Monday, November 26, 2012

Seventy Years of the Usual Suspects

On this day 70 years ago, one of our greatest movies premiered: Casablanca. The item at the link notes several quotes (and at least one famous misquote) from the movie, but neglects my favorite:
Captain Renault: What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed. 
The movie was based on an unproduced stage play called "Everybody Comes to Rick's," a name which proves that some playwrights create dumb titles. The play remained unproduced until 1991, when the Whitehall Theatre in London staged it. The movie version toned up the characters from the far-less-noble folks onstage and gave Sam's character quite a bit more depth.

Apparently, someone shopped the play around to studios under its original title sometime in the mid-1980s. Several studio officials balked because they thought the story didn't work or the romance angle didn't feature enough sex. That's not really any reason to knock them; we know that studio folks  are clueless in soooo many ways but they often have something of a sense of what kinds of things audiences are watching in movies. The reason to knock them is they didn't recognize the story.

How can you want to make movies for people and not know the story of Casablanca? Yes, the play's female lead has a different name than the character Ingrid Bergman plays, but Victor Lazlo, her husband, is still the same, as is Rick himself. And the play prominently features the song "As Time Goes By," which has a pivotal role in the movie as well.

So I've expanded some of my usual caveats. One of them is to never trust a rock guitarist who can't play Chuck Berry music, and I will now add that you should never trust a movie studio person who can't recognize when he or she is reading Casablanca.

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