And Reuven Bar-Yotam as Signor Ferrari: Lent in Casablanca, Night 8

Have you ever seen that poster before?

It’s one of the most famous posters in movie history.  I had it hanging on my wall for many years.  (note: it was famous despite adorning my wall, not because of it, and no I did NOT get it when the film came out!)  Casablanca shines with an iconic, amazing cast, the film equivalent of having the 1927 Yankees show up to play on your softball team.  Ruth, Gehrig, Bogart, Bergman, and Tony Lazzeri as “Signor Ferrari.”

Sorry, Sidney Greenstreet as “Signor Ferrari.”

I’ve never understood how anyone could possibly decide “Gosh! People will rejoice if we remake Casablanca!” It can be said of any number of classic films; The Godfather, Star Wars, Citizen Kane, and more.  There are some films that are just so legendary, so perfect, that Hollywood should be bitch-slapped even for thinking of remaking them.

In 1983, though, somebody had the idea that “Casablanca” should be a TV series.  Okay, that’s not a brilliant idea, but it could work, right?

Not even under the best of circumstances. Worse still, in the series, the action predated the film, meaning they didn’t have Ilsa. For crying out loud, the basic story in “Casablanca” is a love triangle, set against World War 2. The entire point to the film is simple: will Ilsa leave with Rick or with Victor Laszlo? The rest of the film is spectacular window dressing–Nazis are bad; criminals can be noble; drinking and smoking is fun–but it always comes down to Rick & Ilsa or Ilsa & Laszlo. 

In the 1983 “Casablanca” TV series, Rick is played by David Soul.  Yes.  That David Soul.  I’m sure he’s a fine actor, but the only legendary partnership I can think of with David Soul is Paul Michael Glaser.  Bogie and Bergman.  Starsky and Hutch.

Hector Elizondo plays Captain Renault.  I like Hector Elizondo; I can kinda see him doing a decent job with Renault.  The problem is that the Rick/Renault friendship would have to be emphazised more since there’s no Rick & Ilsa romance, and the more I watch “Casablanca,” the more I appreciate Claude Rains as Renault, so much so that Rains’ might be my favorite performance of all.

Scatman Crothers as Sam? Oh, sure.  I have no problem with that. 

Actually, that’s not entirely true.  Through no fault of Scatman’s own, ever since “The Shining,” I can’t watch him in anything without expecting to see Jack Nicholson lurch out from a shadow and just axe the crap out of him.  “You must remember this: a kiss is just a kiss. A sigh is just a–BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH! (sfx: aortal spurt)” Seriously, the guy could be on Sesame Street, drinking Juicy Juice with Big Bird, and I’d be neither surprised nor disturbed seeing Jack hack Scatman in half. 

Of course Scatman has tapped his way off into The Afterworld.

Even then! When Jack, Scatman, and I are in the Afterworld together, I would still be waiting for it to happen.  We could be at a giant picnic table with the Creator, my grandfather, Babe Ruth, William Faulkner, Jean Harlowe, Clara Barton, my friend Al Cruise, and a few other cool people.  The Babe would ask about Scatman’s nickname.

“Well, Babe. It came from my years on the circuit. In addition to hoofin’, I sang, and I used to scat–” *THWACKTHUD*

Well, that sort of thing would certainly make the Afterworld more interesting.

Ray Liotta plays Sascha.  Hmm.  Ray Liotta wasn’t really a star before “Something Wild,” so it’s not like they were trying to capitalize on his celebrity.  In the movie, though, Sascha was played by Russian-born Leonid Kinskey.

Kinskey’s Sascha was the funniest character in the film.  He wasn’t originally cast.  He ended up with the role because he was funnier than the original actor, and because he was a drinking buddy of Humphrey Bogart.

I really like Leonid Kinskey for three things.  First–as stated–he was a drinking buddy of Humphrey Bogart.  I can’t imagine a cooler thing to have on one’s CV than that. Second, to quote IMDB.com, “Kinskey married Iphigenie Castiglioni four times. ‘It started in Mexico City, ‘ he said, ‘and then over 20 years of our happy marriage we celebrated every five years by taking a new marriage licence in a different country.'”  The third reason I like Kinskey is that he turned down a role on “Hogan’s Heroes,” saying “The Nazis were seldom dumb and never funny.”

I liked “Hogan’s Heroes” when I was a kid.  I also ate paste as a kid. As I grew older, it ceased to amuse me for that very reason (“Hogan’s Heroes,” not the timeless paste eating).  In fairness, I should note that many of HH’s actors who played Nazis (Col Klink, Sgt Schultz, eg) were actually Jewish immigrants, and only took their roles to mock the Nazi’s.

“Casablanca” was lightning in a bottle, casting-wise.  I watched “A Few Good Men” last night, and there was a short documentary about “the making of…” Rob Reiner always gets his cast together and does a read-through before rehearsals.  “A Few Good Men” has an all-star cast: Tom Cruise & Demi Moore give their best performances (in my opinion); Kevins Pollack and Bacon are both predictably great, and Kiefer Sutherland chews it up as the fascistic Lt Kendricks.  One thing all the actors said, though, was that everyone was having a light, pleasant time at the read-through, until it came time for Colonel Nathan Jessup’s first line.  When Jack Nicholson growled, “Who the fuck is Private William T Santiago,” jaws dropped, Scatman Crothers got chopped in half, and the bar was raised for that film’s actors.

“Casablanca” was a lovely combination of stars and stars-to-be, alike.  In retrospect, it was amazing.  People knew it was a spectacular cast, but history has evinced just how spectacular, just as in 1927, baseball fans all knew the Yankees were great, but not how great.

Legend is a curious commodity.  When you read the history of films like “The Godfather,” “Star Wars,” and “Citizen Kane,” you can see how badly everything could have gone.  “Casablanca” was the same way.  Nobody knew they were making one of the all-time greats.  It was the golden age of the Hollywood studio system, and “Casablanca” was just another Warner Brothers factory assembly-line production–Michael Curtiz directed three WB films in 1942, including the classics “Casablanca” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Some things just have that extra “muchness” that transcends the ordinary, and makes them the stuff of legends.  The 1942 film “Casablanca” had muchness to spare.  The 1983 TV Series? Not so much.

If nothing else, the “Casablanca” series’ run was mercifully brief.  After five episodes, Jack Nicholson burst in and destroyed the remaining scripts, negatives, and most of the production staff.  (The Oscar he won that 83-84 season was supposedly for “Terms of Endearment;” in reality, it was a thank you gift for destroying the “Casablanca” TV show)

(Thank you, Jack)

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2 Responses to “And Reuven Bar-Yotam as Signor Ferrari: Lent in Casablanca, Night 8”

  1. I don’t remember there being a “Casablanca” TV series. With David Soul? Wow. Just wow.

    And how does Paul Henreid get on top of the poster with B & B?

    It does beg the interesting question of who could you cast today to play those roles? I can only come up with Clooney for Rick. Maybe Kate Winslet for Ilsa. I’ll have to think on the others…

    • I agree: Clooney would be a great Rick, and I could see Ms Winslett as Ilsa. Maybe Colin Firth as Laszlo and Hugh Grant as Renault. Stephen Fry as Signor Ferrari?

      You do realize, this will require an entire post now. 😉

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