Thursday, May 25, 2006

Casablanca, or On Reader Requests

Casablanca was made half a century too early. As a thinly veiled slice of puritan sermonising, it would be right at home in the pantheon of Reaganite action/murder thrillers where romantic love, and its implicit sexual dimension, instantly corrupt and damn; only whereas a Stallone or a Bronson might look with lust upon a woman only to see her horribly murdered (oh, you poor fellow, having to watch that!), Casablanca sets its sights really high. Like, Holocaust high. That's right: if Ric Blaine acts upon desires of the flesh, the Nazis win.

Oh, we get to watch him go through the wringer, sure enough. As Blaine, Humphrey Bogart (whose job, in most movies, consists of standing beside harsh lights so as to cast a menacing shadow; acting ability is neither here nor there when you've got a profile like this guy) gets to cry, reminisce, wallow in the depths of alcoholic self-pity: the while nine yards. On that note - where's Mickey Rourke when you need him? At least then we'd know the performance wasn't afraid to lie in the gutter for a while: with Bogey, you get the sense that, sure, he'll get sauced up and snap a little, so longs as his suit never gets ruffled. Bogey's not an angry drunk, or really even a melancholic drunk, so much as he's a neurotic, maudlin-for-show, can-you-see-my-Method-soul-imploding drunk. He's Morrissey in a bowtie.

And why's Bogart so bent out of shape? Why, it would have to be over a dame. Ingrid Bergman, as if it matters, gets to do breast-owning duty, her entire raison d'etre being to serve as muse for Paul Henreid's tortured revolutionary. If Ilsa stays with Ric, she'll be happy, and he'll be happy, but Laszlo won't be happy; and if Laszlo isn't happy, he won't have the energy to fight the Nazis; and if Laszlo can't be bothered getting up in the morning, Hitler gets to eat your children.

Are you getting this? Is Casablanca making itself clear? The entire Second World War was decided, this movie is telling us, by flipping a coin to decide which well-to-do white guy got to stick his dick in Ingrid Bergman.

Oh, but don't feel bad for Ric. With Ilsa gone, he gets his pick of clearly besotted Frenchman Captain Renault ("If I was a woman, I would be in love with Ric", he tells us; as if Casablanca was a place where that sort of distinction mattered!) or proto-Carl Weathers chocolate love-muffin Sam - who, when Ric's at his deepest despair, has the gall to make a pass at him. (Drinking yourself to death? Sitting up late at night waiting for some skirt, some fish, to wander back into your life? Sam would like to suggest you get in his car and drink some more while he drives you far away from all this. Sam, you're a sweetie and all, but there's a time and a place).

Wasn't this a time before subtlety? Aren't we told Postmodernism hadn't even happened yet? Instead of wasting our time with Casablanca, director Michael Curtiz and his cadre of misogynist thugs might as well've just extended the (already overlong and didactic) intro to two hours of title cards: WOMEN WILL WEAKEN YOU; YOU CAN HAVE FREEDOM OR YOU CAN HAVE LOVE, BUT YOU CAN'T DO BOTH; ROMANCE IS DEATH.

Hell, Curtiz and Bogart could've taken their singular lack of an interesting, non-repugnant message, written it on a note, put the note in a bottle, thrown the bottle in the sea, and then gazed with longing restraint into each others' eyes as their little lack-of-narrative rowboat drifted slowly out to sea, never to return.

Now that would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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