’s drinking to you, kid.

Casablanca

  • 2 ounces Light Rum
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Triple Sec
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Cherry Liqueur
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon lime juice

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: A basketball first.

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