Finishing the Challenge out with a classic Bergman-Bergman film, the only one Ingmar and Ingrid ever made together, and it’s a doozy.
There are Ingmar Bergman films I love to bits, but I often find him a tough nut to crack, his film striking me as a bit austere and aloof rather than the deeply humanistic works I know they are. That kind of happened with Fanny and Alexander earlier last year, but with Autumn Sonata, it was almost TOO raw and full of naked emotion.
I would much rather wait to write about this one until I’ve had more time with it, and preferably another couple of watches. It’s not particularly complicated, and yet it’s about an awful lot – labor, sacrifice, political philosophy, spirituality, society, redemption, and most of all, love. Not romantic love, but love of humanity itself and especially the less fortunate.
Irene (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband George are wealthy, and despite surviving the trauma of WWII, they don’t have too much to worry about – their biggest worry is their 10-year-old son Michel, who’s bored and lonely in their palatial home. They don’t pay him a lot of attention, but when he’s injured and dies (not really spoilers, that’s in the first fifteen minutes or so), Irene undergoes a massive change of heart. She spends more time with George’s cousin Andrea (a man), a doctor. Andrea introduces her to some of the city’s underserved, and what begins as a simple monetary exchange (Irene offers to pay for a child’s medicine) ends with her drawn deeper and deeper into service.
Time to start a new series! I love that time. This series has come about because a few people who have been finding my Film on TV series useful have recently decided to cancel their cable – making recommendations from TCM, Sundance, and IFC less useful. So I’m going to supplement that set of recommendations with a series that highlights films available to watch online.
This comes with its own set of caveats. The online streaming service with the largest library is Netflix, and you have to be a Netflix subscriber to use it. Still, I imagine a large portion of film lovers already have a Netflix subscription – if you do, hopefully I’ll be able to highlight some things on Instant Watch that you may not know about or didn’t realize were available to stream. I know when I was initially researching for this, I found a TON that I had no idea were available.
I’ll also throw in a few films from time to time that are available on hulu, which is completely free (aside from having to watch periodic brief ads). The overriding downside to both hulu and Netflix Instant Watch is that they are only available in the United States. I apologize for that, but as far as I know, there are no sites offering legal free (or subscription-included) streaming movies worldwide.
I decided to kick off the series with one that most everyone knows and has probably seen, but it’s always worth seeing again. I promise I’ll get into more eclectic stuff soon, but I didn’t want to throw something super-obscure out there the first time. ;)
Casablanca tells a simple story of a world-weary American ex-patriot making a living off the masses of people escaping Europe through Morocco in the midst of World War II and the woman he never expected to come into his life again, pleading with him to help her resistance-leader husband fleet to safety in America. It sounds like any other war-time story – a touch of romance, a touch of intrigue, a bit of cynicism, a bit of nobility. Not much seems to set it apart from the dozens of other war-inflected films made in the early 1940s. It’s based on a play called “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” that, in its original incarnation, proved to be ironically titled – it was never even produced.
Bought by Warner Brothers as a vehicle for their then-major star George Raft, it eventually went to the less-proven Humphrey Bogart (his breakout roles in High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon had come only a year or so earlier – prior to that he’d been knocking around Warner’s backlot playing two-bit gangsters and villains). Bogart’s sad eyes and sardonic line delivery gave Rick Blaine a depth that Raft could never have managed. The cast filled out with Swedish beauty Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, and wonderful supporting staples Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall. Warner’s sturdy and reliable Michael Curtiz took the directing reins, but most people agree that producer Mervyn LeRoy was really the strongest driving force behind the film – even possibly adding the famous final line (“Louis, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship”) himself late in the editing process. For a very complete and accessible look at the production of Casablanca – which was so chaotic it’s amazing the film got completed at all – see Aljean Harmetz’s great book Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca.
The success of the film, though, is centered on the perfect combination of the film’s brilliant dialogue (by Julius & Philip Epstein and Howard Koch) and all of the actors’ flawless delivery of it. Lines like “We’ll always have Paris,” “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and “Round up the usual suspects” (not to mention the misquote “Play it again, Sam”) have entered the common lexicon not only of film buffs, but of the cultural at large. In less capable hands, Rick’s ultimate noble decision could seem corny or self-righteous, but Bogart’s performance and the character given him by Koch and the Epsteins doesn’t allow that to happen. Rick remains a difficult-to-decipher, complex character to the end – a character full of both nobility and cynicism, both love and guardedness. I’m not always wholly convinced that his final act is not one of self-protection rather than self-sacrifice.
Here’s a bit of the scene where Ilsa requests Sam to play “As Time Goes By” and she and Rick first see each other again. The whole thing is available to stream from Netflix Instant Watch.