One of the qualities a “classic” film has is memorable dialogue. A movie’s scenes can only be enhanced by clever and well-written dialogue. Prior to “talkies,” the character’s words were typed out across the screen on a title card. When the characters are “speaking” on screen, oftentimes the actors are just filmed saying different words, but obviously, because the film is silent, the audience does not hear what is being said. The audience is told what is being said, via the title card.
In Singin’ in the Rain (1952), a film that depicts the movie industry’s transition from silent to sound films, there is a memorable scene between Gene Kelly and Jean Hagen’s characters, Don and Lina, respectively. Don and Lina are filming the scenes for their next silent film, The Dueling Cavalier. Don is furious with Lina because she had his new lady friend, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) fired from her job at the studio. They’re supposed to be filming a love scene. While Don is stroking Lina’s arm and kissing her passionately, he’s also telling her things like “I don’t like her half as much as I hate you.” Later in the film, after converting The Dueling Cavalier from silent to sound, Don, Lina and the rest of the studio personnel watch their film in a theater. Silent films were not known for having great dialogue. Unfortunately, the crew in The Dueling Cavalier didn’t realize that they needed to actually write something for the characters to say. The actors are no longer silent on screen. Don’s character is reduced to saying things like: “I love you. I love you. I love you.” If a movie, like Singin’ in the Rain, can make their scenes and dialogue memorable, then it is destined to be a classic.
Aside from Singin’ in the Rain, Casablanca is another classic film from the studio era. One of the reasons that the film is so popular and memorable is the dialogue. This film is one of the most quotable films of all times. The dialogue in Casablanca is gold, from start to finish. The iconic airport scene at the end of the film has so many memorable quotes, it’s hard to choose a favorite.
My particular favorite quote is muttered by Claude Rains’ Captain Louis Renault, the shamelessly corrupt head of the Vichy French police in Casablanca. German official, Major Strasser is also in Casablanca while he keeps track of Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo and his wife Ilsa. Rick’s Cafe American, run by expatriate Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is the most popular club in town. There is a backroom gambling den which though illegal, is popular and well attended. Captain Renault frequently spends time at the roulette table.
On one particular night, Major Strasser and his cronies are spending time at Rick’s. Strasser leads a rousing rendition of “Die Wacht am Rhine,” a patriotic German anthem. Laszlo interrupts and has the band play “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem. The dueling anthems is a very beautiful and powerful part of Casablanca (Anything to not hear that guitar lady sing again!). Pretty soon, the French are drowning out the Germans. Upset, Major Strasser orders Captain Renault to close Rick’s.
Captain Renault demands that Rick’s be shut down. Rick naturally asks what grounds the Captain has for closing his establishment. Captain Renault is grasping for a reason to close Rick’s down and then delivers one of the funniest lines in the whole film:
CAPTAIN LOUIS RENAULT: “I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.”
(The dealer hands the Captain a stack of money)
DEALER: “Your winnings, sir.”
CAPTAIN LOUIS RENAULT: “Oh, thank you very much…everybody out at once!”
This scene perfectly sums up Captain Renault’s entire persona. He’s a corrupt official. He’s a hypocrite. He doesn’t care about what is right or wrong, he just wants to win. Even if it means allying with the Germans, he doesn’t care. He wants to be on the winning side. Captain Renault is ultimately a good guy and eventually comes around toward the end of the film when he agrees to join Rick who plans on leaving Casablanca.