Tag Archives: ingrid bergman

Beyond the Usual Suspects

As everyone knows, Casablanca is an eminently quotable movie. Some of its lines—“Play it [again], Sam,” “Here’s looking at you, kid,” “We’ll always have Paris”—have permeated our cultural consciousness. I say “Round up,” you say “the usual suspects.” I say “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world,” and you know exactly which one she walks into. It is, if you’ll excuse the understatement, a well-written movie. So I figured, why not delve further into that rich screenplay and single out a few of its less oft-quoted lines? Below are five of my favorite moments from Casablanca.

I’m a drunkard.

This, in response to Major Strasser’s question “What is your nationality?” I’m a fan of this whole conversation, really. I love how Rick and Strasser lob quips back and forth over champagne and caviar, suggesting an atmosphere of bourgeois politeness belied by the contempt in both men’s voices. (Captain Renault steps between them, as always, with a dose of healthy good humor: “And that makes Rick a citizen of the world!”) This first answer, characteristic of the film’s dialogue, is double-edged: playful, a little expository, and a little melancholy too. Beneath this joke lies the painful truth that Rick’s a man without a country, a man who’s tried to blot out his every allegiance with alcohol. (By the way, I also love that spidery shadow on the wall behind Rick, courtesy of the huge lamps hanging throughout his café.)

I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.

The parallel structure gives this line a captivating rhythm. This is wistful storytelling with a dash of poetry—and humor too, given the incongruity of Ilsa’s dress next to the feldgrau Nazi uniforms. It’s so concise, distilling the agonies of wartime romance into a pair of opposed colors while priming us for Rick’s forthcoming flashback. Bogart delivers it all with a slouch, a restrained scowl, and as much bitterness as he can fit into his voice without being obvious about it. Whereas Ingrid Bergman is always lit for maximum glamour, the light on Bogart ensures that we see every scar and crease in his wounded face. He’s vulnerable in spite of himself. Rick keeps striking this pose of mild antagonism toward the rest of the world but you can tell here that his stoicism is breaking.

Mostly I remember the last one. The wow finish: a guy standing on a station platform in the rain with a comical look on his face because his insides have been kicked out.

We’re getting toward the bottom of the bottle with this third flavor of boozy self-pity. Although Casablanca is most remembered for its snappiest lines, the film has its share of monologues, too. Here Bogart rattles off his side of the story, bouncing through the words while near-invisibly tilting his head from side to side, then punctuating the speech with a swig of bourbon. This delivery as well as the dialogue’s wealth of prepositions (on, in, with, on) lend it an almost musical quality, which contrasts with the low, sour rumble of his voice. Not to mention the phrase “wow finish,” the kind of thing a screenwriter would say during a pitch meeting. All of these tonal wrinkles work together with the shot’s visual flair—its moody chiaroscuro, the smoke drifting up from the cigarette between Bogart’s fingers—to make what could’ve been a rote “guy bitching about past heartbreak” scene into something sly and artful.

I’m shocked, shocked to find out that gambling is going on in here!

Although I’ve primarily been highlighting Rick’s best lines in Casablanca, I’d be remiss if I didn’t cite something from Claude Rains’ Captain Renault, who seems to communicate entirely in hilarious bon mots. (Like “I’m only a poor corrupt official,” for example, or “That [my heart] is my least vulnerable spot.”) Here he’s at his most sublimely hypocritical, and Rains really sells it with his too-imperious delivery. A riotous punchline follows (“Your winnings, sir!” / “Oh, thank you, very much”) but the line’s still unforgettable on its own, and especially quotable thanks to the doth-protest-too-much quality of that second “shocked.” It’s Renault’s slimy yet endearing personal philosophy summed up in a single ridiculous sentence.

If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

Kind of says it all, doesn’t it? That Rick’s making a sacrifice, that Ilsa’s facing a moral decision, and that the consequences of her decision will echo throughout the years to come. It’s just the two of them now, cloaked by fog, forced to finally resolve this love triangle. (A brilliantly crafted triangle, incidentally, that’s informed but never constrained by its wartime context.) Yet again, Bogart invests his dialogue with poetic meter, that bounce in his leathery voice. His every gift is bent toward persuading her to leave. Because while the act of letting go may be painful, it’s also cathartic, and by making the harder choice Rick’s gained a wisdom that lights up this line. This isn’t mere moralizing. It’s a rough-hewn love song in the form of a compromise.

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Bitchiness, Oedipus, and Maya Deren in Hitchcock’s Notorious

I’ve been going back to the basics lately by sitting in on Ashley’s intro-level film studies class. And last night, after a lecture about “the shot” sprinkled with examples from GoodFellas, we were treated to a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946). It’s a fun, sexy thriller from the top tier of Hitch’s oeuvre, and while it’s ostensibly about American spies battling former Nazis in postwar Brazil, that’s really just the delivery mechanism for a steamy love triangle and some dazzling camera tricks. It’s a fine exemplar of mid-career Hitchcock in peak form; as such, it’s ripe for picking apart. So for your reading delight, here are a few observations I made.

  • Cary Grant is a bitch.

The film is fundamentally about the misunderstandings and repartee that define the relationship between Alicia (Ingrid Bergman), who must go undercover to learn the Nazis’ secrets, and Devlin (Cary Grant), her handler/lover. However, when Alicia must marry Nazi socialite Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains) for the sake of the mission, Devlin gets all pissy. He passive-aggressively clams up and refuses to talk things out; he also makes snide comments basically implying that she’s a total drunken whore. He even does it to her face toward the end of the movie, when she’s being slowly poisoned into a stupor.

So our debonair hero, played by the icon of Hollywood classiness, is also a self-centered, pouting bitch. This actually isn’t too surprising, especially when you consider that Grant had recently starred in Hitchcock’s Suspicion – wherein he plays an even less likeable, more selfish cad. Hitchcock just had a knack for twisting around actors’ usual personas (see: all his collaborations with Jimmy Stewart), as well as the viewers’ sympathies. Thus, Devlin is frustratingly single-minded to the point that it turned Ashley and I off of him somewhat, while Sebastian is pathetic enough to garner some audience pity – especially in the film’s final moments, which becomes a very dark joke at his expense. Which brings us to our next point…

  • Sebastian has some mommy issues.

OK, this isn’t really a clever observation on my part; it’s part of the film’s storyline. But it does bear some examination. Like many of Hitchcock’s other villains, Sebastian is cultured, even elitist, and surrounded by a network of equally high-class friends. But despite being wealthy and sophisticated, he’s also strangely immature. He’s very emotionally dependent on his mother, played by the authoritative Madame Konstantin, and rarely makes decisions without her. Except when it comes to marrying Alicia.

Here, we see shades of Hitchcock films yet to come: Strangers on a Train with Bruno Anthony’s domineering mother; Psycho, which copies a scene from Notorious almost verbatim (specifically, Sebastian and his mother arguing over keys behind a closed door); and The Birds, which has a similar oedipal crisis between Mitch and Lydia, and a similar female interloper in Melanie. It’s patterns like these that make auteurist analyses of Hitchcock especially rewarding. Sebastian’s relationship with his mother is certainly a secondary conflict, but it nonetheless plays a crucial role in determining the narrative’s overall emotional dynamics.

I won’t go into psychoanalytic detail about this strand of inquiry, especially since Robin Wood, Tania Modleski, or some such theorist probably has already. I just wanted to note the resemblance to other Hitchcock characters and the curious place that Sebastian’s developmental hang-ups occupy in Notorious. (I could make similar comments about the whole social makeup of the Nazi circle; Hitchcock was at home when representing widespread perversion.)

  • Hitchcock and screenwriter Ben Hecht stole the key motif from Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid’s Meshes of the Afternoon.

OK, maybe “stole” is a harsh word, since I can’t say for sure whether Hitchcock ever actually saw Meshes. But I think it’s extremely likely that the dream images of symbolic keys in Meshes had an influence on how Hitchcock filmed the MacGuffin-revealing key to Sebastian’s wine cellar in Notorious. Consider the following: Meshes was released in 1943, Notorious in 1946; both films indulge in some extreme subjective camera techniques; and Meshes literalized many of the psychoanalytical themes that Hitchcock dealt with throughout his career. (Of course, these speculations could always be confirmed or disproved through some historical/biographical research.)

So, since I really like this theory, I’ve assembled a little collection of visual evidence. Click to enlarge:

At the very least, these are some fascinating parallels. I hope you’ve enjoyed my little insights into Notorious. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend that you go check it out. Sure, much of the plot and dialogue verge on the absurd, but Grant and Bergman have such strong chemistry that they threaten to blow a hole in the screen, and that more than makes up for the film’s flaws. Their combined hotness really makes Notorious a movie you just can’t miss.

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