“One Saturday morning in 1942, Mother and Rosalie took me to the Capitol Theatre to see a movie called Casablanca. We all loved it, and Rosalie was mad about Humphrey Bogart. I thought he was good in it, but mad about him? Not at all. She thought he was sexy. I thought she was crazy . . . Bogart didn’t vaguely resemble Leslie Howard. Not in any way. So much for my judgment at that time.” — Lauren Bacall, By Myself and Then Some

Who better to introduce Casablanca than Lauren Bacall? Luckily for Bogie, she decided to marry him three years later, and all he had to do was whistle . . .

I thought that eventually writing about the monumental classics would no longer intimidate me or my pen, but I admit there are still some from which I shy away. The pedestal on which so many of these are placed is bulldozing enough, but finding something new to say that hasn’t been said is equally paralyzing. If you’re on the hunt, you’ll find hundreds of books that will summarize, analyze, babble, and gabble about Casablanca and its history. . . I’m tempted myself, but I found that regurgitating this background information (however fascinating) was a bit too easy, not to mention overdone. When I finally approached this member of classic royalty, it was the re-experience itself that was on the tempting edge of indescribable.

Experiencing a movie at the San Francisco Symphony has been one of my favorite annual events in the Bay Area. These talented musicians provide the score for a well-known film as it plays on a large screen above them, and each time I find myself enjoying a film more than I already did. Failure to recall anything I was supposed to learn in Music Appreciation 101 has limited my knowledge a bit, but when I’m happily forced to pay attention to the music of a film, a new form of appreciation emerges. It’s amazing how much I learn about something when I’m not being tested on it! The first time I fell in love with this unique combination of film and music was when they performed the blustery score of The Wizard of Oz, a production I assumed would remain unbeatable. A year later, however, the symphony checked itself into the Bates Motel and Bernard Herrmann’s piercingly musical showers. Hitchcock’s Psycho at the San Francisco Symphony was more-than-qualified competition for the sounds of Oz‘s cyclone and wicked skywriting.

The Warner Bros. logo and theme music has welcomed me into a number of Bogie’s films, but I jest you not . . . when the San Francisco Symphony played it right in front of my eyes and ears, I could have left then and there with plenty to brag about the next day. But no one walks out on Bogie or Bergman! I had to see if they were going to add a piano for this performance and stand in for Sam, the café’s nightly entertainer. Fedoras off to the symphony for stepping back and instead allowing Ingrid Bergman to conduct Sam’s original piano playing to her liking. Understandably three-time Oscar winner Max Steiner created a score for Casablanca that is more subtle than, say, a savage cyclone or a shower slaughter. Despite how upset I get when the beautiful Ingrid Bergman emerges from the car in her “she’s-getting-on-the-plane” hat, Casablanca at the symphony was a wonderful and relaxing experience . . . well, for the most part.

Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall (1977) doesn’t know how lucky he is to just stand in line near a jabbering nincompoop — at least when he goes into the theatre he can sit as far from that guy as possible. Unfortunately I found myself next to one of those guys with an elbow-patched jacket who just walked out of Art Garfunkel’s hair salon. My dear sir, you don’t need to say the line along with the characters . . . you can think the lines as loudly as you’d like, but out of respect for Bogie, Bergman, and those sitting around you, kindly set up a roadblock somewhere between your mind and your mouth. Let’s commit it to memory and get it right, shall we? “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world . . . she walks into mine.” It’s not a line that one should blunder, mister!

Luckily Mom switched seats with me at intermission and shushed Mr. Elbow Patch not once but twice. A few seconds before Rick and Louis affirmed the beginning of their beautiful friendship, Mom gave this gabby guy her “don’t-even-think-about-it” look that hushed him right up. Delivering the line along with Humphrey Bogart is bad enough, sir, since you’ve now run the risk of your date comparing you to Bogie — I can guarantee she’ll ditch you immediately, and your night won’t amount to a hill of beans! The only form of audience participation I found acceptable was when two folks stood up during the singing of “La Marseillaise.” Since they were in the balcony and therefore not blocking anyone’s view, I’ll refrain from sending Mom over.

One paragraph or one thousand, I’ve yet to find a piece of writing that does justice to this untouchable film. Small screen or silver screen, surround sound or symphony, all I can say is play it . . . play Casablanca.

Academy Awards for Casablanca (1944): Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing (Screenplay)

Add it to your queue.

  1. Nice article. Could you tell me where you got the image of Dooly Wilson at the piano?


  2. OLD FILM FAN says:

    Really great review of a really hard to review film favorite of mine!


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