What exactly does it mean to bear the weight of “America’s most beloved film”, as Casablanca does? This raises flags on all fronts, naturally. Many movies remain loved even as their luster fades, and others were never really very good to begin with, merely totems of false-positive memories. With any film of this monumentally mythic level of attention and historical repute, there are many questions, but the most important is actually rather simple: but is it any good?
Who doesn’t know the narrative? Set in the mystical imagination-space of World War II, after Germany has occupied France, a Czech freedom fighter Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and his wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) venture to Rick’s Café in the Moroccan City of Casablanca in hopes of lying low from the Nazis, headed by Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), chasing them. This plays like its own potential narrative, but things rise to loftier heights when Ilsa discovers Rick is Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a past love, her only love, and the two begin to rekindle their past affair. Continue reading →
1948’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre saw the return of a pairing that had birthed two of the cinematic world’s greatest talents – John Huston and Humphrey Bogart. Seven years earlier they had made film history with the (hard)-boiled-down-to-the-core film noir The Maltese Falcon, Huston’s first film and Bogart’s first star-making role. It seems like the seven years apart was enough to make them hungry enough to throw Hollywood for a loop. That they did, famously so when Warner Bros execs initially hated The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. In creating the film, they had succeeded brilliantly with a narrative and mood never even really tried before: a noir Western, infused with the mythologizing and location-work of a Western but the stylish ironization and seedy, grimy exploration of human decay front and center in noir. Quite literally, it was a combination of the genre of American dreams and the genre of American nightmares. What they created not only gifted Huston two Oscars, for directing and writing, and re-cemented Bogart’s name (along with their other 1948 pairing in the also great Key Largo), but exceeded the then far grasp of both genres and served as a striking examination of human decay far more sinister than just about any film before or since. Continue reading →