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A few weeks ago, I was arguing with a friend about a movie. I was strongly in favor; she was apathetic, to say the least.
Some of you, like my friend, may not be fans. It’s possible you are offended by the many continuity gaffes. Perhaps you can’t get past the clunky, rather claustrophobic, sets. Maybe you’ve never liked Bogart, even in The African Queen. (Gosh. I hope that’s not it. Really.) Possibly, you can’t abide the fact that they used ¾-scale cardboard airplane models in the final airport scene and that they hired a gaggle of midgets in overalls to run around on the tarmac, to make the planes look bigger.
Or perhaps you consider yourself a fashion maven, and you simply despise that absurd flying-saucer hat thing that Ingrid Bergman wears on her visit to the market.
I forgive it all. And more.
Casablanca is my favorite movie of all time.
And it sports the only scene, in the entire world of moviedom, that makes me cry every single time I watch it (probably at least fifty times and counting).
There’s no kissing. There are no promises of eternal love in the face of impending death. There’s no sex. There’s no violence. There’s no real action of any sort.
There’s hardly even any dialog. As with much good acting, most of it is done with the eyes.
And so we see first, Captain Renault’s knowing glance up to the balcony where Victor Lazlo stands, outraged, and where Rick is realizing, for the first time I think, that his days as a bystander in this particular fight are over. And as Lazlo stalks down the stairs and over to the musicians and orders them to strike up La Marseillaise in opposition to the Nazis singing of Die Wacht Am Rhein, and Rick permits it, we see Ilsa’s beautiful and troubled face, etched with worry, fear, and pride, as she contemplates the two men she loves in such very different ways.
Yes. It makes me sob every time.
Because, for me, in the simplest way, and without any special effects or action heroes, it’s the story of one man who understands the consequences, because he’s already lived them, standing up for what he believes in, against the odds and in the face of evil.
And, for the people he touches, he changes everything.
Paul Henreid, who played Victor Lazlo in Casablanca, died 25 years ago today, on March 29, 1992.