Casablanca

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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I’m a great advocate of cultural literary. I once sat my “adopted” daughter down and made her watch the movie “Casablanca” so she would understand the origin of all those sayings:

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“Round up the usual suspects.”

‘Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“We’ll always have Paris.”

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

And even “Play it again, Sam” – although not a true quote.

With six entries, “Casablanca” is the most represented film in American Film Institutes top 100 movie quotes.

Many film critics cite “Casablanca” as the best film of all time, it vying for top spot with “Raging Bull” and “Citizen Kane.” It would top my list too.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, this 1942 romantic drama tells the story of an American expatriate (Humphrey Bogart) who must choose between the woman he loves (Ingrid Bergman) or helping her husband (Paul Henreid) escape from Casablanca to continue his fight against the Germans.

Based on an unproduced stage play called “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” the movie had a brilliant screenplay written by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein. The twin brothers (along with Howard Koch) won an Oscar for the screenplay. Some tout it as the best screenwriting ever.

“In Bartlett’s Quotations, there are almost as many from ‘Casablanca’ as from ‘Hamlet,’” notes Leslie Epstein, who was director of creative writing at Boston University for 36 years. “It’s these witty and incisive lines. All except one are from my father and uncle.”

Why am I reminiscing about an old Warner Bros. classic? Because “Casablanca” is still showing at the Tropic Cinema tomorrow night … and it is scheduled to be screened at Key West Film Festival on Friday along with a Screenwriters Panel.

I’m looking forward to the panel. First, as a movie fan, because I love “Casablanca.” Second, as a film critic, because I want to garner any new insights into the movie. And third, because I once had a great breakfast with Leslie Epstein, talking about how his dad (Philip) and uncle (Julius) came to write “Casablanca.”

Their famed screenplay has been described as “a Frankenstein’s monster, based on a play and then rewritten and rewritten again, with scenes added even after filming had begun.”

As Leslie’s uncle once commented, the screenplay contained “more corn than in the states of Kansas and Iowa combined. But when corn works, there’s nothing better.”

Over breakfast, Leslie expounded on growing up in a household that always had famous visitors (Gregory Peck, Thomas Mann, Groucho Marx, et al.). He even wrote a book about it, “San Remo Drive: A Novel from Memory.” This semi-autobiographical novel was based on his childhood growing up in Hollywood in the 1940s and 50s.

Leslie told me stories about the writing of “Casablanca.”

He said his dad and uncle were driving down the street when they simultaneously came up with the idea for Captain Renault to order the roundup of “the usual suspects,” giving them the inspiration for how to end the movie.

Leslie also had a funny story about their Hollywood career:

Seems mogul Jack Warner “deplored their pranks, their work habits and the hours they kept.” In 1952, he gave their names to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Although the brothers were never called to testify before HUAC, they were asked on a questionnaire if they had ever been members of a “subversive organization’?

They wrote, “Yes. Warner Brothers.”

Email Shirrel: srhoades@aol.com

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