Play It, Sam.

26th November, 1942, when Warner Brothers and director, Michael Curtiz held the premiere of “Casablanca”, they thought they were giving the world another Hollywood flick. Little did they realise that this movie would become an icon and change so many things for so many people.

Casablanca catapulted Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman to a new level of stardom, with dialogues & lines from the movie woven into every romantic, flirtatious Casablanca1conversation for 75 years. The story is iconic – a devastating romance between Rick Blaine, an expat cafe owner and Ilsa Lund. The two characters played Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman leave an indelible mark on your mind with powerhouse performance. Released during World War II, to capitalise on the Allies invasion of North Africa,Casablanca is about triumph of idealism over cynicism, passion over protest, and human nature in all its glory.

Here are some facts that people may not be aware of, even though you may have watched the movie umpteen number of times.

Playwright Murray Burnett co-created expat café owner Rick Blaine, piano player Sam, Czech resistance fighter Victor Lazlo and fresh-faced Ilsa Lund when he and his writing partner Joan Alison penned a play called ”Everybody Comes to Rick’s” in 1940. The play was intended for Broadway, but never made it. Warner Bros, however, saw the potential and decided to make a movie out of it. The rights were purchased for $20,000. No sequel has been made, even though a lot of producers and directors approached Murray Burnett for the same.

Imagine, if the movie was called “Lisbon”. That was the original title of the play and the story was set in Lisbon. It was later changed to Casablanca. Yet, Burnett never visited the city in his lifetime.

Humphrey Bogart was the quintessential romantic guy I wanted in my life, when I saw the movie. I wanted to be romanced & loved the way Ingrid Bergman was in Casablanca.Casablanca2 Imagine my surprise when I read that in real life, he was 5 feet 8 inches with Ingrid Bergman towering over him by two inches. The director had to make Bogie stand on wooden blocks or make him sit on piles of extra cushions to make him look taller!

There is no doubt that the film looks exotic and I have always thought that Casablanca during the war, looked like that. Did they shoot the movie on location? No, hold on. It was almost entirely shot in Warner Studios, Burbank, California. They did such a great job, that generations of men & women fell in love with Casablanca, the place.

Originally intended for an early 1943 release, showing Casablanca to the public was a rushed affair. It premiered on 26th November 1942, in New York City. The film then went into wide release on January 23, 1943, to coincide with the Casablanca Conference, a high-level meeting between Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt in Casablanca.

Many of the actors had first-hand experiences of the war and of Nazi brutality. S. Z. Sakall, who played the waiter Carl, was a Jewish-Hungarian who fled Germany in 1939 and lost his three sisters to a concentration camp. Helmut Dantine, who played the Bulgarian roulette player, spent time in a concentration camp and left Europe after being freed. Curt Bois, who played the pickpocket, was a German-Jewish actor and refugee. Conrad Veidt, who played Major Heinrich Strasser, was a German film star and refugee, and even though he fled the Nazis, he was often cast as a Nazi in American films.

Director Michael Curtiz was a Hungarian-Jewish immigrant who had arrived in the U.S. in 1926, but some members of his family were refugees from Nazi Europe.

The last surviving member of the cast was Madeleine LeBeau, who played Yvonne, Rick’s girlfriend. She died on May 1, 2016, at the age of 92.

The line “Play it again, Sam” is one of the most widely quoted lines from Casablanca — but it never appears in the film. In the famous piano scene, Ilsa leans on the piano and says, “Play it once, Sam” and “Play it, Sam.” Rick also says, “Play it” — but nobody says, “Play it again, Sam.” Most attribute the phrase, and the misunderstanding, to Woody Allen’s stage play of the same name, which became a major motion picture in 1972.

There have been many spoofs, TV serials, radio plays based on Casablanca, but, never a full fledged remake. Among the famous parodies are the Marx Brothers’ A Night in Casablanca (1946) and Neil Simon’s The Cheap Detective (1978). The film is also heavily referenced in The Usual Suspects (1995) and in Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam (1972), where Rick appears to give Allen’s character life advice.

Ingrid Bergman, who remains for many, the most beautiful woman to act on silver screen, never actually wanted to be starred in Casablanca. The screenplay was apparently rewritten a dozen times and she, during the filming, did not know, whom she would finally land up with, Rick Blaine or Viktor Laszlo.

The music for the film was written by Max Steiner, an Austrian-born, Hungarian-Jewish composer and arranger who gained fame for his score of Gone With the Wind and King Kong.

The classic song “As Time Goes By” was included in the original play, but Steiner didn’t Casablanca3like it and wanted it excluded from the film adaptation. But Bergman had already shot the scenes with the song and cut her hair for her next role, so they couldn’t be re-shot, and the song stayed.

After the movie was released, “As Time Goes By” spent 21 weeks on the hit parade.

75 years and still going strong. Casablanca is a movie that can still stir many hearts. It definitely does mine. Every time I watch it.

The Boulevard & The Screen…Silvery Hollywood

Sinking in a seat as the lights dimmed, the lion of MGM roaring in front of me on the silver screen, I was transported to another world all together. If books help me visualise and let my imagination work overtime, I love the movies for the power they have over the mind and heart. Roman Polanski, a director I admire tremendously, once said, “Cinema should make you forget that you are sitting in a theatre”

Having grown up a staple diet of all time classics like Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Sound Of Music, The Good The Bad The Ugly and few more in the same genres, I did not understand the nuances of appreciating a well made film those days. However, you can never escape the influence of a great movie…and that’s what happened to me also!

This sounds like a cliche I know…but they really don’t make them like that anymore!!! When I look at the kind of Hollywood movies released now, I find them revolving around aliens, autobods, vampires, draculas, witches and wizards. Where are normal human beings? One gets a strong feeling that our planet will be taken over by all the above…that’s why we don’t have movies made about normal people like you and me 🙂

Casablanca

I was reading the tribute paid to Eli Wallach who died recently. And I remembered some of the movies I have enjoyed during my teenage years and later too. The genres that I’m a sucker for – romance (that’s easy to guess), suspense thrillers (Hitchcock variety), westerns (gun slinging, crooked cigars/cigarettes in the mouth), war movies (they always bring in nostalgia, poignancy and a smile). You know something…I still enjoy watching them again now…every once in a while, on a rainy afternoon, with a nice cuppa and some popcorn…I’m willing to be transported to the world of Scarlett O’Hara, Capt & Maria Von Trapp, Eliza Do Little & Prof Higgins and the ever lovely Mrs Campbell. So, who are all these characters? It would make sense to write about some of my all time favourites…

Casablanca 

This remains my numero uno as far as romantic movies are concerned. I can swoon every time I hear Humphrey Bogart say, “Of all the gin joints in the world, she had to walk into mine.” With nearly every line of its script engraved on the collective subconscious, and its central performances of Bogart and Ingrid Bergman defining iconic cool, Casablanca is an exultant classic. “Here’s looking at you, kid”.

Great Escape

Great Escape

The Great Escape

I love a good war movie, especially the Second World War ones. This 1963 American film on the escape and escape attempts of Allied forces prisoners from a German military camp is the right audio visual choice that tickled my palate with intriguing drama and meticulous war and war camp description. The movie has a a classic motorcycle chase sequence featuring the great Steve McQueen. The all-star ensemble includes James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence and James Garner….can one ask for more?

Citizen Kane   

A landmark in the history of movie making. A classic by Orson Welles, this is a brilliant master piece that can resonate with any generation, in my opinion. Surprisingly, it was a box office disaster initially, it generated huge acclaim eventually and continues to thrill audiences even now.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly  

The Good The Bad The Ugly

The Good The Bad The Ugly

Every time Eli Wallach said “Hey Blondie” to Clint Eastwood, I smiled. I loved both the characters…and I think I fell hopelessly in love with Clint Eastwood because of all the westerns. Movies like this and For A Few Dollars More, created a cult following for an entire generation as they depicted typical rough, tough and bold characters, most enigmatically gypsy gang lord like lifestyle and dramatic action. I lapped it all up in the true spirit of adventure. The background scores from most of the westerns are tunes I hum even today and enjoy listening to while driving…yes you guessed right…highway driving 🙂

Sound Of Music

Sound Of Music

Sound Of Music and My Fair Lady

It is unfair of me to combine both these movies…but for me they have always gone hand in hand. The lovely Julie Andrews and the suave Christopher Plummer created a different sense of romance all together. On the contrary, the beautiful Audrey Hepburn and sophisticated Rex Harrison brought such a cute, down to earth feeling to romance. In fact, one dialogue Of Rex Harrison from My Fair Lady, “Where the devil are my slippers?” always reminds me of what my man says,”My requirements in life are simple – my slippers, newspaper, my reading glasses & cuppa”. In fact when the children were growing up, these were two movies I got them to watch a few times…singing along with Maria & Eliza 🙂

Psycho 

Psycho

Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock movies did not allow me to sleep for a couple of nights at least after watching them. For a very long time after watching Psycho, I would be scared of drawing the shower curtain…those of you who have seen the movie will understand why! Hitchcock movies had this quality of making me look over my shoulder whenever I was alone. Psycho is considered a cult movie in the suspense/thriller category, with its rich, dark & enigmatic quality. I will still recommend the black & white version instead of the remakes that have come recently. A must watch…but don’t blame me if your popcorn just falls off and does not go into your mouth.

Some of the other Hitchcock movies I have thoroughly enjoyed – 39 Steps, Vertigo, North By North west, The Birds and Rear Window.

Schindler’s List

A war movie with a difference and a heart. Schindler’s List tops that category for me. Poignant, emotional and incredibly humane – the war crimes against the Jews is depicted beautifully and authentically shown by Steven Spielberg. It is not for nothing that he is called a master film maker. There are movies about the holocaust and there is Schindler’s List…that’s how powerful it is!!!

Once Upon a Time in the West

This is another epic spaghetti western movie from one of the greatest director of the genre Sergio Leone. This 1968 old Wild West tale came with wide screen cinematography of visual splendour that is so intrinsic to raw western lands and most enigmatic actors in the roles of the bandits and cowboys. This film had been a subject of huge cult following in many parts of the world where it inspired great many masterpieces of the same theme.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Oooh, I cannot miss this western gem for its more matured drama. It is set face to face with the modern legal proceeding with the Wild West cowboy heroes in search of a more successful criminal career, that gives the film a large tinge of thrill with other rich eclectic aspects of western movie. This 1969 western classic by George Roy Hill starring great actor Paul Newman in the lead role, won huge critical reception all over the world as one of the finest movies in the genre. And who can forget, “Raindrops keep falling on my head…”

Roman Holiday

A runaway princess meets handsome man and they fall in love…mush story most will say. Of course it is…but what a mushy romantic story. Gregory Peck became the benchmark in romance for a long time for a lot of women. Audrey Hepburn, as the lovely princess is adorable in this all time favourite of mine.

Four Weddings & a Funeral and Notting Hill 

Notting Hill

Notting Hill

Ralph Fiennes once said, “So much of movie acting is in the lighting. And in loving the characters. I try to know them, and with that intimacy comes love.” He, of course said it from an actor’s perspective…I say it from an audience perspective. And I have loved Hugh Grant’s characters in both – Four Weddings & A Funeral and Notting Hill – the same way. British film makers showed Hollywood how to do romantic comedy in a subtle under played way…which only they can do.

There are so many movies that have left me wanting for more and I can say truly good cinema – The Great Dictator, Buena Sera Mrs Campbell, Papillon, Chinatown, The Pianist, Forrest Gump, Rain Man, Pulp Fiction, Apocalypse Now, The Graduate, Shawshank Redemption, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Tamarind Seed, Singing In The Rain…I can go on a little more.

The one film I have to mention in the last two decades after the phenomenal crime suspense thrillers of Hitchcock all of which had a psychological bent, this 1991 psycho thriller is the right one in every aspect of judgement. The film won Oscars in all top five categories including best picture, best director, best actor, best actress and best adapted screenplay and in considering the huge artistic and critical reception of the film all over the world. The character of Hannibal Lector, who brought new meaning to having a friend round for dinner, raised Anthony Hopkins to an iconic status and terrified a whole generation…and cntinues to do so.

Martin Scorsese says, “Cinema is a matter of what is in the frame and what is out”

Finally, a good movie can take you out of your dull funk and the hopelessness that so often goes with slipping into a theatre; a good movie can make you feel alive again, in contact, not just lost in another city. Good movies make you care, make you believe in possibilities again. If somewhere in the entertainment world someone has managed to break through with something that speaks to you, then it isn’t all corruption. The movie doesn’t have to be great; it can be stupid and empty and you can still have the joy of a good performance, or the joy in just a good line. An actor’s scowl, a small subversive gesture, a dirty remark that someone tosses off with a mock-innocent face, and the world makes a little bit of sense. Sitting there alone or painfully alone because those with you do not react as you do, you know there must be others perhaps in this very theatre or in this city, surely in other theatres in other cities, now, in the past or future, who react as you do. And because movies are the most total and encompassing art form we have, these reactions can seem the most personal and, maybe the most important, imaginable. The romance of movies is not just in those stories and those people on the screen but in the adolescent dream of meeting others who feel as you do about what you’ve seen. You do meet them, of course, and you know each other at once because you talk more about good movies than about what you did not see in bad movies.

Enjoy the cinemas and like the saying goes…the show will continue to go on!!!