‘Casablanca’ is never out of date
An open, and of course charming, letter to Dennis Markaverich, owner of Wilton’s Town Hall Theatre, a letter to which I trust you will all add your psychic signitures:
As you probably know, being the film buff that you are, Nov. 26 is the 75th anniversary of the release of “Casablanca” to a single theater in New York City. It went into general release early in 1943.
I have been reading Noah Isenberg’s “We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie,” a book I highly recommend to any lover of classic movies, and it reminded me that only twice have I seen it on the big screen.
I am hoping that you will show it on Saturday, Nov. 25, as your Saturday Movie Classic so that the thousands of people who read and adore my adorable prose will flock to your theater to see this movie and, of course, to donate to the causes for which you seek donations on Saturday afternoons rather than charge admission.
In return, I will agree to again take a shot at watching, in its entirely, “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” a film you believe is very good, perhaps excellent, and one which, in two attempts to get through it, I found to be the kind of punishment once used in the Inquisition.
In your defense, critics on the Rotten Tomatoes website, give this 1964 film 100 percent not-rotten, i.e., positive. Audience members, however, give it only 69 percent positive which, I believe, bolsters my position so we are at a deadlock that, because this is my column, is resolved in favor of me, thank you so very much. When you show “Fall” in your theater, you can resolve disputes in favor of you.
C’mon, Dennis: Stephen Boyd? He was awful in “Ben Hur,” his performance saved only by Charlton Heston being more awful. And Sophia Loren? I’m sorry, but with the exception of “Two Women,” she never made a movie that wasn’t dominated by her rather imposing physique, not her ability to deliver a line.
That the movie also had the brilliant actors Alec Guinness, James Mason and Christopher Plummer is no saving grace.
However, despite all that, if you were to show “Casablanca” the day before it’s actual 75th release celebration (and there should be celebrations. If not, why not?), I would agree to again punish myself by trying to watch “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” while wondering why Alec Guinness didn’t do something awful to Stephen Boyd before filming ever began. As for Sophia Loren, what? Anna Magnani wasn’t available? Or was the brilliant Anna too proud to play opposite Stephen Boyd, a pride for which she would be absolutely absolved despite it being one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Anna Magnani was beautiful. Anna Magnani could act. Show any Anna Magnani movie, and I will walk to your theater through rain or hail or locusts, even if it’s “The Rose Tattoo,” which has Burt Lancaster, who isn’t horrible but, really, is much better swinging around pirate ships with a sword in his mouth. OK, OK, “Atlantic City” was pretty good, despite the absence of yardarms and swords and anyone bellowing, “Avast there, maties!”
“Casablanca,” though … ah, there is nothing wrong with it, and when you realize the brilliance of the casting – all the European refugees fleeing Nazis who got parts – it stands with “Gone With the Wind” as the finest examples of casting in the history of movies. (Stephen Boyd in “Fall of the Roman Empire” was only great casting if you want your generals to be as inspiring to the troops as Mitch McConnell: “Follow me, men! Hey! Where ya goin’?”)
Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Claude Rains, Dooley Wilson (who, by the way, did not know how to play the piano so he only faked it in the film), the incredible teenaged Madeleine Lebeau (who died only last year) … now that was a cast, as Isenberg’s book points out. Conrad Veidt as the evil Major Strasser?
Had he been the chief of the Germanic hordes up against Stephen Boyd in “Fall,” Boyd would have ordered a quick retreat.
Anyway, enough about me (although, really, when is there such a thing?) and on to the reiteration of my request that you show “Casablanca” on Saturday, Nov. 25, at your 4:30 show. Yes, Sunday is the real anniversary, but who would want to preempt your Silent Sunday features? Besides, Sunday is for watching our weekly tribute to head trauma, known as pro football.
So, Dennis, what’s it gonna be? “Casablanca” and another crack by me at “Fall of the Roman Empire” or perhaps the CURSE of “Casablanca?” I’m not quite sure what that is, but those who fail to pay it the proper homage might find out. Don’t let that be you, Dennis. Don’t let it be you.
As Dooley Wilson sang, “Moonlight and love songs, never out of date.”
Neither is “Casablanca.”