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“Casablanca” @ 70

One of the most beloved films ever is celebrating its birthday a bit early this year.
The Daily

"In the entire history of American cinema only a few other movies — Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather — have been loved as much and as well as Casablanca," writes the New Yorker's David Denby. "After seeing it on television for years, or suffering through a chewed-up print in a broken-seat revival house, moviegoers will have a chance to witness a freshly struck print this Wednesday, March 21st, on large screens." Hey, that's today! "Casablanca is 70 years old. For one day, it will be playing all over the country. It's worth going: the most familiar movie in the world is still fresh; it has so many little busy corners to nestle in."

"It's been called the most romantic movie ever made — and the corniest." The Philadelphia Inquirer's John Timpane: "Rush job, mess by committee, standard-issue sausage-factory punch-out, Casablanca was based on an unstaged play, Everybody Comes to Rick's. A bunch of writers had their hands in the script: The Epstein twins, Julius and Philip (both Penn State grads), and Howard Koch would win one of the film's three Oscars. The script was so unready that the film had to be shot in sequence — each shot in order as it appears in the film. Even the final line — 'Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship' — was last-minute, credited to producer Hal Wallis. It was slated for a summer 1943 release. But when the Allies launched Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, on Nov 8, 1942, David O Selznick had Casablanca rushed to its debut at the Hollywood Theater in New York on Nov 26, 1942 — Thanksgiving Day. The real Casablanca had fallen to the Allies only 16 days before."

"I saw the restoration's world premiere back in February at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History," recalls the New York Post's Lou Lumenick, "and what struck me at the time is that the audience responded pretty much the same way they did when I showed it on a 16mm print from Films Inc back in 1970 at the City College of New York. There are still tears swelling up at the movie's emotional high point, when Rick assents to Victor's demand that the band at the Cafe Americain drown out German soldiers singing 'Deutchland Über Alles' with a still-stirring rendition of 'La Marseilles.' And still a big laugh afterwards when Inspector Renault announces that he's 'shocked, shocked that gambling is going on' — and an even bigger laugh when Rick gives the croupier a look after the latter hands Renault his winnings…. [T]he new restoration is notable improvement even over the very fine one Warners did for the 60th anniversary… What struck me most was the dark, deep, gorgeous shadows — the restorers have honored the original intentions of director Michael Curtiz and cinematographer Arthur Edeson…. Particularly striking is the darkness in Bogie's 'of all the gin joints' scene. As with several recent digital restorations I've seen, you can notice details that barely registered before, like the beading on Yvonne's dress or the intricate production design of Rick's Cafe." And a new Blu-ray'll be out next week with "more than 14 hours of special features."

Back in December, we posted a brief roundup, "Michael Curtiz @ 125." For much further exploration, though, you might start with the Wikipedia entry, which looks damn near inexhaustible.

Update, 3/27: "Through the Curtiz lens," writes Jaime N Christley in Slant, Casablanca is "not at all uninteresting as 'cinema, however hard cinephiles who would prefer to celebrate Hawks, Welles, Mizoguchi, Ford, and others buck against its anointed status. Curtiz had a terrific sense of images that teemed with busy movement, intersecting lines, bustling crowds, but also deep spaces and an overall sense of momentum. Look at the largely forgotten Kid Galahad, which seems to have been directed on roller skates. Or his countless pre-Code melodramas, such as The Kennel Murder Case or Female, limitless in their visual invention and era-defining razzmatazz. This is all present and accounted for in Casablanca, which illustrates, above all, that while Curtiz may not be one of the truly great directors, we haven't fully assessed his considerable value as an auteur either."

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