Casablanca, and The Big Sleep
Had a low-key day today, for the most part. Lounged around in the morning, and puttered around on the computer in the early afternoon. Not bad, all-in-all. And the cats seem to have suffered no ill effects from their adventure yesterday, not even (so far) fleas. Fortunately, even if they do have fleas, it's a trivial problem to fix with modern anti-flea technology, so I'm not worried.
Debbi came down mid-afternoon and I gave her the tour of the Apple campus, which I think she enjoyed. Showed her my office, where she read the cartoons on my door and got to see my Candlestick Park snow globe (a strange thing if ever there was one; I need to get a Coliseum globe from an A's game sometime to complete my set). Apple really does have a lovely campus. I occasionally even get requests from people happening by my Web site to ask if I'd give them a tour. Sadly, I can't really do that except for people I know well enough to trust, so if you ask and I say no, please don't be offended.
We headed off after that to the Stanford Theatre to see the first movies in their new schedule. Debbi had never been there, although she'd been to downtown Palo Alto before. So the lovely restored theatre, its old movie posters (many from other countries, most commonly - it seems - Italy), and its pipe organ which is played before and after the 7:30 show were all new to her. It's a fine place to see films, as you've probably already figured out.
Their late-summer schedule kicks off with two of Humphrey Bogart's biggest films. First we saw Casablanca (1942), which I haven't seen in years. You know the story: Early in World War II, anti-Nazi leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) comes to Casablanca in unoccupied French Africa hoping to get exit visas for himself and his lovely wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), but the Nazis have arrived before him and want Captain Renault (Claude Rains, who almost makes the movie all by himself) to keep him there. Rick Blaine (Bogart) runs an American-style saloon, and has come into possession of some highly-marked exit visas from the crooked Señor Ugarte (Peter Lorre). Unfortunately for Laszlo, Rick and Ilsa were deeply in love in Paris in the days leading up to the occupation, and not only is he still in love with her, he also is angry at her for leaving him without explanation when they evacuated to Casablanca.
It is, of course, a fine film, and peppered with many of the most famous lines in Hollywood history: Take a look at the IMDb page and you might be surprised; the very last line of the film must be one of the most-quoted ever. And of course it features the most famous mis-quote ever, as "Play it again, Sam" is not a line from the movie.
Bogart's emotional performance (probably his best acting job; he was nominated for an Oscar) is quite powerful and Rick is the prototypical Hollywood anti-hero, believably leaving to hanging as to what he'll do until the end of the film. Rains, as I said, is superb. I'm not a big Bergman fan, but she acquits herself well, and Henreid is appropriately dignified yet practical as Laszlo. There really isn't a sour note in the film, and it's one of those rare pieces of art regarded as one of the all-time-greats which lives up to its billing.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film is that I know next to nothing about director Michael Curtiz. It's not like he's an unknown - among other things, he directed two of Errol Flynn's most famous films - but he's not a director mentioned in the same breath as the greats like Welles, Hitchcock or Hawks. How peculiar.
The low-key portrayal of the Nazis is also interesting. Swastikas are barely in evidence even on the Nazis' uniforms, and the references to Concentration Camps are left with their horror implied. I have no idea how true-to-life this is, but it's an interesting contrast to modern portrayals of Nazis, e.g. in Schindler's List, where they tend to be portrayed as fantastic madmen or as good men who have been horribly duped. The truth probably varied widely among individuals, and I suspect that the full horror of what the Nazis were doing was not widely known in 1941 and 42, and so the portrayal of Nazis as nationalists of an aggressively expansionist empire was a common perception of the Third Reich.
The back half of the double bill was a piece I hadn't seen before: The Big Sleep (1946), in which Bogie plays Raymond Chandler's detective Philip Marlowe (not to be confused with his portrayal of Dashiell Hammett's detective Sam Spade in 1941's The Maltese Falcon). Directed by Howard Hawks, the film is a tour-de-force of Bogart as the tough-guy detective ("People keep giving me guns"): Spade is hired by the elderly General Sternwood to investigate his blackmail by someone who claims his younger daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers) has gambling debts, which might or might not involve the disappearance of his former aide. Spade discovers that she's been involved in some (implicitly sexual) affairs with one Mr. Geiger, owner of a rare bookstore. Geiger is killed, and he tracks down the killer and discovers not only Carmen is involved, but also her older sister, Vivian (Lauren Bacall), whom Spade starts falling for.
The plot is amazingly convoluted for a film of its running time and era, and I still haven't figured it all out. For instance, the connection between Geiger and later heavy Eddie Mars (John Ridgely) is rather murky, as is VIvian's exact involvement in it all; there seems to be a gap in the overall mystery, and perhaps it's best to think of it as two vaguely linked mysteries which Spade investigates since they both involve the same family.
The film is best enjoyed, I think, for Bogart's performance and the many amusing lines during its course. Some have noted the Bogart/Bacall chemistry (they later married), but I found Bacall rather stiff, her main asset being her hot, piercing glare. But to each his own. The other actors have relatively small, or else merely workmanlike, roles, though Spade's ability to attract women to his circle borders on the uncanny, especially given his general nonchalance towards them. It's an entertaining film, and despite its plot flaws is I think more satisfying than The Maltese Falcon (which I enjoyed but was also left thinking, "What was all the fuss about?"). Nonetheless, I still have enjoyed The African Queen best of the Bogie films I've seen.
By the way, the screenplay's credits include Ernest Hemingway, as well as science fiction author Leigh Brackett, who 45 years later would write - shortly before her death - the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back.