Friday, October 30, 2015

North by Northwest

I am publishing a couple of days early and will be skipping a week. But, I will be posting again on Nov. 15, 2015.

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

The title of this Alfred Hitchcock directed movie is ironic, pointing to a specific direction, considering all of the misdirection that occurs in the story. This film is primarily about pretending. The main character is Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), who, like Don Draper, is in advertising, and thus a professional in disguising the whole truth. He becomes immersed, possibly as a form of divine retribution, in a situation rich with deception. And deception can lead to danger which is implied by the opening credits which have the names sliding down the side of a building (a foreshadowing of the last scenes on Mt. Rushmore?).

A hotel pageboy calls for someone named George Kaplan at the same time Roger flags him down about sending a telegraph. He is mistaken for Kaplan, and is kidnapped by some thugs. He is taken from Manhattan to the Long Island estate belonging to Lester Townsend. Roger is locked in the library and is confronted by “Townsend” (James Mason) and his secretary, Leonard (Martin Landau). He is questioned as Kaplan and despite his protestations that he is not the man, Mason’s character does not believe him. It appears that Kaplan is a secret agent on the trail of Mason’s organization. Leonard and a henchman force whiskey into Roger, causing him to be extremely intoxicated. They place him in a moving car, hoping he will die in a DUI accident. Roger thus is put onto a road literally and figuratively which he does not know where it will lead him (more misdirection). He survives and then returns with the police to the estate. They meet a woman pretending to be “Mrs. Townsend” who acts as if Roger was an old friend who came to a party there already inebriated. She implies that the stolen car in which Roger had been placed was accidentally borrowed by the drunken ad man. The library is now presented as a different room, with no liquor cabinet and no bourbon stained sofa pillows. Mrs. Townsend says that her husband is at the United Nations, where he works. The man outside appears to be a gardener, but was one of the henchman who kidnapped Roger (more pretending). Since he was drunk and in a car not his own, and the house belongs to a prominent person, the police dismiss Roger’s story.

Mason’s character had told Roger the room number where Kaplan was staying at the hotel. He goes to the room and discovers that Kaplan was not seen by the maid or valet. He pretends to be Kaplan to enter the room, which of course makes it difficult to argue that he is not the man. The room appears to have been occupied since there are clothes, personal items, and a photograph that shows Mason. Roger goes to the UN to confront Townsend (again calling himself Kaplan because he concluded from the photograph that was in the hotel room that Kaplan knew Townsend) only to find that it is not Mason. The real Townsend says the house is currently unoccupied and his wife is deceased. One of the thugs, Valerian (Adam Williams), who pretended to be the gardener at the estate, throws a knife and kills Townsend, who collapses into Roger’s arms. Roger grabs the knife and pulls it out of the victim’s back. A photographer covering the General Assembly session takes a picture. Thus, it appears that Roger is the killer of a person whose house he visited earlier in a drunken state. (There is a flaw in the plot here – the local police went with Roger to the Townsend estate and saw the “wife” who is actually dead. This would lend credence to Roger’s story).

Roger now becomes what is a recurring theme in Hitchcock films – the innocent man pursued for a crime he did not commit. There is then a scene with members of an American spy agency having a meeting. We learn that there is no George Kaplan, who was invented to throw off Mason, whose real name is Vandamm, from discovering the real secret agent on his trail. Roger now has augmented this charade by becoming the physical embodiment of the red herring. In a cold-blooded decision made by the spy chief, The Professor (Leo G. Carroll – yes, he becomes the head of the spy network later in the TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), it is decided to do nothing and continue to let Roger remain in danger as a way to preoccupy VanDamm and his men.

Roger, on a train to Chicago to find the fictitious Kaplan at one of the hotels mentioned by Vandamm, encounters Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). She recognizes him as the fugitive, but is obviously attracted to him and helps Roger hide out in her sleeping car. Eve is also not what she appears, as we find out when she sends a message to Vandamm who is on the train along with Leonard. The next day, Roger escapes detection by the police by dressing up as a railway porter (yes, more pretending) assisting Eve. The police discover the porter whose clothes Roger used, and Roger hides out in the men’s room, lathering up his face for a shave so he won’t be detected (more use of disguise). Eve is supposedly calling Kaplan for Roger so the two can meet, but she is actually talking to Leonard who gives her instructions as to what to do with Roger. Eve seems very upset when after telling Roger to meet Kaplan out in a rural section outside of Chicago. She abruptly leaves him.

Roger is left off at a bus stop in farm country, but Kaplan is nowhere to be found (of course). A man waiting for a bus sees a crop duster plane and comments that it is dusting where there are no crops. Again, the plane is pretending (that word again) to be something else. Roger has been set up and the plane moves in for the attack. Roger again escapes, as the duster flies into a passing truck, and explodes, killing those onboard the aircraft. Roger heads back to the hotel ready to confront Eve about her double-cross, since he is told that the record showed Kaplan checked out at the time Eve was supposedly talking to him. When she sees that he is alive she embraces him, relieved, thus confusing Roger. She receives a call, writes down the address, and takes the piece of paper with her as she leaves. Roger uses a pencil to expose the address etched in the page beneath (for an advertising guy, he is quite adept at getting out of tight spots and tracking things down). He arrives at an auction, where Vandamm is with Leonard and Eve. Vandamm is acquiring a statuette. Roger confronts them, and makes a scene so that the police will take him away from Vandamm’s thugs. The Professor is at the auction, and intervenes with the police. The spy informs Roger about the invention of Kaplan and the need for him to play along a little more by pretending to be him. The government wants to find out about Vandamm’s network which deals in stolen secrets. We now learn that, again, Eve is not what she seems. She is actually helping the spy agency by going undercover.

A meeting is set up between Roger, acting as Kaplan, and Vandamm, who arrives at the Mt. Rushmore attraction center. Vandamm has a house nearby and The Professor said that he will be leaving the country from that location. Roger says he will withhold saying anything about Vandamm’s dealings if he gives Eve to him to get what she has coming for betraying him. Eve pulls out a gun and shoots Roger. It is all a ruse. Eve’s gun fired blanks (a fake gun pretending to be a real one). The deception was acted out to persuade Vandamm that Eve was on his side, despite her revealing emotions concerning Roger. Eve and Roger meet under the supervision of The Professor. She tells Roger that she fell in love with Vandamm before she knew about his criminal nature. Roger now wants them to go off together, but The Professor says she will be leaving with Vandamm to continue her spying. Roger is upset, but pretends (sorry, but it keeps showing up) to go along with the plan. He escapes the hospital room where he has been hidden to keep up the false story about his demise. He goes to Vandamm’s house. He sees the landing strip where the plane will land to help Vandamm escape. He overhears a conversation between Vandamm and Leonard where he learns that the statuette from the auction holds stolen microfilm. Leonard says he does not trust Eve. He found her gun and fires it, showing it just used blanks. Vandamm says he will drop her out of the plane. (There is a possible subtext going on here that Leaonard may be gay and have feelings for Vandamm. Van damm says that Leonard is “jealous” of Eve, and Leonard says his “woman’s intuition” makes him suspect her.)

Roger is able to warn Eve by dropping his monogrammed matchbook with a message in front of her from the upstairs level of the house. After they leave for the plane, Roger is confronted by the maid who stops him at gunpoint. It turns out she has the same gun with the blanks, which Roger recognizes, and the discharging of the blanks distracts Vandamm. Eve grabs the statuette and runs. She and Roger then try to make their escape over the face of Mt. Rushmore. Valerian pursues them, but they prevail, and the thug falls to his death. Leonard grabs the statuette in a tussle with Eve. She stumbles and Roger saves her by grabbing onto her with one hand as he hangs onto the edge. Leonard starts to grind his foot on Roger’s hand, but is shot by park rangers who are with The Professor. The statuette breaks revealing the microfilm inside (another object that is not what it appears on the surface). Vandamm is placed into custody. It first appears that Roger is trying to help Eve off of the cliff, but the scene shifts to him lifting her to the upper birth in a train as they speed off to their honeymoon, another image that is not what it seems.

The use of Mt. Rushmore here is similar to what Hitchcock does with The Statue of Liberty in Saboteur. In both pictures, he depicts, ironically, violence and criminality occurring at locations that symbolize awe-inspiring morality, reminding us that sometimes we only attain a semblance of a civilized state.

Another way that this film isn’t what it seems is the way it subverts the drama with a great deal of humor. Roger is incredibly cool given his circumstances, shooting off one-liners. When he is abducted by the thugs, he asks if he can call his dining partners to explain he is being kidnapped. When he is held captive in the library at the Townsend estate he says it’s good because, “I can catch up on my reading.” At the auction, he says to Vandamm, “I didn’t realize you were an art collector. I thought you just collected corpses.” There is definitely a great deal of double entendre between him and Eve. She says she can handle herself by saying, “I’m a big girl,” To which he responds, “Yeah, and in all the right places, too.” When she invites Roger to stay hidden in her room on the train, she says, “It’s going to be a long night … And I don’t particularly like the book I started.” Once they are in her compartment and he is in the upper birth where he hid he asks her why she is so nice to him. She answers by saying, “Do you want me to climb up and tell you why?” And the last image of the film is the none too subtle image of the train going into a tunnel. Oh, Hitch, you rascal, you.

The next movie is 12 Angry Men.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

I Want to Live!

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

This 1958 film based on journalist Edward S. Montgomery’s coverage of prostitute-crook Barbara Graham’s life is probably one of the earliest feminist and anti-capital punishment movies.

Susan Hayward, in an Oscar winning role, portrays Graham. The acting may seem a little over-the-top to us now, but she does convincingly convey the toughness of this woman who can be seen as both a criminal and a victim. The opening scenes establish the world in which she inhabits, which is one where the acceptable rules of society are broken. It is one that flows far from the mainstream. There is a wild party taking place where there is excessive drinking of alcohol. A band plays jazz (definitely the alternative sound of the time), and the musicians share a joint. The camera angles are skewed, emphasizing the out-of-the ordinary lifestyles of those present. Barbara is first seen rising up from a bed in a slip, followed by the form of a man with whom she has slept for money. We see the family picture of her client. She goes out of her way to protect the man from being convicted of the Mann Act, which prosecuted men who took women across state lines for sexual purposes. Barbara says she paid for the room they used to lessen his involvement. Right from the start we see how she helps men get away with crimes.

The image of the bongo drums being played at the party are replaced by a judge’s gavel as Barbara is convicted of prostitution. She later is maneuvered into providing an alibi for some crooked male friends, and is convicted of perjury. She then falls in with some male criminals, and helps them fleece victims using her seductive abilities. She also drives their getaway car after robberies. There is a scene where one of the crooks is building a house of playing cards. It is symbolic of Barbara’s life, which comes tumbling down on her.

She tries to “get out” by getting married and having a child. But, her attempt to join the straight world is thwarted by her continued wrong choices involving men. She weds a junkie who drains her financially and emotionally. Another image of her failed attempt at living the normal life is depicted when we see her baby playing with poker chips. Desperately in need of cash, she leaves her child with the husband’s mother and joins up with the thieves again. When a woman associated with Barbara’s mob is killed by one of its members, the cops come to arrest the crooks. One of the gang members says she sold them out, and he beats Barbara before they are all arrested. More physical brutality at the hands of men is revealed when Barbara is examined in jail and cigarette burns are found on her body. The other convicts pin the murder on Barbara. Her cellmate, another woman looking for help from men, cuts a deal and frames Barbara by recommending a guy who will provide an alibi for a price. He turns out to be an undercover cop. Even her lawyer turns on her at this point, asking to be excused as her attorney. Her husband’s drugged state of mind prevents him from being an alibi at the time of the killing.

Although she has been railroaded, Barbara doesn’t help her situation because she is insulting and uncooperative to everybody. But her attitude shows her unwillingness to accept the unjust situation she is in. Even though she is labeled a “party girl” and considered a slut, she embraces her sexuality when she refuses to wear the prison pajamas, and wants to feel sexy in her black slip. She strips down and says she would rather be naked than wear the drab sleepwear. Her dual nature of being tough and wanting to have a family is emphasized by her wanting to keep her daughter’s stuffed toy, which happens to be a tiger, showing the sweet and dangerous sides of Barbara.

A few men are on her side. There is a psychiatrist who says she is not violent. He also points out that she is left-handed and the killing was most likely done by someone who led with the right hand. The police also refused to allow Barbara to take a lie detector test, which would have helped her defense. The journalist, Montgomery (Simon Oakland), on whose writings the film is based, changed from one who exploited Barbara’s story, to becoming one of her supporters. When someone questions whether she may have been framed by the male convicts for the murder, a prison worker says, “What was she doing shacking up with them in the first place.” That statement shows the sexist discrimination involved in Barbara’s conviction. It’s as if she was condemned because of her sexual activity rather than for convincingly being found to have committed murder.

There are two women who present mirror images of how Barbara’s life could have gone. Her party friend, Peg (Virginia Vincent) left the fast lane world and married and had kids. She becomes part of the community. But, it is still the husband who calls the shots, giving her permission to see her old pal in prison. The other woman works at the prison, and her other-side-of-the-coin existence is stressed because her name is Barbara, too. Even she says, paradoxically, that the only way to live with men is being separated or divorced from them.

Besides the story arguing against the death penalty by showing an innocent person executed, the film presents the agonizing process the inmate must endure as she is led numerous times to the gas chamber only to get last minute reprieves, with no true hope of a commutation of the death sentence. The process of preparing the chamber for the dropping of the cyanide into buckets of sulfuric acid is presented in chilling detail, making the activity feel like a premeditated act of killing. The San Quentin Captain tells Barbara, “When you hear the pellets drop, count to ten. Take a deep breath. It’s easier that way.” Her damning response to this executioner is, “How would you know?” The cyanide is shaped in the form of eggs, ironically showing that the objects which appear to represent the beginnings of life are, in the hands of an unjust system, tools to end it.

The next movie is North by Northwest.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


1977 was a very competitive year for Oscars. Nominees for best picture included The Turning Point, The Goodbye Girl, Star Wars, Annie Hall (the eventual winner), and this film directed by Fred Zinnemann (High Noon, From Here to Eternity, A Man for All Seasons).

The movie is based on one of the stories told in Lillian Hellman’s Pentimento. The opening of the film explains the title of the author’s memoir. We see the elderly Hellman (literally – it is the writer in the boat here and at the end of the story), and we hear Jane Fonda, who plays the author, talking about how a painter may alter what he was going to depict, and painted over a previous work. But, sometimes the earlier images are seen through the later work. Here are Hellman’s words:

Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress; a child makes way for a dog; a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter “repented,” changed his mind.

Hellman uses this artistic term as a metaphor for memory. Old thoughts and images mentally buried under other experiences are excavated and brought to the surface by the writer. She says, “I wanted to see for me what was there for me once, and what is there for me now.” Zinnemann then shows a cinematic representation of this artistic effect by presenting a train pulling out of a station against the water on which Hellman’s boat floats. The train will later be part of Hellman’s journey to Berlin. In fact, the entire movie depicts flashbacks to emphasize the resurgence of memories. Hellman admits that memory can be faulty, but she absolutely trusts what she remembers about her friend, Julia.

The two were friends since adolescence. Lilly would visit Julia at her rich grandparents’ mansion around the holidays. Julia’s elderly relatives are unapproachably stiff and formal in their strict adherence to etiquette. Julia’s mother is never around, associating with affluent types in Europe. When Lilly asks her about one of Julia’s visits to Scotland, her friend says she doesn’t “remember.” There were just many “fancy” people.  It is noteworthy that in a story about memory we are shown was is forgettable – the kind of people F. Scott Fitzgerald labeled as the careless rich in The Great Gatsby.

One of the flashbacks shows a young Julia incensed by the apathy of her relatives toward the sick in Cairo, and the unhealthy living conditions of the poverty-stricken workers in her mother’s home in Scotland. This early concern for the physical well-being of the oppressed is probably why Julia studies to be a doctor. She became an example for Lilly to follow. When they were young, Julia crosses a rushing river by walking over a twisty tree trunk. Lilly is afraid, and Julia tells her to go below and find a safe passage. Lilly tries the difficult way, stumbles, and is rescued by Julia. She tells Lilly that she will be able to make it on her own the next time. 

The “next time” appears when Lilly is an adult. The main narrative of the movie is set at the time of the rise of Nazi Germany. When she visits Paris on her way to a play festival in Moscow, a Nazi resistance associate of Julia confronts Lilly at her hotel. The man, Mr. Johann (Maximilian Schell), tells her that her friend wants Lilly to secretly transport Julia’s money to Berlin on her way to Russia. The cash will be used to secure the release of Jews and political prisoners through bribes. It can be dangerous for Lilly, since she is Jewish. Julia had once told Lilly to “work hard, take chances, be very bold.” But just as she told her that she didn’t have to take the dangerous way across the water, Julia told Johann to warn Lilly that sometimes “she is afraid of being afraid.” So, he tells Lilly if she feels that she “cannot do it, don’t do it.” Her confusion over knowing the depth of her courage is noted by her lover, writer Dashiell Hammett (played by Jason Robards in a supporting Oscar winning performance) in an earlier scene when he tells her that she is really the neighborhood bulldog but thinks she is a cocker spaniel. She hesitantly agrees to transport the money. While running toward the train, she stumbles, just like she did when she tried to cross the river. So, that earlier crossing is echoed here where she must find the courage to make this more meaningful crossing into dangerous territory.

Lilly succeeds in her task, but she is definitely not a convincing covert operative. She has the help of two resistance passengers, but must be reminded of when to wear the hat that contains the money and what to do with the box of chocolates she is given. When she has a brief rendezvous with Julia at a restaurant in Berlin to drop off the money, it is a heartbreaking scene. It amplifies the feelings between the two. Julia lost her leg in an attack by the Nazi youth at the college in Vienna. She tells her friend that she now has a baby, who she has significantly named Lilly. She plans on going to New York for a new leg and wants Lilly to take care of her baby, who is currently in Alsace with a baker’s family. But this is not a happy tale. Julia is murdered. Lilly tries desperately to find out about the baby, but her attempts to find her through Julia’s resistance contacts end in failure. Hammett tells her that her comrades only used Julia for her money and didn’t care about the baby, who was probably dead.

Lilly has an on-again, off-again relationship with the older and famous Hammett (The Maltese Falcon). The story begins with her living with him on Cape Cod as she is working on her first play, The Children’s Hour. The movie is effective in showing the ups and downs of the writer’s life, mostly in very quick images. Lilly rips pages out of the typewriter, throws the machine out of the window, talks to herself while walking along the beach, and is told by Hammett to throw away an early draft. She eventually becomes famous, but is reminded by Hammett that notoriety is just “a paint job. It has nothing to do with writing.”

Despite Hammett’s help, the men in this film are not as reliable as are the women. Hammett tells Lilly to go to Paris without him to work on her play, and later does not travel with her to Europe and Moscow. He is not there for the opening night of her play on Broadway. It is suggested that he has affairs with other women. The father of Julia’s baby is not important to her and didn’t want anything to do with the child. Although the relationship between the two women is shown as platonic, in Lily’s narration she says that Julia had “the most beautiful face I have ever seen.” She hugs her and tells her that she loves her.

This film is primarily a story about the empowering, loving relationship between two women, and overcoming one’s fear to find the courage to unselfishly commit to helping people in need.

Next week’s movie is I want to Live!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

On the Waterfront

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

We worry today about children caving into peer pressure to commit wrongful acts, and being bullied. Well, this movie, released in 1954, shows that these issues carry into adulthood and how the results can be deadly. The theme here is about either choosing to survive in the existing situation, no matter how oppressive, or making a sacrifice to change the way things are for the good of others.

The controversy surrounding this film centers on whether it is a defense of director Elia Kazan’s decision to “name names” during the Senator McCarthy anti-communist witch-hunts. But let’s put that aside since that real life era existed in a different context than what is presented in this story. Here, on the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey, the longshoremen union has been corrupted by the influence of the mob. The union boss is Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), whose name is ironic since he is anything but a nice guy. (His actual name is Skelly). He and his goons decide who will work on any given day, and whether they will have to do backbreaking work or pull easier assignments. These exploiters skim money off of the union dues, take a cut from the payment for work done, and keep the workers impoverished so that they must borrow money from the union and pay loan shark interest rates. There is an ironic scene early on where Friendly throws one of his workers out for taking money for himself. Johnny says he can’t tolerate “skimming,” yet he is the ultimate skimmer. There is a telling scene where one of the goons tosses the tokens which allow work for the day in the air. The laborers fight among themselves so they can earn their meager wages, instead of battling the bosses who control their right to work.

The film starts with ex-professional boxer Terry Molloy (Marlon Brando in an Oscar winning performance) luring Joey Doyle to a rooftop where they keep their pigeon coops. He was ordered to do so by Friendly, but Molloy believes that the bosses are only going to “lean on him” a bit because Joey was ready to expose the corruption to the Waterfront Crime Commission. Instead, Joey is thrown off of the roof. Terry’s conscience, long dormant, starts to awaken after this incident involving the murder of a friend. The conflict within him is intensified for three reasons: one, his brother is Charlie the Gent (Rod Steiger), Friendly’s right hand man; two, Terry develops feelings for Joey’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint, another Oscar winner for her role) who he knew when they were in school together as children; three, Terry is goaded into action by Father Barry (Karl Malden).

Barry is shoved in the right direction by Edie, who knows a few things about the Catholic faith. Her father sent her away to study with nuns and become a teacher so she could escape the depressing world in which her father and brother toiled. After Joey’s death. Barry tells Edie that if she needs him, he’ll be at the church. She says with anger, “Did you ever hear of a saint hiding in a church?” The priest holds a meeting in the lower church chapel to urge the discontented workers into action. One of those present says that they were made to be “D and D,” “deaf and dumb,” when it came to the strong-armed tactics of the union leaders. Barry says that “We protect murderers with our silence.”

Terry is ordered to attend the meeting to inform on those present. But, when the workers attending are attacked, he rescues Edie. At this point Brando did a bit of improvisation in a scene with Eva Marie Saint that Kazan left in because it worked so well. Saint dropped her glove. Brando picks it up and handles it tenderly. It shows the gentler qualities of a man that has been used to living a life of brutality. He, like Rick in Casablanca earlier on in that film, feels that that the only side to be on is your own. But, here, Brando puts the glove on, in essence exchanging the boxing glove that he used to wear literally and has worn figuratively, for a feminine item that symbolizes his desire for loving intimacy with a moral, caring woman. She says, “Shouldn’t everybody care about everybody else?” He is cynical about her philosophy of winning people over with kindness and patience, but he admires her and it elevates him to a higher ethical level.

Let’s get back to those pigeons. In a way, Terry’s association with these birds mirrors his own predicament. They can fly, which allows them to rise above the human turmoil below them. But, their freedom has been restrained because they are caged in coops. This becomes a symbol for the loss of the workers’ control over their own lives. There are bars on windows of apartments, too, and fences all around showing how the laborers are imprisoned in their poverty. The workers are boxed in the holds of ships, again stressing the prison theme. Terry also feels confined in his life of being a lackey for Friendly and his brother. But he likes being above it all, on the roof with his birds. He admires the pigeons for mating for life, which shows their commitment to each other. He says the city is full of hawks, and, unfortunately, he must cage the pigeons to protect them. He is shown to care for the underdog, or, in this case, underbird. Of course, the pigeons also are associated with the phrase “stool pigeon,” a term Terry does not want applied to himself. Another bird, a canary, is also a name used to mean someone who informs on others, because they “sing.” The corrupt union men say about Joey, after he is murdered, that he was a canary. One of them says, “Maybe he could sing, but he couldn’t fly.” Terry wants to do both.

Beside Father Barry and Edie being taught by nuns, there are other religious references in the movie. The TV antennas on the roofs resemble crosses. Kayo Dugan (Pat Henning) is killed on the ship after he tells Barry that he will testify against the bosses. (Terry tries to warn him, showing his movement to a moral high ground). The priest gives a speech on the ship about how Dugan’s death along with Joey Doyle’s were crucifixions, and those allowing the deaths to occur share in the guilt. Later, when Charlie defies Friendly by allowing Terry to live, Charlie’s body is hung up on a hook in another crucifixion image. The priest says if you hurt one person, you hurt all others. He echoes what Edie told Terry about caring for everybody, which is basically what Christ taught. As part of his being sorry for his sins, Terry confesses to Barry about his involvement in Joey’s death. The priest tells him he must confess to Edie, too. When he does, all we hear is the blaring sound of a ship’s horn, almost as if the angel Gabriel is sounding his instrument, announcing Judgment Day. Jimmy Doyle’s jacket is given to Dugan, and is then passed on to Terry, like a relic from martyrs. When Terry breaks the glass on a door window to protect himself and Edie from Friendly’s henchmen, he bleeds from the hand like Christ being nailed to the cross.

The most famous scene in the movie is the one with Terry and Charlie in the back seat of a cab. During filming, they had difficulty shooting through the back window from inside the vehicle. Someone said they rode in a cab with blinds in the rear. They used that suggestion. The result created an intimate setting for the exchange. Charlie has been told by Friendly that if Terry couldn’t be convinced not to testify, then Charlie would have to kill him. When he tells Terry he has to make up his mind by the time they reach their destination, Terry understands what is really happening: that his own brother has been ordered to kill him. Instead of anger and violence following this realization, we have a quiet scene of disappointment and heartbreak. Terry doesn’t grab the gun or knock it out of his brother’s hand. He gently just pushes it aside with his fingers. His sadness is palpable. When Charlie tries to place the blame onto someone else for Terry’s failure as a fighter, Terry lets him know that it was Charlie’s fault for making him take dives. Terry tells him that he should have looked out for him. That is what a brother should do – love and care for his sibling. Instead Terry makes him understand that Charlie has been betraying him for a long time. When he tells his brother, “It was you, Charlie,” the truth is almost unbearable for the both of them. Charlie then realizes he can’t kill his own brother, and by letting Terry go, he must join the list of those sacrificing their lives to bring about moral change.

Barry convinces Terry that he must fight in a court instead of a boxing ring. After he exposes Friendly, he does not run and hide. He goes to the docks to claim his right to work, and lead by example. The others finally defy Friendly, and say they will only work if Terry does. Even though he is beaten up by Friendly’s goons, he drags himself to the loading dock to put in his day’s work. His fellow longshoremen follow him, pushing Friendly aside. Terry may have lost his actual brother, but he has now become part of an army of kindred souls. As Edie said: everybody should care about everybody else.

Next week’s movie is Julia.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

“Here’s lookin’ at you, Kid,”; “Round up the usual suspects”; “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” These are a few of the famous lines from this Oscar winning best movie of 1942 who many consider among the top five best American films ever made.

My favorite line from the movie is delivered by Rick (Humphrey Bogart). When he is asked why he came to Casablanca, he says it was “for the healing waters.” When it is pointed out that the city is in a desert, Rick responds by saying, “I was misinformed.” In that one line we sense the mystery that surrounds Rick. The film provides a slow reveal of who he is. We hear people talking about his club and what his past might be. Even the first shot of him has the camera move from his hand signing a note, up the white jacket sleeved arm to finally rest on his face. His enigmatic response about his being in Casablanca shows the wall he has erected between himself and others. His line is also funny, and there are many of them in this film that has a dark edge to it.

Who is the true hero of this story? Many could say it is Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid). He is a Czech resistance fighter who has rallied multitudes with his moral leadership to battle German tyranny in Europe. He was incarcerated in a concentration camp before escaping. He is in Casablanca, as are numerous others, hoping to get letters of transit so that he can fly to Lisbon with his wife, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), and then reach America. But, even in Casablanca he puts his life at risk. He defies the German officers when he orders Rick’s house band to play La Marseillaise to remind the French in Casablanca of the need to preserve their country against the compromises yielded by the Vichy government. He meets with the local resistance members to encourage them to keep up the fight against the Nazis.

Rick is the main character in the plot, but is he a hero? We learn that in the past he helped in the fight against fascism, always siding with the underdogs. But, he felt betrayed by the love of his life, Ilsa, when she didn’t show up at a train station in Paris on the day they were supposed to leave the city to flee the Nazi onslaught. Perhaps he chose Casablanca, not for “healing waters” but for just the opposite reason – because its desert and the hopeless people staying in the city reflect the barrenness of his cynical soul. He has become a person who says he sticks his neck out for nobody and that “I’m the only cause I’m interested in.”  He has no allegiance to any country. This fact is illustrated when Major Strasser asks him his nationality, and Rick responds by saying “I’m a drunkard.” He now collaborates with criminals, such as the one played by Peter Lorre, and corrupt officials like Captain Renault (Claude Rains), who collaborates with the Nazis and takes advantage of women seeking escape from Casablanca.

But, even though he is angry at Ilsa, he still admires Lazlo. The latter says that he tries to help the cause. Rick says, “Many try. You succeed.” It’s as if Lazlo’s presence and actions in Casablanca awaken in Rick the importance of self-sacrifice and the nobility of working for a cause. After Rick finds out that Ilsa thought her husband was dead when they were together in Paris, and only left once she found out Lazlo was alive, he sees that she still loves him. His cynicism melts away. He is the one who allows the band to play the French anthem. He then rises to Lazlo’s level by sacrificing his love for Ilsa, putting her on the plane with her husband because he knows that Lazlo needs her. Rick is willing now to join the resistance. As Lazlo says to Rick, “Welcome back to the fight.” That is why Rick says that their lives don’t amount to “a hill a beans” in the larger context of the world’s problems.

So, one could say that Lazlo is the model others must emulate to become heroes. You can see Ilsa’s admiration for him in her eyes. But ideals are abstractions, and hard to touch. For example, Ilsa never kisses him on the lips. Rick is more like the type of hero that the rest of us hope to become. He is someone who feels love, anger, hurt, and jealousy, but he can transcend his self-centered life to perform heroic actions when the chips are down. Perhaps he is symbolic of the United States, which has had to overcome the comfort of isolationism to join the world in the fight against totalitarianism.

Lazlo’s heroism flows to others in the film, including those singing at Rick’s club, and the other resistance fighters. Even Captain Renault catches the patriotic fever, joining Rick at the end to form their “beautiful friendship.”

Next week’s movie is On the Waterfront.