Dad’s favorite actor was Humphrey Bogart. I don’t think anyone else was even a close second. And his two favorite movies — both of which featured Bogie, of course — were Casablanca and The African Queen. So when Kish and I went with friends to see Casablanca to kick off the Ohio Theater Summer Movie Series last night, at the bargain ticket price of only 50 cents a person, of course I thought about Dad.
It turns out Dad had pretty good taste in movies. Casablanca is generally considered one of the very best movies ever made, and if you get a chance to see it on the big screen, you shouldn’t pass it up. The tale of star-crossed lovers set in exotic, desperate Casablanca, with the grim early days of World War II as its backdrop, is a terrific, timeless classic that is filled with memorable lines and characters, from Dooley Wilson’s warm and decent Sam to Sidney Greenstreet’s fly-swatting Ferrari to Paul Henreid’s impossibly noble Victor Laszlo. The chemistry between Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s Isla Lund crackles and almost jumps off the screen, and stands in sharp comparison to many of the modern romance movies where the “chemistry” is either forced or totally lacking. And Bogart’s depiction of Rick — the tough, fearless, gravel-voiced American who will stick his neck out for nobody, but turns out to have a conscience and a heart of gold — has become so iconic we tend to take for granted what a fantastic acting performance it was. Watching the scenes where the anguished Rick is drinking to try to forget the painful wound that Ilsa has reopened should be required study for anybody who wants to become an actor.
One other thing about Casablanca that you notice in comparison to today’s Hollywood fare: it somehow manages to combine a compelling personal narrative that grabs you by the collar, and real potential peril from believable villains, with great humor. Claude Rains as Louis, the jocular Prefect of Police, gets most of the laugh lines, but Bogart has some and other characters do, too. How many modern films can you think of that successfully feature drama and humor side by side — or even try to do so? It’s one big reason why Casablanca typically ranks right up there on the GOAT lists.