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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Saratoga Trunk (1945):  “Two Impecunious Rascals”

1945's Saratoga Trunk opening banner

For years, Edna Ferber tried to convinced George Kaufman to write a play with her about:

“Two impecunious rascals, a man and a woman, both bearing a grudge against the world.  Meeting by accident.  Combining forces, without sentiment, without love, without marriage, to fight and defeat a horde of moneyed rascals in a ruthless world against a ruthless background.  Saratoga.”

-Edna Ferber, A Peculiar Treasure

But Kaufman had no interest in the play, and Ferber shelved the idea, for two main reasons: (1) she didn’t want to write a play alone, and (2) though she knew the man in her story would be a Texan, she couldn’t quite get a mental image of the woman.

She was in Texas researching a novel that was going nowhere (and would itself be shelved for a dozen years before reemerging as Giant) when her friend and fellow Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Louis Bromfield telegrammed her to meet him in New Orleans.  She’d never been to New Orleans before, and after a few days in The Big Easy, she could finally see her heroine clearly in her mind’s eye—Clio Dulaine, beautiful, young, and bold.  Paris-raised but returning to the city of her birth to exact revenge.

The resulting novel, Saratoga Trunk, was another critical and commercial success, garnering favorable reviews and was one of the top ten best-selling novels of 1941.

Speculation about who would play the leads in the inevitable film began immediately.  Clifton Fadiman wrote in his New Yorker review that Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper were shoo-ins for the lead roles.

He was half-right, as Gary Cooper was the choice for Texan Clint Maroon.

But the role of Clio went not to Dietrich, nor Olivia de Havilland*, who desperately wanted it, but to Ingrid Bergman, fresh off filming For Whom the Bell Tolls with Cooper.

The result?

Ferber herself (never afraid to criticize adaptations of her films) called it, “a rather dashing motion picture.”

Dashing indeed.

Like the novel, the film opens with the arrival of Clio Dulaine in New Orleans.  Years ago, her mother was the subject of scandal, the kept mistress of the rich and powerful Nicholas Dulaine.  Clio’s mother shot him when he left her, though it was an accident as he intervened when she was trying to commit suicide over her heartbreak.

Ingrid Bergman walking down the street as Clio Dulaine in Saratoga Trunk (1945)
Bergman

The Dulaine family paid Clio’s mother to go to France and never return.

After her mother’s death, Clio arrives in America determined to first make life very uncomfortable for the Dulaines, and eventually marry a rich man so she can live in comfort. 

She will never be a fool for love—that was her mother’s mistake.

Clio, the spitting image of her mother, conspicuously parades around New Orleans, delighting in the attention and ire she draws from the Dulaine family.  She also attracts the attention of Texan Clint Maroon, a stranger passing through in a ten gallon white hat and big leather boots.

The attraction is instant, mutual, and all consuming.

Gary Cooper as Clint Maroon in Saratoga Trunk.
Cooper

But Maroon is exactly the kind of man Clio can’t marry—he’s poor, scraping by on what he wins at the races and poker games.  And Maroon isn’t looking to permanently hitch his wagon to a woman who in many ways is still a girl—both cunning and naïve, calculating and occasionally hysterical.

Maroon has his own agenda—he wants revenge against the railroad barons who cheated his parents out of their land.

And yet he can’t bring himself to leave for Saratoga, New York—summer home of the east’s richest railroad barons—until he convinces Clio to go with him.

They’ll work together to achieve their dual aims—he will fleece the men at the poker table, and she’ll snag a rich husband.

Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman as Clint Maroon and Clio Dulaine in 1945's Saratoga Trunk.
Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper

She sets her sights on Bartholomew Van Steed, a rich but feckless man tied to his mother’s apron strings.  Clio easily charms and manipulates him until he’s on the brink of marriage, driving Clint mad with jealousy.

But she cannot—and will not—marry a man without money.

Van Steed owns what was a mostly worthless railroad line outside of Saratoga.  But as the eastern cities build up, the line is poised to become a trunk line—a main artery—and make the owner rich.  But Van Steed’s competitors are using dirty tactics to steal the line from him.

He doesn’t know how to fight.

But Clint does.

Shall I spoil the ending for you reader?

Let’s just say that about the time Clio decides that love trumps money, Clint decides that if Clio will only marry a man with money, then he will get truckloads of it.

And he’ll use his wits, his fists, and the Saratoga trunk line to fight for it Texas style.

Saratoga Trunk is my favorite of Edna Ferber’s novels, and the film captures the mystery of New Orleans, the romance in the air, and the irresistible pleasure of watching two rascals fall in love despite their best efforts to prevent it.


*Note: By 1945, Olivia de Havilland was deep into her Hollywood blacklist period after suing Warner Brothers regarding her contract.  But “Saratoga Trunk” was filmed in 1943, when de Havilland was still working for Warner Brothers (though about to launch her famous suit.)  Though the film was finished in 1943, Warner Brothers didn’t release it until after World War II ended.  During that time audiences preferred films about the war. 

Saratoga Trunk (1945) Verdict:  Give It A Shot

Sources

  • Ferber, Edna.  A Peculiar Treasure.  1939.
  • Behlmer, Rudy.  Inside Warner Bros (1935-1951).  1985.
  • Ferber, Edna.  Saratoga Trunk.  1969 reprint.

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Indiscreet (1958): Ingrid’s Triumphant Return

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Indiscreet (1958)
Indiscreet (1958) opening banner

Despite delighting audiences with her work in such classics as Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1941), Casablanca (1942), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Gaslight (1944), and Notorious (1946), Ingrid Bergman was banished from Hollywood when her extramarital affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini became public.  

Because of the pure and innocent characters she played onscreen, the public felt betrayed.  Becoming pregnant with Rossellini’s child added fuel to the fire.  In a fit of manufactured hysteria that would be right at home in today’s political climate, democratic Senator Edwin C. Johnson denounced her on the senate floor as “a powerful influence for evil”, and that she had “perpetrated an assault upon the institution of marriage.”

“People saw me in Joan of Arc and declared me a saint,” Bergman said later.  “I’m not.  I’m just a woman, another human being.”*

She ran off to Italy and spent the next seven years making Italian films in between marrying and divorcing Rossellini.  (And having three children with him, including actress Isabella Rossellini.)

In 1956, she filmed Anastasia in Europe for Twentieth Century Fox to test the waters.  Her Academy Award win for the film paved the way for her return to Hollywood.

Though Anastaisa revived her career, it was her next film, Indiscreet, that endeared her once again to American audiences.

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman off screen
Off-screen friends Bergman and Grant

She paired up for the second and final time with her Notorious co-star and good friend, Cary Grant.

Notorious is the better film, of course, but it has more tools in its arsenal—an inherently tense premise, life and death stakes, and the master of suspense in Alfred Hitchock behind the camera.  

Indiscreet, by contrast, lives or dies solely on the chemistry of Bergman and Grant.  Not their individual talents, which are unquestioned, but how much the audience believes they are besotted with one another.

The film more than lives.  It thrives.

The premise of this romantic comedy is simple—Bergman plays Anna Kalman, an actress in her early forties (as Bergman herself was) who has given up on love meets Cary Grant’s diplomat Philip Adams and finds the man she has been missing.

Philip is handsome, considerate, and fun.  The rub?

He’s married, of course, and he can’t divorce his wife.

He tells Anna this right off the top, and so she goes into their relationship with her eyes wide open.

When a romantic comedy falls flat, it’s nearly always because the filmmaker is in such a hurry to get to the relationship’s roadblock that he neglects to show us what the two leads see in one another and why their relationship is worth saving in the face of that inevitable roadblock.

Indiscreet doesn’t make that mistake.  It strolls along at a pleasant pace, letting us see how and why Anna and Philip fall in love.  There is a cozy conversation at a restaurant table that goes on so long they miss the ballet.  There are late night conversations, and a great split screen showing them saying goodnight over the telephone in their respective beds.  Eventually, we see her cooking breakfast for him, the first nod that their relationship has reached sleepover status.

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Indiscreet (1958)

We know why Anna loves Philip—he’s charming, discrete, considerate, and so obviously her perfect match.  We know why Philip loves Anna—she’s beautiful, beloved by her fans, confident but not clingy, and has a great sense of humor.  She takes what Philip can offer but doesn’t ask for more.

When Philip is ordered to New York for five months for his work with the United Nations but Anna must stay in London to star in a play, she shows the first signs of strain.  In a heartbreaking scene, Anna beseeches Philip to leave his wife and marry her.  She apologizes, but it’s too late—she’s shown Philip that no matter how perfect their relationship seems, it is humiliating to be a mistress and not a wife.

And now, finally, when we’re fully invested and having a ball watching Cary and Ingrid flirt and play, the bomb is dropped.

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Indiscreet (1958)
On-screen magic

Philip isn’t—and never has been—married.  It’s a lie he tells his prospective lovers because he believes he’s not the marrying kind and doesn’t want to give them false hope.

The reveal of this fact to Anna—by her sister, and not Philip himself—has her shouting, “How dare he make love to me and not be married!”

The film’s comedy comes in the second half, when Anna pretends not to know of Philip’s deception and plans his comeuppance.  Watching Anna secretly seethe behind Philip’s back at a party while he dances and drinks and generally has a grand old time is the highlight of the film.

Her plan goes badly, of course—she convinces him she’s been seeing another man just as he decides he’s the marrying kind after all—but it all turns out right in the end.

It’s the type of romantic comedy that Hollywood has given up on—it doesn’t have two leads who are constantly bickering until the final reel, doesn’t substitute sex for romance, and doesn’t have to cut down a strong woman by making her a klutz. 

It’s a love story of two mature adults—Ingrid with the first hint of lines on her face, Cary with silver in his hair—but youth doesn’t hold a candle to the charm these legends exude with every breath.

And even at forty-three and fifty-seven, Ingrid and Cary look damn good in technicolor.

Indiscreet (1958) Verdict:  Give It A Shot
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*Quote from Notorious:  The Life of Ingrid Bergman, by Donald Spoto

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Indiscreet (1958)

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)

Gaslight (1944): Driving Ingrid Crazy

Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight (1944)
Gaslight (1944) Opening Banner

Sweden produced two of Hollywood’s most revered actresses.  The first was Greta Garbo, queen of the silent screen and film’s first true mega-star.

The second was Ingrid Bergman.

Bergman won her first of three Oscars for her role in 1944’s Gaslight, a performance so riveting that it beat out Barbara Stanwyck’s breathtaking turn as Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity.  (Part IV of this blog was dedicated to my bitterness that Stanwyck never won an Oscar.  But even I cannot begrudge the Academy for rewarding Bergman for her excellent work here.)

Bergman plays Paula Alquist, a young woman who moves back into the house where her aunt was murdered with her new husband.  Though at first blissfully happy, the honeymoon is soon over as Paula begins to lose and forget things.  At her husband’s insistence, she becomes a recluse, convinced she is too ill for visitors and that she is slowly losing her mind.  

She is isolated and alone but for the servants as her husband goes out every night to work on his music compositions (none of which ever seem to be completed.)

But things are not as they seem for Paula—she is perfectly sane and well.  She is the victim of her husband’s sadistic obsession.  He is the one hiding things to make her believe she has lost them.  He is the one removing pictures from the walls and then telling Paula she did it.  He has narrowed her world to that claustrophobic house, creating an alternative universe where he can slowly and deliberately drive her insane.  She has no one else to talk to, no one else to rely on, no one else to inform her of her sanity or the outside world.

I won’t reveal her husband’s motive, or how Paula eventually extricates herself from his clutches, because it is a suspenseful film of psychological manipulation that I encourage you to watch.

Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight (1944)

It’s tense, tightly plotted, and will have you squirming in your seat—not from any gruesome violence—but by watching Paula’s escalating distress at her sincere belief that she is losing her mind while her husband stands by and adds fuel to the fire.  It is a cruel and premeditated strike playing on a person’s greatest fear—that they are no longer in control of their own actions.

Bergman and Charles Boyer are wonderful and convincing in their roles as the tortured wife and sadistic husband.  Their portrayal was the third version of the gaslight story—the first was a 1938 play, followed by a film version in 1940.  The film was remade by Bergman and Boyer in 1944.

Even if you haven’t seen any of the versions, you likely know the term gaslight.  It’s used often today in the news and psychiatric circles to describe a form of psychological manipulation when one person (usually, though not always, a man) tries to control his victim by making them doubt their own perceptions and judgement.  It involves isolating, doubting, trivializing, and humiliating the other person.  It is psychological rather than physical abuse.

In the stage and film versions, Paula notices that when she is alone at night, the light dims in her gas powered lamps.  This would normally indicate that someone has turned on the gas in another part of the house.  (Like water pressure going down if too many taps are on)  Her husband insists she is imagining the gas dimming because it only happens when she is alone.  He knows, however, that she is perfectly sane because he does not actually leave the house every night to work as he tells her, but goes up into the attic and turns on the gas.

It’s a metaphor for all of his psychological manipulation, and the manipulation that is still practiced today.  To gaslight someone is more than to merely lie to them.  It is to manipulate until the person no longer believes their sense of the world is true, and no longer trusts their own judgement.

It’s a terrible way to torture someone.

But it makes for outstanding cinema.

Gaslight (1944) Verdict - Give It A Shot

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Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight (1944)