I’ve been wanting to start up a screenshot series for a while, but have been trying to think of a different spin to do on it. The easy way, and the way I’ve done on Row Three in the past, is just to find a striking shot and post it with minimal commentary. But anyone can do that, and I have to make things harder on myself than that. At least I have to try – it may devolve to that before long. My friend Ryan at The Matinee does a great job of using a screenshot to lead into a critical point about the film as extrapolated from that one shot in his Freeze Frame series – I want to do something like that but not EXACTLY like that.
So we come to this. I’m going to pick TWO shots. It’ll either be two shots from the same film and I’ll talk about how the two shots together play into the meaning of the film, or two shots from different films and I’ll talk about how they echo each other or play into a comparison of the two films.
Endings: Casablanca (1943) and The Big Combo (1955)
Spoilers for both films.
When I watched The Big Combo recently for the Movie Club Podcast, I was struck by how obviously the last scene echoed the end of Casablanca. Both films end in airport hanger, in the fog, with the final confrontation between two groups of people, one trying to arrest or kill the other. Yet the way we read these scenes and the people in them is completely different.
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.