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Filtering by Category: Top Ten Treasures

Top Ten: Cinema's Most Treasured Images Part 5 (#41 - 50)

I'll continue with some of Cinema's most treasured images bound to invoke a strong emotional response. Like the previous selections, these will be listed in ascending order with #41 as the most iconic. The narratives' indelible moments are the primary reason these captures were selected. 

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Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 3

In this series I would like to provide my readers with a more critical perspective to consider, one that hopefully will not detract from a person's appreciation for the films under review. At the same time, I'd question whether these motion pictures really deserve the high accolades bestowed upon them by the critical community in general. (For a further introduction on this subject please see: Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 1.)
These notices are meant for viewers familiar with the following motion pictures.

(They will be addressed in alphabetical order.)

 

Casablanca (1942, U.S.A.)

Director: Michael Curtiz

Unlike the previous motion pictures on this list whose reputations were built after a cult following, Casablanca has, for a much longer time and by a vastly greater audience, been embraced as a classic. Many have considered it to be one of the finest American films of all time. Though I'm a little nervous about placing it on this list, its lofty high status makes it at the very least a worthy candidate for a closer look.


The title refers to the Moroccan city which, during the Second World War before the U.S. became involved, is mainly overseen by the German controlled Vichy Government of France. Casablanca provides a gateway for those fleeing the Nazi encroachment, but at a price: These individuals, and those who prey on them, all seem to wind up at "Rick's Café Américain". The film’s opening explains this by way of a brilliant montage sequence, directed by none other than Don 'Dirty Harry' Siegel. Then it’s on to the various inhabitants of the city (22 speaking parts with hundreds of extras), who comprise an assortment of thieves, refugees, employees of Rick's, French, German and Italian Government officials, some of which are cast by distinguished supporting actors, but all of whom unfortunately act as stereotypes. The filmmakers soon discard some of these supporting characters after we observe their desperate attempts to leave Morocco, like Peter Lorre's Ugarte killed early on, or the couple Rick helps buy their way out of the country in his gambling parlour. Others are marginalized like Sydney Greenstreet’s competing club owner who’s given so little to do that anyone could have played his part. Even Claude Rains’ Captain Renault is repeatedly identified as a corrupt opportunist, nothing more. Since these mini-dramas are played out at the cafe, the various calamities that ensue are dealt with assuredly by proprietor Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart)....that is until she walks in. 

 

"She" is Ilsa Lund, played by Ingrid Bergman who here expresses more heartfelt emotion with her eyes than any other actress has using her whole body. Ilsa was Rick's former lover who reluctantly left him in Paris after she found out that her husband Victor Lazlo, a Czech resistance leader, was not killed by the Nazis as she had believed. Lazlo is an archetype representing one of the most virtuous and noble characters ever seen on celluloid, always ready to personally sacrifice for a cause or another, without a speck of grey within and is portrayed by a perfectly dignified Paul Henreid. 

 

The dramatic thrust of the story will rest almost entirely on the former romance between Rick and Ilsa in Paris before the Nazi takeover. It will substantiate Rick's constant fretting and bitterness over his once having been abandoned, and give reason for his decision on how to use the valuable “letters of transit” (given to him by Ugarte) that allow two people totally unobstructed safe passage out of the country.* This past love between them will additionally account for Ilsa’s conflicted feelings for Rick and her realization over how deeply he was hurt, versus her loyalty to her husband and his freedom fighting cause. The other principal players are, dramatically speaking, reduced to either obstructing or abetting Rick's decision, depending on whether he resumes his relationship with Ilsa or lets go of his one true love for "the greater good." In order to give the prerequisite emotional impact to his final sacrifice at the airport, the filmmakers wisely provide a flashback to the couple’s "happier times" in Paris. But are they enough to give the big finale’ the emotional gravitas it deserves? I don’t think so.    

 

The flashback scenes in Paris, which were not part of the unproduced stage play on which most of the film is based, were supposedly romantically enhanced by uncredited writer Casey Robinson and they look perfunctory. They are not narrated, nor do they have an engagingly clever way of being introduced like the flashbacks in Citizen Kane or Double Indemnity. Rick and Ilsa are already together. Their relationship seems rather casual and calm except for the impending Nazi invasion. Even Rick’s unfulfilled wait at the train station for Ilsa is foreshadowed and predictable.

 

And then there’s the famous last scene at the airport, where Rick pulls a gun, first on Captain Renault and then, before fatally shooting him, Major Strasser (played by Conrad Veidt as your typical cardboard cinematic Nazi). Rick then turns to Ilsa and makes a very poetic speech, curiously devoid of emotion and at a rapid clip making it sound rehearsed. As heroic a gesture as it is meant to be, his delivery, along with what we actually saw in Paris, sucks the life blood out of the moment surer than a starving vampire. After Ilsa and her husband leave, more iconic words are spoken by Rick to Captain Renault, although considering what we actually observed between these two, they don’t hold much weight either.

 

The narrative's episodic effect is probably due to the numerous writers and revisions which occurred well into its production. This is offset however, by an array of consummate performances, especially from Bergman, the dynamic Curtiz direction, patriotic fervor,** nostalgic ‘suspension of time’ moments especially those with Dooley Wilson as Sam, extraordinary photography and rousing music. Casablanca is brilliantly polished to a reflective shine, but in that reflection do we really see as much as promised? I’ll let you answer that.  

A.G.

 

Next up, a completely different part of the cinematic map, Top Ten Fool's Gold #4: Chinatown       

 

*this was a totally fictitious and most useful invention by one of the play’s authors Joan Allison.

** the movie’s box office was significantly boosted by the Allied invasion of North Africa.

 

 

Casablanca can be best appreciated on on this 70th Anniversary Blu-ray and purchased here:

Casablanca (70th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray]
$18.51
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman

   





Casablanca
$12.27
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Monte Blue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is also available on DVD here:

Top Ten: Cinema's Most Treasured Images Part 4 (#31 - 40)

I'll continue with some of Cinema's most treasured images bound to invoke a strong emotional response. Like the previous selections, these will be listed in ascending order with #31 as the most iconic. The narratives' indelible moments are the primary reason these captures were selected. 

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Top Ten: Cinema's Most Treasured Images Part 3 (#21 - 30)

I'll continue with some of Cinema's most treasured images bound to invoke a strong emotional response. Like the previous selections, these will be listed in ascending order with #21 as the most iconic. The narratives' indelible moments are the primary reason these captures were selected. 

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Top Ten: Western Treasures Part 3

Drama is conflict.

Nowhere is that better exemplified than in a less technologically advanced, austere Western setting. Practically since the dawn of Cinema itself, Westerns appeared on the scene with their comparatively short and simple narratives, befitting both the West's preceding closure and this amazing, new storytelling discovery. 

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Top Ten: Cinema's Most Treasured Images Part 2 (#11 - 20)

I'll continue with some of Cinema's most treasured images bound to invoke a strong emotional response. Like the first 10 selections, these will be listed in ascending order with #11 as the most iconic. The narratives' indelible moments are the primary reason these captures were selected.   

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Top Ten Costume Jewelery: Most Annoying Movie Characters

Top 10: Most Annoying Movie Characters

 

My guest contributor is young Mr. X whose first post here will hopefully not be his last.

These are in order of least annoying to most with #1 being the worst offender:

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Top Ten: Western Treasures Part 1

One of the more fascinating aspects of this genre is that the historic "wild west" of America had just officially ended when these motion pictures were first being churned out. In other words, history having just been made in the real West in the late 1800's was to be first represented on celluloid in the early 1900's.

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Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 2

In this series I would like to provide my readers with a more critical perspective to consider, one that hopefully will not detract from a person's appreciation for the films under review. At the same time, I'd question whether these motion pictures really deserve the high accolades bestowed upon them by the critical community in general. (For a further introduction on this subject please see: Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 1.)

These notices are meant for viewers familiar with the following motion pictures. 

(They will be addressed in alphabetical order.)

Read More

Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 1

The purpose of this list is not to give a critical lambasting to what a great number of viewers consider to be cinematic treasures. What I would like to provide my readers with is an alternative and admittedly more critical perspective to consider, one that hopefully will not detract from a person's appreciation for the films under review. At the same time, I'd question whether these motion pictures really deserve the high accolades bestowed upon them by the critical community in general.

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Top Ten: Guilty Treasures

The following are 10 of my personal favourites that cannot in good conscience be fully recommended to everyone. That's not to say these films don't have some positive qualities, for example in originality or how their stories are crafted. However, they all have inherent flaws; perhaps it's a subject matter too limited in value, or overly simplistic characters given too much unwarranted attention. At the very least the ten listed suffer from a self-imposed lack of "universal appeal." Below, I will attempt to take an objective look into why these movies fail to reach a higher artistic level while describing my own thrills when viewing them.

(They are listed in alphabetical order) 

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Top Ten: World Cinema Treasures

Films on this, the highest level of artistic merit, must contain an extraordinary breadth of insight into the human experience, one that transcends any geographical, cultural or genre limitation. Furthermore their story's development must appear spontaneous and natural, without apparent signs of its author's manipulation. At the same time the narrative groundwork must be subtly laid so that an audience can strongly identify with, and feel for, the characters' outcome. These motion pictures must not only be supremely crafted, but reach deep into the bone marrow of our existence to create an everlasting spiritual experience not unlike that produced by any of the other arts' greatest achievements.

They are listed in alphabetical order:

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