Cooler than I’ll ever be


I know Casablanca is just a movie.  We dissected it in one of my college film classes.  I understand that this exotic North African world teeming with rogues and Nazis, thieves and pimps, ex-patriates and spies was entirely filmed on a Hollywood studio backlot.  I know all the minutiae, how neither star really thought much of Casablanca at the time because they were reworking the script as they filmed it, how the movie changed directors in preproduction and ran way over budget.

Blah, blah, blah.

The result, though, is magic.  There's Bogart with Peter Lorre, both smoking and drinking, resplendent in white dinner jackets and black tie. 

Ugarte (Lorre): You despise me, don't you?

Rick (Bogart): Well, if I gave you any thought, I probably would.


"I don't mind a parasite; I object to a cut-rate one."


"You know, Rick, I have many friends in Casablanca, but somehow just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust."

That's the beauty of this world.  It's just so fabulously enigmatic.  You only trust people who despise you.  You dress to the nines to engage in the basest behavior.  When the Nazis were on their way to take Paris, Rick Blaine was drinking champagne.  He had his basic casual thing working: his beautiful young girlfriend, his omnipresent piano player, and a sharp jacket and tie.  When he was out for a drive with that beautiful young girlfriend, his hair was perfect despite the top being down on the convertible.  Sure, his hair was manufactured of the finest World War 2 era materials, but still, he wore it with panache and style.

Sam: He''s got a girl up at the Blue Parrot.  He goes up there all the time.

Ilsa: You used to be a much better liar.

Awesome.  Not "Oh, GOD! You LIED!" Just a sad smile and a rueful head shake.  "You used to be a much better liar."

That's this world.  Then Bogie and his ex sit down with her husband, Mr Goody-goody revolutionary hero guy.  Bogie and Ilsa stare into each other's eyes and speak in double-entendres, and Victor Laszlo doesn't notice a thing.  They leave, and Bogie has one of the all-time best scenes on film, just him and a bottle of bourbon.  He drinks and chainsmokes and broods. He makes Sam play "As Time Goes By," and he delivers that famous whiskey soaked lament, really his most vulnerable moment in the whole film: "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world, she walks into mine."  Nazis and thieves and rogues, Rick can handle.  Fate, that same wily bitch that led Oedipus to kill  Laius and nail Jocasta, threw Rick into a momentary tailspin. 

But he drank it away.  The next day, he went on about his business.  Even when the Nazis order his bar closed, Rick doesn't get too upset.  And by the end of the film, he's in complete control over everything–the Nazis, Ingrid Bergman, her goody-goody husband, the Vichy Captain Renauld, hell even the fog, which makes him appear cooler.  Humphrey Bogart makes a fedora and trench coat look like a million bucks.  

I saw Bogie in The African Queen and The Caine Mutiny, both of which were in color.  He was great in both, nominated for Oscars in both, and a winner for the former.  But he lacked something, that certain 'Bogiety" that he oozed in Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon

Humphrey Bogart was born to live in black and white, to smoke cigarettes and drink whiskey straight.  He wasn't put on this earth to eat salads or do pilates or write childrens books.  If there's a sort of heaven where movie characters can interact, I think Rick Blaine from Casablanca would really enjoy sitting down in a saloon somewhere with Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I can see Indy talking about various treasure hunts and archaeological digs, while Rick recounted tales of his various mercenary war experiences.  They'd drink and drink, and the fires would burn down.  And when Indy passed out, Rick would take that hot Karen Allen character by the hand and lead her off into the foggy black and white night, saying, "Kid, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

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