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Tuesday, November 21, 2017


After three-and-a-half decades, I saw Casablanca (director: Michael Curtiz) again. It was the first time in a cinema house. The first time I saw it was in the early 1980s at Bombay’s (Mumbai) American Centre. The United States of America’s diplomatic thrust in those days was to saturate Indians with Hollywood’s and Madison Avenue’s soft power.

Casablanca introduced me to Rick Blaine, the owner of the swinging nightclub and gambling den (Rick's Café Américain), the most happening place in a city otherwise charged with wartime tension. Humphrey Bogart essayed the role. Casablanca also had the inimitable Ingrid Bergman, a stunning natural beauty who was also a consummate actor, performing the role of Ilsa Lund, the woman torn between her husband (Victor Laszlo, played by Paul Henreid) and her former lover (Rick, Humphrey Bogart).

What lifts Casablanca and makes it extraordinary is a melange of memorable scenes. Permit me to describe just two that are my favourite.

The first is when Ilsa walks into Rick’s café, with her husband Victor Laszlo, the guerrilla leader of the Resistance. She doesn’t know who Rick is, but immediately realises his identity when she sees Sam in the café, playing the piano. Dooley Wilson performed this pivotal role of the piano player and singer at Rick’s nightclub.

Ilsa strides across to Sam and after a few awkward moments where she extracts information about Rick from an unwilling Sam, requests Sam to sing As Time Goes By, a song that he sang when Rick and Ilsa were in love in Paris. “Play it Sam, for old time’s sake,” she says. And as a reluctant Sam begins to sing the song, Rick storms from the bar and shouts at Sam, “Sam I thought I told you never to play…”

Another scene that remains etched in one’s memory, long after the movie is over, is when it’s time for Ilsa and Victor to leave Casablanca for Lisbon. Rick manages to convince Ilsa to escape from Casablanca to Lisbon onward to the United States of America. He promises her that he would go with her, and dump Laszlo. But at the airport, as the aircraft is about to take off, Rick tells, no, he forces Ilsa that she should accompany her husband.  Two of the film’s classic lines “We’ll always have Paris” and “Here’s looking at you kid” are part of this scene.

Made in 1942, at a time when the Second World War was at its peak and Hitler’s armies were scourging large parts of Europe, Casablanca was Hollywood’s (and America’s) propaganda tool that worked remarkably well in creating public opinion against the Nazis. In all these years since I don’t think I’ve seen any male actor with such rough and raw appeal as Bogart; Harrison Ford comes close, but not quite.  Three of Bogart’s best films are the Maltase Falcon, the African Queen and, of course, Casablanca.

The Yonge-Dundas Cineplex was nearly full Sunday afternoon and an appreciative audience clapped when the film ended and the credits rolled up. 

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