Casablanca (1942):  “No one ever loved me that much.”

Casablanca made Bogart; Bogart made Casablanca.”

Bogart, A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax

December, 1941.  Casablanca, Morocco. 

It’s a night like any other at Rick’s Café Américain.  Every table is filled with broke couples, wealthy couples, bank managers, pickpockets, pastry chefs, and thieves. 

As World War II rages on in Europe, those who can make their way to Vichy French-controlled Casablanca, where they hope to obtain passage to Lisbon and then America.

Some will wait for days, some will wait for years.

Some will die in Casablanca.

Rick Blaine, (Humphrey Bogart) the café’s mysterious American exile owner, provides liquor and gambling and music while they wait.

Nobody’s happy, but at least they’re having a good time.

Rick keeps everyone at arm’s length, a cynic who treats his employees and customers decently, doesn’t kowtow to anyone, and “sticks his neck out for nobody.” 

Until Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) walks in and asks Sam to play, “As Time Goes By.”

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

She’s the woman who broke Rick’s heart, the lover who left him waiting at a train station the day the Germans marched into Paris.  The Germans wore gray.

Ilsa wore blue.

She’s on the arm of Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), the tireless leader of the underground resistance who inspired the world when he escaped from a concentration camp and will continue his work despite great personal danger.

And thus the stage is set for the greatest love triangle in Hollywood history—Ilsa Lund, torn between a sinner and a saint.

Paul Henreid, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart

A cruel twist of fate forced Isla from Rick in Paris—she learned her husband, the great Victor Laszlo, was alive, not killed in a concentration camp as she’d believed.  It’s an ever crueler twist that brings them back together—Rick possess the only two letters of transit in Casablanca, papers that would give the Laszlos passage to Lisbon, ensuring their safety and the continuance of Victor’s work.

There’s a less famous moment in the film that I love, a gesture so small you’ll miss it if you blink.  Victor tells Ilsa that Rick would not give him the letters of transit, not for the cause, and not for any price.

“Did he give you any reason?” Ilsa asks him.

“He suggested I ask you.”

“Ask me?”

“Yes, he said ask your wife.  I don’t know why he said that.”

Ilsa knows why.  She turns away from Victor, puts her hand on her neck, runs it through her hair, and smiles.  It’s not even a full smile, just a flicker of one that reveals her first subconscious thought.

Victor could die or be recaptured by the Germans without those letters.  The tide of the war could change with them.  While she will eventually rage at Rick to give her the letters, threaten to shoot him over them, her first instinct was to smile.

Because Rick is so jealous that he is willing to let the world burn out of spite.

What woman wouldn’t want to be wanted that much?

She admires and respects Victor.  But with Rick it is passion and desire.

We’ll never truly know who Ilsa would’ve chosen if she’d been free of the war, free of her prior commitment to Victor.  For Rick, it’s enough to know that Ilsa hadn’t made a chump of him when she left him at the railroad station. 

He might not have her now, but they’ll always have Paris.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

Casablanca exceeded everyone’s expectations, delighting wartime audiences, and winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, along with acting nominations for Bogart and Claude Rains.  It put Ingrid Bergman on the map.  It is number 2 on the American Film Institute’s List of 100 Greatest American Films, and its lines dominate the AFI’s List of 100 Greatest Quotes.

Humphrey Bogart was finally a romantic leading man.

Though his professional life was at its peak, things were falling apart at home.  His relationship with wife Mayo, while always volatile, had become dangerous and began interfering with his work.

“They were poison to one another,” actress Jane Bryan said.

A failed actress, Mayo was jealous of Bogart’s career.  She believed he was having an affair with Ingrid Bergman during Casablanca (he wasn’t) and began showing up on the set, “always looking like the wrath of God,” assistant director Lee Katz said.  “In fact, looking like somebody you wish would never darken your life.”

Things were so violent at home that Bogart had to learn his lines on the set.  One night he came home to find Mayo lying in wait, and she stabbed him in the back with a butcher knife.  During another incident, she set the house on fire and nearly burned it to the ground.

She was a woman with demons, haunted by alcohol and thwarted ambitions, a full-blown alcoholic on her way to killing herself with booze.

Still, Bogart soldiered on with the marriage.

In the first half of Casablanca, a young girl, Annina, asks Rick for advice. 

“M’sieur, you are a man.  If someone loved you very much, so that your happiness was the only thing in the world that she wanted and she did a bad thing to make certain of it, could you forgive her?”

“No one ever loved me that much,” Rick replies gruffly.

Rick was wrong, but it was true that no one had loved Bogart that much in 1942.

That was all about to change.

Next week, Bogart finally meets Bacall.

Anybody got a match?

Sources

  • Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax.  Bogart.  1997.

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Notorious (1946): Hollywood’s Longest, Sexiest Kiss

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious (1946)
Notorious (1946) opening banner

Cary Grant.  Ingrid Bergman.  Alfred Hitchcock.

Combine any two and you’ll find a good film.  Indiscreet (Grant and Bergman).  Spellbound (Bergman and Hitch).  North by Northwest (Hitch and Grant).

But only in 1946’s Notorious do you get all three.   

The title refers to Bergman’s character Alicia Huberman, the cynical daughter of a convicted German traitor with a reputation for hard drinking and easy virtue.  

T.R. Devlin (Grant) is a government agent who offers her a job as an American spy who will infiltrate a group of Nazis that once associated with her father.

Neither Devlin nor Alicia know the exact nature of their assignment when they head down to Brazil.  While awaiting their instructions, they begin a passionate love affair.  Alicia is head over heels, but Devlin is more reserved as he considers her checkered past.

Hitchcock showcases the depth of their passion in one of his most famous scenes, an extended kiss that outsmarted the censors and was all the sexier for its restraint.  In 1946, the censors still insisted on putting their fingerprints all over Hollywood’s films.  “Scenes of passion” were severely restricted and kisses could not be too long.  To get around this, Hitchcock shot Bergman and Grant interrupting their short kisses with conversation.  They talk over dinner plans, they touch faces and ears, then stay glued to one another as they cross the room to answer the telephone.  They never kiss for more than a few seconds, but Hitch manages a three minute scene that was absolutely sensational for its time and still holds up today.

It is after this scene that Devlin gets his devastating orders—Alicia is to seduce Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), a friend of her father’s and an older man who once lusted after her.

It is here that the cat and mouse game between Alicia and Devlin begins.  She wants him to intervene with his superiors, to insist that she is not the kind of woman who would sleep with a man she does not love.  Except that before him, she was exactly that kind of woman.  Devlin wants her to refuse the assignment to prove her love for him.

There is passion but not yet trust between them, and neither expresses their wish to the other.

Alicia accepts the assignment with resigned stoicism, and the deeper she delves into Sebastian’s inner circle, the more she and Devlin mistrust their love.

Devlin must force the woman he cannot admit he loves into the arms of another man, and Alicia goes because she sees helping America as redemption for her past.

Hitchcock ratchets up the tension when Alicia must steal a key to the wine cellar and pass it off to Devlin during a party so he can search for evidence of a Nazi weapons stockpile.

The plot thickens further still when Sebastian’s mother catches onto Alicia’s deception and begins slowly poisoning her.  

Will Devlin rescue her before it’s too late?

It’s a sin to spoil the ending of a Hitchcock film but this one satisfies as much as any he ever made.  

Notorious is the most romantic of Hitchcock’s films.  Unlike Rebecca, the hero and heroine are on equal terms with one another, and are perfectly matched—or will be, if they can only learn to trust one another in love as well as work.  

It’s been a long time since I first watched Notorious in a film studies class in college, and I’d forgotten just how damn good it is.  Not an inch of fat to cut, or a single false note.  It draws you in from the opening scene and doesn’t let you go until the final credits.

No matter how addicted you are to your smartphone, you won’t even glance at it until Hitchcock releases you from his tale of suspense and romance.

When I wrote about Rebecca, I posited that I was looking forward to the Netflix remake, as I’d long thought that as good as it was, it was ripe for a modern take unshackled from the strictures of the production code.

The Netflix remake was not the movie I wanted, and it made me think that Hitchcock’s films are so good they can’t be bettered.

That’s certainly the case with Notorious, which would entail filling Hitchcock’s, Ingrid Bergman’s (who really runs away with the film) and Cary Grant’s shoes.

Who would dare even try?

Notorious (1946) Verdict:  Timeless - Watch It Tonight

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Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious (1946)

Mr. Skeffington (1944): Ugly Bette

Bette Davis and Claude Rains in Mr. Skeffington (1944)
Mr. Skeffington (1944) opening banner

Mr. Skeffington is a first class melodrama with the fingerprints of the 1940’s all over it.

Bette Davis plays Fanny Trellis, a woman as beautiful on the outside as she is ugly on the inside.  She strings along her many admirers, amusing herself with the way they fall all over themselves competing for her attention.  She dangles the prospect of marriage like bait on a hook, but cares nothing for any of them.

She cares for nothing but herself, her beauty, and her brother.

Her brother, George “Trippy” Trellis is as worthless as she is, and since the death of their parents has squandered the family fortune.

While they put on a brave face for their friends and society, the Trellis siblings are dead broke.

Like it or not, Fanny will have to choose one of her admirers and graduate from a debutante to a wife.

To the surprise and disapproval of everyone, she choses Job Skeffington, a self-made Jewish man high up the ladder in a brokerage firm and Trippy’s boss.  The choice serves two purposes—Skeffington is the richest of her suitors, and their marriage will prevent Skeffington from prosecuting Trippy for embezzlement.

For Fanny, love never enters the equation.

Bette Davis in Mr. Skeffington (1944)

Job Skeffington is a better man than Fanny deserves.  Patient, kind, and reliable, he knows Fanny does not yet love him but believes he can earn her affection over time.

He’s wrong.

When Trippy is killed in World War I, Fanny is inconsolable as his death has made her “sacrifice” in marrying Job pointless.  She torments Job, refusing to act as a proper wife or mother to their daughter.

Fanny maintains her looks as she ages, and still enjoys the attention of all her old (now married) suitors, as well as the affection of younger men.  She basks in the adoration, all the while ignoring the true love of the husband and daughter she leaves at home.

Over a decade into his loveless marriage, Job finally has enough and finds comfort in another woman.  When Fanny finds out she divorces him, relieved to be rid of him and her daughter.

But fate plays a cruel trick on Fanny.  She contracts diphtheria and though she recovers, the illness robs her of her most prized possession—her beauty.  She ages well beyond her time and loses her hair.  Her outside appearance finally matches her cruel and careless heart.

Bette Davis, aged and ugly, in Mr. Skeffington (1944)

Davis sunk her teeth into the role.  At thirty-six, she made herself over into a fifty-year-old scarred former beauty.  She was always willing to do anything for a role, and even pushed the makeup artist to make her appearance even more devastating.  When the director protested that she looked too hideous, she waved him off.

“My audience likes to see me do this sort of thing,” she told him.

Fanny is humbled by the loss of her looks.  All the male attention disappears overnight, and she cannot bear the shocked looks when people see her new appearance.  She becomes a recluse, and having pushed Job and her daughter away, there is no one left to care.

Meanwhile, Job has been in his own hell.  Living in Europe after the divorce, he is rounded up by the Nazis and spends time in a concentration camp.

At the end of the film, he returns to Fanny, blind and broken.  

Fanny is finally able to appreciate what a fine man she had in Job.  And her vanity is still in place—his blindness is a boon to her, as he will always remember her as beautiful, and will literally never see what she has become.

The film ends with their heartfelt reconciliation and the promise that they will finally have a two-way marriage filled with love and mutual respect. 

Offscreen, things didn’t end so peacefully.  Davis was grieving the death of her second husband, who had collapsed in the street and died without warning.  She lashed out and fought constantly with the directors, the screenwriters, and the producers.  

She also had an affair with the director.

Director Vincent Sherman could not reign Davis in, and she meddled in everything—the script, the directing, the lighting.  Her constant interference had the film dragging on months behind schedule.  

Jack Warner cornered writers (and brothers) Julius and Philip Epstein and demanded to know why the film was so far behind schedule.

“Because Bette Davis is a slow director,” they told him.

Production manager Frank Mattison’s daily notes from the filming are more dramatic than half the shows on television:

“We are in somewhat of a dilemma concerning the matter of our producers refusing to have anything to do with the picture.  Miss Davis is not only the director, but she is now the producer also.” 

Poor Vincent Sherman had directed Davis in two consecutive years— first in her epic catfight with Miriam Hopkins in Old Acquaintance and now in Skeffington.  Davis had been beaten him down into submission.

“The only way I could finish the picture was by having an affair with her,” he said.  

Sherman ended both their professional and personal relationship when the film wrapped.

The result was another Oscar nomination, Bette Davis’ seventh.

And another bridge burned.

Mr. Skeffington (1944) Verdict:  Film Buffs Only

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Bette Davis and Claude Rains in Mr. Skeffington (1944)