The Casablanca Effect and Its Obverse

 

I suppose I need to start by explaining what I mean by “the Casablanca Effect”. It’s not my idea or term. A decade or so ago, I read an article by an author whose name I can’t recall who described what he termed “the Casablanca Effect” referencing the classic 1942 movie. He described how both he and his brother (separately) had heard and read for years how great the movie Casablanca was, and when he and his brother (separately) eventually saw the movie, it more than lived up to expectations. When they became aware of each other’s experience they gave it the Casablanca Effect moniker, something which comes highly recommended (a movie, a book, a restaurant, a location, anything really) and lives up to expectations.

Some years earlier, I’d had a similar experience (just 180 degrees out of phase) with a sibling – my sister. One year at Thanksgiving we decided to watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Neither of us had ever seen the movie, but we’d both heard only good things about it. It had been nominated for several Academy Awards and had won a couple, its theme song was a well-deserved staple, film critics then and now all seemed to have nothing but good things to say about it, it was directed by Blake Edwards of Pink Panther fame, and it starred Audrey Hepburn. What could go wrong? However, when we watched the movie we both had the same thought: what a letdown! This movie not only doesn’t live up to the hype, it’s really just kind of a bad picture. The highlight of the movie is probably the opening sequence.

From there, the movie slides rapidly downhill. There’s no real plot to speak of. Holly Golightly (Ms. Hepburn’s character) is looking to marry a rich man when she becomes friends with Paul Varjak (played by George Peppard) a struggling writer who has just moved into her building. The main characters are neither very interesting nor much worth caring about either. She’s essentially a high-end prostitute who uses people, is unsympathetic and full of vapid thoughts, while Mr. Varjak is a gigolo, the kept man of an older married woman, although he has enough self-respect to dislike the situation. Even the minor characters add little of value to the story. The Buddy Ebsen character is just downright creepy and pathetic, while the Japanese landlord of their building (played over the top by Mickey Rooney with every possible negative stereotype of the Japanese) has not aged well to put it charitably. In fact, the Rooney character is about the only thing modern critics see fit to criticize the movie. But then again, his character existed for the sole purpose of comic relief in a movie labeled a romantic comedy and, while there are bits of romance in the story finding the comedy in the story is a more difficult task.

I mentioned Ms. Golightlys’ unsympathetic nature above. Let me illustrate my point by posting the final scene of the movie in which she kicks her cat out of the taxi in the middle of New York City. Tell me who would treat their own cat so poorly?

Well, I didn’t mean to write a movie review, something I’m not very adept at. In fact, I (and I’m sure you the reader as well) would much rather hear what @titustechera or @jameslileks have to say on the topic. The purpose was to explain the Casablanca Effect and its opposite and to ask the good members here at Ricochet if they’ve ever experienced “the Casablanca Effect” or its obverse, and if so feel free to tell us about it. Again, the Casablanca Effect can be about anything – a locale, a person, an event. – you name it.

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  1. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Anything with Audrey Hepburn is worth watching.

    • #1
  2. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Some of you might shoot me for this, but for me it was Tolkien’s Hobbit books. They were all anyone talked about in college, so I got a copy of The Hobbit, but I couldn’t get through half of it, it was so boring and dumb to me. I’ve tried several times in my life to go back to it to see what everyone else seems to love so much, but I still don’t get it. I guess the genre just isn’t my thing. I’ve never seen any of the movies either. I know I’m the only one and now everyone will yell at me.

    • #2
  3. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Some of you might shoot me for this, but for me it was Tolkien’s Hobbit books. They were all anyone talked about in college, so I got a copy of The Hobbit, but I couldn’t get through half of it, it was so boring and dumb to me. I’ve tried several times in my life to go back to it to see what everyone else seems to love so much, but I still don’t get it. I guess the genre just isn’t my thing. I’ve never seen any of the movies either. I know I’m the only one and now everyone will yell at me.

    I didn’t dislike them. I wanted to like them, as I figured a friend of C.S. Lewis had to be good. I had enjoyed reading Lewis’s Narnia stories to my kids and to myself several times, and before that had gotten into Lewis’s Christian apologetics and other writings. But I slogged through the Tolkien books and didn’t find them compelling enough to go back for a 2nd reading.

    • #3
  4. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Some of you might shoot me for this, but for me it was Tolkien’s Hobbit books. They were all anyone talked about in college, so I got a copy of The Hobbit, but I couldn’t get through half of it, it was so boring and dumb to me. I’ve tried several times in my life to go back to it to see what everyone else seems to love so much, but I still don’t get it. I guess the genre just isn’t my thing. I’ve never seen any of the movies either. I know I’m the only one and now everyone will yell at me.

    On this, you’re one up on me RA as I’ve never had enough interest in The Hobbit to even attempt to read it.

    • #4
  5. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Some of you might shoot me for this, but for me it was Tolkien’s Hobbit books. They were all anyone talked about in college, so I got a copy of The Hobbit, but I couldn’t get through half of it, it was so boring and dumb to me. I’ve tried several times in my life to go back to it to see what everyone else seems to love so much, but I still don’t get it. I guess the genre just isn’t my thing. I’ve never seen any of the movies either. I know I’m the only one and now everyone will yell at me.

    I’ll just yell “Vive la difference!”

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    The Celestine Prophecy was a horribly-written book.

    • #6
  7. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    “The Graduate.” What about it is supposed to be funny? Which characters are we supposed to like?  I’ll buy that it’s supposed to be a cautionary tale of hedonistic youth, but that’s the only level on which it works.

    “King Lear.” In what way is this supposed to be a tragedy? Tragedy is a noble man being laid low by a fatal flaw, not a man-child stumbling through the end of his life as all his bad decisions come home to roost.

     

    • #7
  8. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    Speaking of the “obverse” of the Casablanca Effect …

    It has been pointed out that the critically acclaimed 1996 movie The English Patient has a plot ending that was the complete opposite of the one for Casablanca, to the moral detriment of all us …

    In 1996, we were swooning over the epic romance captured in The English Patient. As it accomplished the film equivalent of an EGOT, winning the BAFTA, Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Picture (a BOGG, I guess?), a few discerning critics noted something troubling. English Patient had a similar setting and plot to Casablanca — but unlike that classic in which two lovers choose country and the fate of the free world over themselves, in English Patient the lovers choose themselves. It represented, the critics noted, a sad moral retreat in our culture — from the nobility of the 1940s, with our belief that we can save the world together, to the adolescence of the 1990s, with our belief in love über alles!

    • #8
  9. She Member
    She
    @She

    Columbo (View Comment):

    Speaking of the “obverse” of the Casablanca Effect …

    It has been pointed out that the critically acclaimed 1996 movie The English Patient has a plot ending that was the complete opposite of the one for Casablanca, to the moral detriment of all us …

    In 1996, we were swooning over the epic romance captured in The English Patient. As it accomplished the film equivalent of an EGOT, winning the BAFTA, Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Picture (a BOGG, I guess?), a few discerning critics noted something troubling. English Patient had a similar setting and plot to Casablanca — but unlike that classic in which two lovers choose country and the fate of the free world over themselves, in English Patient the lovers choose themselves. It represented, the critics noted, a sad moral retreat in our culture — from the nobility of the 1940s, with our belief that we can save the world together, to the adolescence of the 1990s, with our belief in love über alles!

    A gorgeous and beautifully filmed movie.  In that respect, it lived up to expectations.

    Utterly selfish, empty and unpleasant leading characters. Just horrible.  It wasn’t so much that they didn’t live up to expectations, because I really didn’t have any, not having read the book first.  But by the end of the movie, I despised them.  And the movie.  It was a classic example of Dorothy Parker’s maxim that ‘beauty is skin deep but ugly goes clean to the bone.’  No matter how beautiful the cinematography was, no matter how beautifully it was filmed, it was an ugly movie.  I had a bit of a similar reaction, although not nearly as drastic in either respect, to LaLa Land.

    Casablanca, however, is the greatest movie ever made.

    • #9
  10. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    I’ll give some more thought to specifics, but my first thought is that life is unfortunately more full of “reverse” Casablanca effects than actual ones.  My second thought is what does that “insight” say about me.

    • #10
  11. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    I would use the term “Casablanca Effect” for something whose success hurt its greatness. In that vein, I expected you to say that both you and your brother thought Casablanca’s script was a hack job because every third line seemed to be a cliche.

    • #11
  12. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    “The Graduate.” What about it is supposed to be funny? Which characters are we supposed to like? I’ll buy that it’s supposed to be a cautionary tale of hedonistic youth, but that’s the only level on which it works.

    “King Lear.” In what way is this supposed to be a tragedy? Tragedy is a noble man being laid low by a fatal flaw, not a man-child stumbling through the end of his life as all his bad decisions come home to roost.

     

    In 1967 or so, when The Graduate was made, it was very racy for its time, and it broke some taboos. That effect is lost today, when children’s cartoons have gay and transgender characters and the whole world has turned upside-down.

    • #12
  13. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Coolidge
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo…
    @GumbyMark

    Columbo (View Comment):

    Speaking of the “obverse” of the Casablanca Effect …

    It has been pointed out that the critically acclaimed 1996 movie The English Patient has a plot ending that was the complete opposite of the one for Casablanca, to the moral detriment of all us …

    In 1996, we were swooning over the epic romance captured in The English Patient. As it accomplished the film equivalent of an EGOT, winning the BAFTA, Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Picture (a BOGG, I guess?), a few discerning critics noted something troubling. English Patient had a similar setting and plot to Casablanca — but unlike that classic in which two lovers choose country and the fate of the free world over themselves, in English Patient the lovers choose themselves. It represented, the critics noted, a sad moral retreat in our culture — from the nobility of the 1940s, with our belief that we can save the world together, to the adolescence of the 1990s, with our belief in love über alles!

    The first movie that came to my mind of the opposite Casablanca effect was The English Patient, which I despised.  I felt bad I’d been enticed into spending money to see it.

    • #13
  14. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Coolidge
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo…
    @GumbyMark

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Some of you might shoot me for this, but for me it was Tolkien’s Hobbit books. They were all anyone talked about in college, so I got a copy of The Hobbit, but I couldn’t get through half of it, it was so boring and dumb to me. I’ve tried several times in my life to go back to it to see what everyone else seems to love so much, but I still don’t get it. I guess the genre just isn’t my thing. I’ve never seen any of the movies either. I know I’m the only one and now everyone will yell at me.

    Loved Lord of the Rings but The Hobbit was boring.

    • #14
  15. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    “The Graduate.” What about it is supposed to be funny? Which characters are we supposed to like? I’ll buy that it’s supposed to be a cautionary tale of hedonistic youth, but that’s the only level on which it works.

    In 1967 or so, when The Graduate was made, it was very racy for its time, and it broke some taboos. That effect is lost today, when children’s cartoons have gay and transgender characters and the whole world has turned upside-down.

    I can understand it being considered racy. I don’t get why it would be considered funny — was the idea that it was so over-the-top as to be ridiculous?

    • #15
  16. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    I’ll give some more thought to specifics, but my first thought is that life is unfortunately more full of “reverse” Casablanca effects than actual ones. My second thought is what does that “insight” say about me.

    I think you’re obviously right about life involving many more obverse Casablanca Effects Hoyacon. As to why, I don’t know – it may a part of human nature to build up or anticipate good things.

    • #16
  17. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    tigerlily: I suppose I need to start by explaining what I mean by “the Casablanca Effect”. It’s not my idea or term. A decade or so ago, I read an article by an author whose name I can’t recall who described what he termed “the Casablanca Effect” – referencing the classic 1942 movie. He described how both he and his brother (separately) had heard and read for years how great the movie Casablanca was, and when he and his brother (separately) eventually saw the movie, it more than lived up to expectations.

    I had a similar experience.  I didn’t see Casablanca until I was in my 40’s, though I’d always heard how good it was.  I think it’s probably the best movie ever.

    • #17
  18. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    She (View Comment):

    Columbo (View Comment):

    Speaking of the “obverse” of the Casablanca Effect …

    It has been pointed out that the critically acclaimed 1996 movie The English Patient has a plot ending that was the complete opposite of the one for Casablanca, to the moral detriment of all us …

    In 1996, we were swooning over the epic romance captured in The English Patient. As it accomplished the film equivalent of an EGOT, winning the BAFTA, Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Picture (a BOGG, I guess?), a few discerning critics noted something troubling. English Patient had a similar setting and plot to Casablanca — but unlike that classic in which two lovers choose country and the fate of the free world over themselves, in English Patient the lovers choose themselves. It represented, the critics noted, a sad moral retreat in our culture — from the nobility of the 1940s, with our belief that we can save the world together, to the adolescence of the 1990s, with our belief in love über alles!

    A gorgeous and beautifully filmed movie. In that respect, it lived up to expectations.

    Utterly selfish, empty and unpleasant leading characters. Just horrible. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t live up to expectations, because I really didn’t have any, not having read the book first. But by the end of the movie, I despised them. And the movie. It was a classic example of Dorothy Parker’s maxim that ‘beauty is skin deep but ugly goes clean to the bone.’ No matter how beautiful the cinematography was, no matter how beautifully it was filmed, it was an ugly movie. I had a bit of a similar reaction, although not nearly as drastic in either respect, to LaLa Land.

    Casablanca, however, is the greatest movie ever made.

    And my personal belief is its power, endurance and transcendental nature (besides the  great acting) is its story and moral message is the same one as the greatest story ever told. A life given for others or for the greater good is the very essence and meaning of our earthly lives.

    • #18
  19. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    She (View Comment):
    Utterly selfish, empty and unpleasant leading characters.

    But Willem Dafoe’s character was more interesting.

    • #19
  20. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    ctlaw (View Comment):
    In that vein, I expected you to say that both you and your brother thought Casablanca’s script was a hack job because every third line seemed to be a cliche.

    Like the Bible or Shakespeare, just full of cliches, although not at the time they were written.

    • #20
  21. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    “The Graduate.” What about it is supposed to be funny? Which characters are we supposed to like? I’ll buy that it’s supposed to be a cautionary tale of hedonistic youth, but that’s the only level on which it works.

    In 1967 or so, when The Graduate was made, it was very racy for its time, and it broke some taboos. That effect is lost today, when children’s cartoons have gay and transgender characters and the whole world has turned upside-down.

    I can understand it being considered racy. I don’t get why it would be considered funny — was the idea that it was so over-the-top as to be ridiculous?

    The humor was understated and, like the raciness, maybe didn’t age so well. One of the funniest parts of the movie was where Hoffman is at that party and everyone is giving him career advice and that one guy says “Plastics!”  I realize it might not seem funny to people who weren’t alive then.

    • #21
  22. Brian Watt Inactive
    Brian Watt
    @BrianWatt

    Never liked Breakfast at Tiffany’s for all the reasons stated in the OP. So many other better Audrey Hepburn films – Roman Holiday, Sabrina, My Fair Lady, Wait Until Dark, Charade, Always. Another disappointing film was Love In The Afternoon. The male lead was written for Cary Grant who passed on the film and was replaced with Gary Cooper. If you listen to the lines or watch the eccentric behavior of the wealthy playboy character it’s obvious that every scene was written for Grant and it becomes difficult to watch Cooper in the role who tries his best and is excellent in other roles…but he’s not Cary Grant.

    I don’t know of anyone who dislikes Casablanca. It’s probably one of the best written, edited and paced films ever made. And the cinematography ain’t bad either. Every shot of Ingrid Bergman is enthralling and takes one’s breath away especially when she arrives at Rick’s. What a beautiful woman! And, of course, it has a wonderful message about honor, duty, and patriotism.

    • #22
  23. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Coolidge
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo…
    @GumbyMark

    Not sure if it is the Casablanca effect but a movie I avoided seeing in the theaters was The Shawshank Redemption.  I am not a Stephen King fan and the whole premise of the movie sounded cheesy.  When I finally saw it on cable I loved it and have rewatched the film several times.

    • #23
  24. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    I’ll give some more thought to specifics, but my first thought is that life is unfortunately more full of “reverse” Casablanca effects than actual ones. My second thought is what does that “insight” say about me.

    Agreed.  Far more things fail to live up to the hype than meet expectations.

    Quickly off the top my head, movies that were Obverse Casablanca Effect:

    Spiderman 2 (walked out)
    The Color Purple (incredibly preachy)
    LaLa Land (for a movie about a musician, the music wasn’t very good)
    Titanic (wasn’t interesting until the ship sunk)
    Lord of the Rings (a long, boring set-up with no real ending)

     

    • #24
  25. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Coolidge
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo…
    @GumbyMark

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    “The Graduate.” What about it is supposed to be funny? Which characters are we supposed to like? I’ll buy that it’s supposed to be a cautionary tale of hedonistic youth, but that’s the only level on which it works.

    In 1967 or so, when The Graduate was made, it was very racy for its time, and it broke some taboos. That effect is lost today, when children’s cartoons have gay and transgender characters and the whole world has turned upside-down.

    I can understand it being considered racy. I don’t get why it would be considered funny — was the idea that it was so over-the-top as to be ridiculous?

    The humor was understated and, like the raciness, maybe didn’t age so well. One of the funniest parts of the movie was where Hoffman is at that party and everyone is giving him career advice and that one guy says “Plastics!” I realize it might not seem funny to people who weren’t alive then.

    Thought The Graduate was great when I saw it in while in high school.  Saw it, or part of it, a few years ago and it was unwatchable.  Easy Rider falls in the same category, though now even worse than The Graduate.

    • #25
  26. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    I posted here a while back about how disappointed I was by Breakfast at Tiffany’s when I finally saw it.

    A couple non-movie things that do live up to their hype:

    • Grand Canyon
    • Mt. Rushmore
    • Stonehenge

    All worth seeing in person!

     

     

    • #26
  27. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I loved the Breakfast at Tiffany’s clips. What a wonderful coffee break that was. Thank you. :-) You’re right, though. The rest of the movie was uninspiring.

    Casablanca is my favorite movie. But ET is a very close second for me, tied with Fiddler on the Roof. Then there’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Goodness, No wonder I’m a happy person. So much good stuff I have seen in my lifetime. :-)

    My favorites far exceeded all of my expectations.

     

    • #27
  28. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Randy Webster (View Comment):
    I had a similar experience. I didn’t see Casablanca until I was in my 40’s, though I’d always heard how good it was. I think it’s probably the best movie ever.

    Even better than the best Russian movies??  I guess I’ll have to watch it. I’ve never seen Casablanca, though of course I’ve heard people talk about it.

    • #28
  29. Kay of MT Inactive
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    I’m the only one and now everyone will yell at me.

    You are not the only one, I wasn’t able to get through them either, or rather the one I started with and never tried anymore of them.

    • #29
  30. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):
    I had a similar experience. I didn’t see Casablanca until I was in my 40’s, though I’d always heard how good it was. I think it’s probably the best movie ever.

    Even better than the best Russian movies?? I guess I’ll have to watch it. I’ve never seen Casablanca, though of course I’ve heard people talk about it.

    On 2nd thought, that probably means using Netflix, so I’ll probably skip it. I originally signed up for Netflix in 2006 so I could watch Russian, Spanish, German, and French movies, etc. Netflix grew its selection of foreign films for a while, even responding to my suggestion that it add Commissar to its offerings.  Then the selection started to deteriorate.  It has been several years since I last watched something on Netflix.

    • #30
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