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This film probably gave its stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman their most famous and celebrated roles.  In unoccupied Africa in the early days of World War II, Rick Blaine (Bogart) is a cynical and disillusioned exiled American, who runs a popular gin joint.  When Czech underground leader Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) arrives at his premises, he brings with him his wife Isla (Bergman), a woman who is well known to Rick, and who reawakens feelings that he thought he had put behind him forever.  Rick may be in a position to help Victor, but he has to choose whether he will use this position to his own advantage or not.

Have you ever watched a film that is called a classic, and been a bit let-down?  Well, this is not one of those films.  To put it bluntly, Casablanca is awesome.  It demonstrates the changes in people’s characters and lives that are caused by war, it has a beautiful romance at it’s heart (I cried a number of times throughout), and it’s a blindingly brilliant story.

I particularly liked the fact that Rick’s rival for Ilsa’s love, Victor, was not a bad guy – in fact he was an extremely good guy, who was fighting for people’s freedom and human rights.  It would have been so easy to have the audience rooting for Rick, by making Victor an unlikeable character, and it made the film all the more powerful for the script not taking this route.

The lead actors – Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid were just wonderful, and the chemistry between Bogart and Bergman was electric.  I also thought Claude Reins as the French officer, Captain Renault – a man who was loyal to whichever side served his own interests best, and Dooley Wilson as Sam, the piano player at Rick’s bar – were excellent.

Certain scenes stand out in my mind, in particular the ending, but I’m not going to reveal any details here as I would not want to spoil it for any first time viewers.

In short, this film is well worth all the accolades it received.  If you still haven’t experienced Casablanca, I strongly recommend that you watch it.

Year of release: 1942

Director: Michael Curtiz

Writers: Julius J Epstein, Philip G Epstein, Howard Koch, Murray Burnett, Joan Alison, Casey Robinson

Main cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains

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This film noir is one of the four films that real life couple Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made together.  It’s probably the least popular of the four, which seems fair. There’s a lot to enjoy here, but its mainly because of the quality of the cast – the storyline itself – while an interesting premise – builds coincidence upon coincidence, and is hard to take seriously.

The story revolves around Vincent Parry (Bogart), a man who has escaped from prison where he was sent after being convicted of killing his wife.  He intends to find the real killer, while evading the law.  He is helped by beautiful stranger Irene Jansen (Bacall).  However, Parry knows that his face is too familiar and has to undergo plastic surgery to change his appearance.

The first half of the film has Parry narrating things as they happen, and the audience sees things as he would see them.  This means that while Bogart’s familiar voice is present throughout, its not until after Parry has his surgery that we see his face, at which point the story is told from a third person point of view.  I’m guessing that this method of filming was used, rather than using a different actor to play the character before surgery, and then switching to Bogart afterwards – the result is more effective and worked well.

Of course, Bogart had such charisma and that charisma is a large part of what makes this film enjoyable, because truthfully the audience is asked to suspend a lot of disbelief.  Irene Jansen’s reasons for wanting to help Parry are flimsy, and he later takes a cab, the driver of which just happens to want to help Parry (who he has never met before).  The same driver just happens to know a plastic surgeon who can operate on Parry that night (!), and plastic surgery takes 20 minutes, after which Parry is able to walk a long distance back to Jansen’s home.  Irene just happens to have a friend who was a witness against Parry at his trial…and so on and so on.  There is a nice subplot involving a driver who initially picks up Parry after his escape, believing Parry to be a hitch-hiker, which added to the story.

Overall, the star quality in this film makes it worth watching, but the storyline leaves a lot to be required.  Still worth seeing though for fans of the lead actors.

Year of release: 1947

Director: Delmer Daves

Writers: David Goodis (book), Delmer Daves

Main cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Agnes Moorehead

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This 1948 gangster/film noir movie has Humphrey Bogart in fine form as Frank McCloud, a world weary ex-soldier who comes to visit the family of a dead comrade at their hotel, only to find that the establishment has been taken over  by a team of gangsters, led by Johny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson).  Bogart’s real life wife, Lauren Bacall plays Nora Temple, the widow of Frank’s friend, and Lionel Barrymore is her father-in-law.  Tensions rise between the hotel owners and Frank, and the gangsters, until events must surely reach a climax…

This is not normally my favourite genre of movie, but the excellent cast make it compelling viewing.  Bogart is superb as Frank, who has already seen too much violence and doesn’t want to get involved in more. Bacall is sultry and sensual as Nora Temple, and Barrymore is just excellent as James Temple.  Edward G. Robinson is also suitably menacing as Johnny, and Claire Trevor as Johnny’s alcoholic girlfriend, deservedly won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for her part.

The film is set almost entirely within the hotel, with just a few outdoor scenes, and this serves to crank up the tension.  Throughout most of the film, you can sense the atmosphere between the two parties.

Plotwise, it is actually quite thin – the gangsters want to escape to Cuba, the hotel owners just want to get out of the situation alive, but they don’t want the gangsters to get away with their crimes (which mount up as the film progresses).  The enjoyment of the film comes from the different characters and the dynamic between them.  Acting was generally less subtle and more theatrical when this film was made, but here the subtle nuances and fleeting looks between characters makes this film deeply layered and lends to the claustrophobic atmosphere.

There’s not much more you need to know about the plot – but this is definitely a film worth seeing, as much for the uniformly excellent cast as for the storyline itself.

Year of release: 1948

Director: John Huston

Writers: Maxwell Anderson (play), Richard Brooks, John Huston

Main cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore

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In 1914, Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn)  is an English missionary in Africa.  When the Germans come and attack and destroy the village where Rose lives, Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), a gin swilling owner of a decrepit steam boat offers to to let her sail with him to somewhere safe.  Charlie just wants to find somewhere where he can hide out and wait for the war to be over – but Rose decides that they should use the steamboat – The African Queen of the title – to launch an attack on a German ship.  Rose and Charlie are mismatched travellers – she is uptight and repressed, while he is a lazy alcoholic – but as they journey together, they both learn a bit about themselves and each other.

I can’t believe that I haven’t seen this film before now – it’s regarded as a real classic, and I can certainly see why.  I enjoyed every minute of it.  The storyline is dramatic and thrilling, as Charlie and Rosie navigate hostile waters, dangerous rapids, and enemy territory, but it’s also romantic (this is REAL movie romance – no sex or frenzied ripping off of each other’s clothes, but looks and gestures that are no nuanced and say so much), and surprisingly funny.  Many of the one liners made me laugh out loud.

Bogart and Hepburn are both exceptional in their roles.  Bogart makes the audience really care for a man who, on paper, should not be hero material (and maybe that’s part of the point).  Hepburn meanwhile, plays Rose with real class, and it’s interesting to see the character’s shift from unapproving repression to a woman who wants to be adventurous and embrace life.  By far this is the most sympathetic role I’ve ever seen Katharine Hepburn play – I often find her to be quite cold, but here she strikes exactly the right chord.

For the most part, the film consists of just these two fine actors, but the dialogue and interaction between them is such that you don’t feel any other characters are needed. This is Charlie and Rose’s story and a most enjoyable one it is too.

The ending is totally satisfying and ties up all the emotions and events in a perfect way. If you haven’t seen this lovely film yet, go and rent it right now – I’m sure you won’t regret it!

Year of release: 1951

Director: John Huston

Writers: C.S. Forrester (book), James Agee, John Huston, Peter Viertel, John Collier

Main cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn

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This is Billy Wilder’s fabulous 1954 movie – based on the play ‘Sabrina Fair’ by Samuel A Taylor – starring the luminescent Audrey Hepburn as Sabrina Fairchild, a young girl who is in love with David Larrabee (William Holden), the younger son of the family her father is the chauffeur for.  David, who is irresponsible and a playboy, hardly knows Sabrina exists, but when she comes back from two years in France and is now a sophisticated young woman, he falls for her – despite being engaged to another woman with whose family, David’s older brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) is hoping to secure a business proposition.  In order to keep David and Sabrina apart, and thus protect his business, Linus starts spending time with Sabrina to keep her away from his brother.  But then, he finds his own feelings towards her changing…

Okay I admit it – I am a little bit in love with Audrey Hepburn.  She has such an incredible charm, and she is perfect for this role.  She plays the part to perfection and it’s easy to see how not just one, but both brothers would fall in love with Sabrina.  William Holden (who fell in love with Audrey while they were making the film) is also excellent as the rascalish David; despite everything he’s hard to dislike, because while the character is selfish and irresponsible, he isn’t malicious – and he provides some great comedy.  Humphrey Bogart was a last minute replacement for the part of Linus – originally the role was supposed to be played by Cary Grant.  While I think Grant was a terrific actor, I actually think that Bogart might have been a better choice for the role.  Sabrina is supposed to be surprised by her growing feelings for Linus, because she has been in love with his younger brother for as long as she can remember.  Linus is an unusual choice of partner for her….but who could be surprised by anyone in a movie falling for the charming and handsome Cary Grant?  Linus was not supposed to be handsome and charming.  If Bogart seems a little cold in this role, I’d guess that that might be intentional.

This film is over 50 years old now, it’s black and white and all of the stars are sadly no longer with us (all dying relatively young).  Yet, it still has plenty of sparkle and feels fresh; it’s an absolute pleasure to watch.  There are moments of tenderness, but there are some very funny scenes as well, and an excellent supporting cast (most notably John Williams and Walter Hampden).  I loved watching Sabrina’s and Linus’ respective surprise as it dawned on them that they had feelings for each other.

Overall, this is a very sweet, humorous and clever romantic comedy, which deserves it’s status as a classic.  It’s probably more geared to a female audience, but I would certainly recommend it to anybody who likes good movies.

Year of release: 1954

Director: Billy Wilder

Writers: Samuel A Taylor (play), Billy Wilder, Ernest Lehman

Main cast: Audrey Hepburn, William Holden, Humphrey Bogart

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Click here for my review of the 1995 adaptation.

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