Friday, December 02, 2005

70: "Casablanca Redux"



Everybody knows the movie Casablanca. Filmed in the early days of World War II, it is famous for many of its wonderfully written lines, its music, and the romantic triangle between Paul Henreid, Ingrid Bergman, and Humphrey Bogart.

Bogey plays tough guy and expatriate American Rick Blaine, who “fought on the losing side in Spain”, and lost his nightclub in Paris…and Ilsa (Bergman), when the Germans marched into the city in 1940. Blaine has opened up a nightclub, Rick’s Café Americain, in the north African town of Casablanca, waypoint for people escaping the Nazis in Europe and fleeing to America, or England, by way of Lisbon, Portugal.

One of the greatest movie lines anywhere has local police inspector Captain Renault (Claude Rains) ordering Rick’s place shut down at the order of the local Nazi bad guy. The dialogue goes like this:

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.
[aloud]
Captain Renault: Everybody out at once!

Some folks think it was America’s greatest film. It won Oscars in 1942 for Best Picture (Producer Hal Wallis), Best Director (Michael Curtiz), and best Writing/Screenplay, and was nominated for five more Oscars, including Best Actor (Bogart), Best Supporting Actor (Rains), and a wonderful musical score by the great composer of film music, Max Steiner.

The climactic airport scene near the end of the movie, where Rick forces Ilsa to go on the plane to Lisbon with her husband the freedom fighter(Henreid) is one of the most magically romantic moments in cinematic history. He then walks off into the desert with Captain Renault, saying, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!” as the credits roll.

Let’s play a little game, shall we? Let’s pretend for a few moments that we are back in 1942, now, and that Rick has made it back to the US and now wants to open up his “café” here in Pennsylvania. He’s not quite sure how to go about it because the laws are tricky here.

This is the US of 1942, a year into the US involvement in WW II, and quite a while before any good news started coming in. Housing is cheap, maybe $1,000 for a two bedroom house on a nice lot, with 5% interest.

One day, he’s at an affair in Harrisburg, and over dinner, he gets to talking to a local builder (Let’s bring Sydney Greenstreet in to play this role). Greenstreet talks to him and suggests he build his café right across from his latest project, on the main drag going into Gettysburg. A week later, Greenstreet introduces him to a banker (how about Peter Lorre as the banker?) The three of them arrange financing for Rick, and things start to look up. Greenstreet informs Rick, however, that he must get a license to sell liquor at his establishment and liquor licenses are expensive and hard to get. There is a lot of competition for them, but they can be bought for the right price. And they are like gold, because liquor is a high profit item, and nearly everybody partakes.

Lorre visits Rick again a week later, and during the conversation lets him know that he can supply some investment money help to Rick if he needs it. Rick, of course, has committed all he had left to the building project, and doesn’t have two nickels to rub together for a liquor license. Lorre says, 'leave it to me'. Within a week, Rick has three new partners and an infusion of cash, enough to get his liquor license and a steak dinner. The following week, as Rick’s place is nearing completion, Lorre shows up with the names of two local people who will sell him a liquor license. Lorre confides in him that he had to put some pressure on them to sell (he had his bank buy both their mortgages, and threatened foreclosure), and he had to apply some grease to the local township guys to clear some local laws about moving a liquor license between municipalities. This Lorre accomplished by floating two of the supervisors home equity loans at 3% interest.

Finally, Lorre went to the state Capitol to meet with a state Senator on the tourism board, who was also the powerful chairman of one of the major legislative committees. Lorre offered to refinance his house at 1% interest, and to refinance it on the basis of an appraisal of S5,000, when the senator had bought it less than 60 days earlier for $2,000. The senator then called his friend on the state Liquor Control Board, and referred him to Lorre, as well. Rick’s license was approved five days later.

Everybody was happy, everybody made money. It was the “American Method” of doing business. The only downside to the whole deal was that Rick had three partners, all of whom were stockholders in Lorre’s bank.

When Rick passed away in 1985 at the age of 70, he had bought out two of the investors, but never could get the third one to sell. So he left his ¾ share of Rick’s Café to the heirs of Mr. and Mrs. Victor Lazlo, of Prague, Czechoslovakia, one quarter share each, and one quarter to any heir (need not be legitimate) of Louis Renault, of Nice, France.

We could make a movie out of this story, and maybe call it the sequel to Casablanca. But what do you think would be a good name for this film? Can’t use “A Night In Casablanca”, the Marx Brothers did that one.

Feel free to post your ideas for a title for the film in the comments section below.

“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!"
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