Monday, November 01, 2004


I'm going to be counting down my top 50 favorite movies, writing up a little something about each of them. I have a list of 100 that I keep, but the bottom 50 changes enough so that by the time I finished writing about each of them, it would be different. However, the top 50 is pretty stable, so I can write about them. Anyway, number 50 is appropriately the classic Casablanca...

I've watched a lot of movies, and unfortunately most of the movies from before the 60s do not hold up. There's a number of reasons for this. First off, the production system back then wasn't designed to make art, it was more of an assembly line. The director didn't get a chance to really do what he wanted, there wasn't craft in the movie. The other reason these movies are tough to watch is becuase their sense of pacing is completely different from ours. A lot of movies, especially comedies, from this era just see glacial compared to today's stuff. That makes even a good movie tough to enjoy, becuase it just seems to go by so slowly.

However, there are a couple of exceptions, and one of them is Casablanca, the finest movie that the studio system produced. This movie has so many great things about it. The look takes full advantage of the black and white. It's very noir, from the expressive lighting to Humphrey Bogart's trenchcoat and fedora. The script is full of really memorable lines, and also very complex, full of interesting moral ambiguities.

The standout scene of the film is the dueling national anthems, which of a perfect example of using music and visual to convey a point rather than relying on dialogue. Props also have to be given to the flashback Paris sequence and the last scene, which is one of the most memorable in film history.

It's a really complex, challenging film, which at once transcends the studio system, and is helped by it. The AFI top 100 movies list called it the second greatest movie of all time, behind Citizen Kane. I'd give it the edge over Kane, because of the emotion of the movie. The characters are so well sketched, and set against this amazing chaotic background, you can't help but get caught up in the story.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The studios were good for nurturing the careers of actors. Since actors were constantly working and didn't have a lot of choice in the movies that they can make (like today where stars can often pick and choose) they often played the same type of roles.

This is good in that actors developed personalities. Cary Grant, Kate Hepburn, James Stewart, Bogart, Cagney-- they may have played a Madison avenue exec or a rich girl from Philly but we knew them as their star personality.

I agree that Casablanca was an instance where everything went right with the studio system. Wonderful writing by the Epsteins, great acting and fantastic character actors, good music and fine directing.

Thanks for the article and good luck with your site.