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Posts Tagged ‘Casablanca’

Before nodding off last night, I began watching the 1942 movie Casablanca for what might be the the nine hundred and fifty first time. It’s one of those films that is easy to jump in and out of because there is always something to relish at any given moment– a memorable scene, shot, line or piece of music. It is chock full of small pleasures that totally add to a greater whole.

Perhaps the greatest of these pleasures is the performance of Dooley Wilson who plays Sam, the star performer at Rick’s Cafe Americain. His musical performances light up the screen, most notably the song As Time Goes By which has taken on legendary status.

Watching and listening to it last night made me think about how it was a fitting song for the end of the year, a wistful looking back as the clock marches on.

The song was written in 1931 by Herman Hupfeld for a Broadway show, Everybody’s Welcome, that had a short run. It went on to have modest success as recording by a number of record labels and orchestras. Herman Hupfeld was a minor songwriter of the era who you wouldn’t think would be the composer of a song that would turn out to be one of the great classics of the American songbook. He wrote some popular songs of the time that have long faded into the dustbin of history. I’ve included one at the bottom just to give you a taste.

As Time Goes By almost didn’t make it into the movie. The musical director, Max Steiner, was opposed to its inclusion but was overruled by the movie’s producers. Then in post-production they considered dropping it but because star Ingrid Bergman had already cut her hair for another part, they couldn’t possibly reshoot the scenes that already contained the song. So, it remained and became one of the most memorable parts of a true classic.

I wonder how the the film would have felt without it.

So, for this New Year’s Eve day, here’s the original along with that other Herman Hupfeld classic, , When Yuba Plays the Rhumba on the Tuba. Have a good New Year’s eve.


 

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Ostrich-man-head-in-sandI’ve been sitting for over an hour or more at the computer, writing a whole thing this morning about the events in Paris as well as those horrific things taking place in Nigeria at the hand of the Boko Haram that make the Charlie Hebdo slayings pale by comparison.  But I decided against posting it, instead opting for for this:

We live in a dangerous time and we cannot live with our heads in the sand.

History has shown us that we must live with vigilance and resolve against those who will try to dictate how we must live.  It might seem hyperbolic and far removed but the longer we ignore it and pretend that it will not affect us, the closer it comes to realization.

For my music on this Sunday morning, I have chosen a scene from the movie Casablanca that is fittingly symbolic for what I have said above.  In this scene, the occupying German entourage at Rick’s Cafe are singing the German anthem boisterously.  The French resistance fighter Victor Laszlo furiously rushes to the house band to have them play the French anthem La Marseillaise in response.  The club’s patrons respond with a unity that drowns out the German voices.

There are perhaps a million folks marching in the streets of Paris today in solidarity against the actions of the terrorists, their voices raised in the hope of drowning out the noise of the terrorists who threaten them.  They have been awakened and are finding their resolve.

They have pulled their heads from the sand.

Take note and try to have a great Sunday.

 

 

 

 

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Watch on the Rhine 1943Tonight is night when the Oscars are handed out for the best movies, directors, actors and so on.  I’ve always been a big film fan and I always look forward to seeing who wins even on the years when I have hardly seen a movie.  It also makes me think of many of my favorite movies, films that stick in my mind and, like any other  form of art, define who I am.

A few weeks ago, I saw one of these favorites of mine, Watch on the Rhine.  It was made in 1943, adapted for the screen by Dashiell Hammett from  the prize-winning play written by his wife, the great Lillian Hellman.  It concerns a family in the Northern Virginia area across the Potomac from DC whose daughter ( Bette Davis in a supporting role here) returns home from a war torn Europe for the first time in many years with her husband and children.  It is set, and was written,  in the years before our entry into World War II.

Her husband is a German freedom fighter, Kurt Muller,  who is a wanted leader in the underground movement against the Nazis. He is  played by Paul Lukas in a magnificent performance, one that won him the Academy Award for Best Actor that year over Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and Gary Cooper in For Whom the Bells Toll.  Yes, it was that good.

His Muller is the common man who finds himself in the role of the selfless hero willing to give up everything– his career, his family, his life– in order to stand against evil.  It’s not a task Muller sought but is one he must shoulder.  His words are simple, direct and powerful.  Lukas, who also originated the part on the Broadway stage, is brilliant and, whenever I see this movie, I am haunted for weeks afterwards by Lukas’ performance.  The power of it thrills me but I find myself questioning my own strength and beliefs as a human.  Thankfully, I have never been put into a situation like that faced by Kurt Muller and hopefully never will.  But would I be able to stand with even a fraction of the grace and courage of Lukas’ character?

I doubt it but I don’t know.

But I know that this movie’s ability to fix that question in my mind for weeks make it a great movie with great acting and world-class writing.  Hopefully, this year’s movies will have a film like Watch on the Rhine that will haunt future generations when they watch it years from now.

 

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Conrad Veidt as Major Strasser in CasablancaI’ve mentioned before that I really enjoy old movies and probably one of the reasons is the many great character actors who really embellished any story.  One of my favorites is the great character actor, Conrad Veidt, who made his fame as a star in German cinema before fleeing the Nazi regime in 1933.   Probably most of you out there don’t know the name very well, if at all.  But you are no doubt aware of many of the films and characters he has influenced, well past his death in 1943, only a year after his most famous part as the soon to be stereotypical Nazi, Major Strasser, in Casablanca.

Many of the characters he played became stereotypes or  prototypes in the movies after his death.  The haughty, cruel arrogance of Major Strasser became the way to play Nazis in the film world. conrad veidt themanwholaughsThen you have the charming fellow with the lovely smile shown here.  It’s a character, Gwynplaine, he played in American silent film The Man Who Laughs, based on the Victor Hugo book, in 1928.  The cartoonists responsible for the Batman comic book series were so taken with Veidt’s character that they used him as the basis for the Joker, many years pre-Heath Ledger.

Before that Veidt had been a star in post-WW I Germany, starring in the classic  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It is one of the gems of German Expressionist filmmaking and one of the most influential films of all time, conrad veidt caligari posterpaving the way for  future horror films as well as film noir.   Veidt’s character may have even influenced the Goth look of today’s youth.  He played Cesare, the murderous sideshow attraction of Dr Caligari.  Cesare was pretty Goth looking for the time, all dressed in black with darkened eyes and jet black hair.

The image of Viedt’s Cesare was one that I saw many times as kid and a horror movie fan.  I didn’t know who Conrad Veidt was but I recognized his character in the books and magazines I read that traced the history of monster and horror films.  Actually, it wasn’t until I was well into my adult life that I realized that Cesare and Major Strasser were the same man.  That speaks to the versatility of Conrad Veidt.

His influence is also seen in one of the most popular animated films of all time , Disney’s 1992 Aladdin, which is based on the film, The Thief of Bagdad.  Viedt’s character was Jafar, the villainous Grand Vizier.  As in all of his roles he made a huge impression in his characterization that it came to be the gold standard for such roles.  You can even see it in the pure physical similarity.

jaffarJafar-and-Iago-aladdin-270913_445_266As I said, character actors like Veidt, along with the likes of Charles Coburn, Ward Bond, William Demarest and hundreds of others, have really given great texture to many of the best films of all time and their influence lives on today.  The next time you’re watching and enjoying an old movie, keep an eye out for these  wonderful actors.  No doubt they will be there.

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Mermaid AvenueIt’s yet another Sunday morning and I’m a bit tired.  Time for a little music.

Casablanca was on TCM last night and, of course, we had to watch.  It’s one of those films that I could watch on an endless loop.   It has so much going for it- great performances, great story, memorable writing with lines that became part of our language, incredible characters (Conrad Veidt’s  Strasser is the prototype for  Nazi film  villains), romance, action and surprisingly great humor.  

It also has the glow of Ingrid Bergman.

That brings us to my selection for the day from the CD, Mermaid Avenue, from the collaboration of Billy Bragg and Wilco with their versions of song  lyrics from Woody Guthrie.  For more info, click on the album cover above.

This is the song, Ingrid Bergman, from that CD.  I wish I had a better video to accompany it but enjoy the song anyway…

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Casablanca-posterSome of my favorite films to have on in the studio are those that have something to do with World War II.  Not necessarily combat films, although there are a number of those that I find really engrossing, but rather films that have to do with the periphery of the war and how the world coped with a raging war or its aftermath.

Of course, many will immediately think of films like Casablanca and I can’t deny that it is one of my favorites as well.  It’s just a treasure trove of great dialogue and powerful moments ( the dueling anthem scene with Nazis being drowned out by the patrons exuberant  and emotional La Marseillaise is a classic) and remains as powerful a story today as ever.

idiots delightI think I am most taken by the film that deal with the ideology of the times.  For example, Idiot’s Delight, starring Clark Gable, was made before our entry into WW II and was an appeal to the nation to rise up against the Nazi tide that was sweeping through Europe.

It’s filled with great ideological dialogue, words that really do more than just propel the story forward.  They’re meant to stir and anger, to drive people to action.movie-watch-on-the-rhine

Another along the same lines is Lillian Hellman‘s Watch on the Rhine with Bette Davis and an incredible performance from Paul Lukas as the simply worded Resistance fighter.  Again, it takes place before our entry into the war and portrays us as innocent and naive but as the events of the film take place we, as represented by the characters, begin to understand and show our resolve to fight for freedom.

There are so many powerful films from this time that it would be impossible to list them all in a simple blog.  The Best Years of Our Lives, Mrs. Miniver, 49th ParallelHangmen Also Die!  and on and on.  They were meaningful films in a trying time and I think the overriding emotion of them still shines through.  I recommend that anyone with a feeling for the drama of history take a look…

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