August 12, New York: I watched Casablanca with my wife and her family, relatively sober on a quiet Sunday night. This was not how I had intended to watch Casablanca. I’d intended to watch this film besotted as I always have been— drunk on red wine and slurring along with Victor Lazlo singing La Marseillaise. (I don’t speak French, but there are a few phrases of this song I know by heart, all thanks to Casablanca.)
I’ve seen this movie a ton of times. It’s easily one of my top five films if not my absolute favorite. I love it. And nearly every time I’ve watched it I’ve gotten hammered. It’s peak sentimentality for me. It’s the Andrew Fitzgerald version of the archetypal girl-who-loves-romantic-comedies. One of the best Thanksgivings I ever spent I was alone at college, drank a bunch of beer and watched Casablanca. I was in blubbering agreement with Sam when he tells Rick they’ll “take the car and drive all night”. “No one listens to Sam!” I moaned through a can of Pabst to my empty apartment.
Despite how many times I’ve seen Casablanca, I got something new from it this time, actually. I always thought I knew the ending inside and out: Rick pulls the old bait and switch on Ingrid Bergman out there on the tarmac, that German gets shot and Rick and Captain Renault saunter off into the fog together. Where to, exactly? Watching this time, sober, I finally saw the real ending. One in which Rick and the Captain decide to fight for freedom together. I had never really recalled the shot of Renault throwing away the “Vichy Water” or telling him they’d go to the Free France garrison. There you go, a totally different movie. Thanks, Thirty-Three Project.
As much as I love “As Time Goes By”, this is the real musical experience of the movie:
I want to be Victor Lazlo of course. Or do I want to be Rick? It’s like the light versus the dark romantic within me.
Buy Casablanca and treasure it forever.