April 17th will mark the 104th anniversary of William Holden’s birth. Holden is someone who I first became acquainted with when he appeared as himself on my personal favorite episode of I Love Lucy, and perhaps the best episode (imo)–“L.A. at Last!” or “Hollywood at Last!” as it’s also known. Holden’s episode is hysterical. The expression on his face when Lucy turns around after “fixing” her putty nose (“The California sun certainly makes your skin soft,” Lucy says) is hilarious and still makes me laugh no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Throughout the rest of the Ricardo and Mertz’s trip in California and even later in the series, multiple celebrities make reference to Holden and his having warned them about Lucy’s antics. For whatever reason, the idea that William Holden was running around Hollywood warning people like John Wayne about Lucy Ricardo is hilarious. I Love Lucy and William Holden also brought about one of my favorite quotes from the series:
MAN (to ETHEL): Pardon me. Are you sitting on John Wayne?
ETHEL: Who, me? No!
MAN: Are you positive?
LUCY: Positive. She’s sitting on Bill Holden. She’s president of the Bill Holden Fan Club, and once a year she comes here to sit on his signature.
“Lucy Visits Graumans,” I Love Lucy. Season 5, Ep. 1. Originally aired October 3, 1955
Anyway, my point in saying all of this was that for the longest time, I was only aware of William Holden by his appearance on my favorite show, and the constant references to him in the episodes leading up to and after his episode aired. I’d never seen one of his films before. I only knew him from I Love Lucy. Having not heard much about him, in comparison to the *big* Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, etc. I figured he was one of those stars who was big in their time, such as Tennessee Ernie Ford, who made multiple appearances on I Love Lucy.
Oh how I was wrong.
After becoming fully obsessed with I Love Lucy as a middle schooler, I learned that Lucille Ball had appeared in a film with Holden–Miss Grant Takes Richmond. I borrowed the VHS from the library and watched it. I found that film pretty funny, especially Lucy’s role, but didn’t find anything remarkable about Holden. In the film, he played a character very similar to how Holden portrayed himself on I Love Lucy. Some time passed before I saw Holden in another film. He didn’t jump out to me as someone whose films I just had to watch.
Then I saw Sunset Boulevard.
My opinion on William Holden did a complete 180. In ‘Sunset,’ Holden was cynical, sarcastic, romantic, conniving, weary, compassionate, etc. etc. His performance in this film was so fantastic that I was hooked. Soon I ended up watching a lot of Holden movies: The Country Girl (the film he was promoting on I Love Lucy), Sabrina, Picnic, The Moon is Blue, Apartment for Peggy, Paris When it Sizzles, Network, Born Yesterday, Executive Suite… But one film that I watched that I really loved was Force of Arms, which premiered in 1951.
(Woo! Finally I made it to the entire point of this whole post.)
Force of Arms reunites William Holden with his ‘Sunset’ co-star, Nancy Olson. This was the third film out of four films that they starred in together. One part of ‘Sunset’ that I really enjoy is the relationship between Holden and Olson’s characters. Holden’s cynical yet romantic Joe Gillis does not get off to a good start when he first meets Olson’s Betty Schaefer. Joe, a screenwriter, and Betty, a script reader both work for Paramount Pictures. Joe walks into the office of a producer just to overhear Betty harshly criticizing Joe’s script. Later the two reunite at a New Years Eve party, and start working together on a new screenplay after Betty pitches some ideas to Joe as to how they can salvage his story. Throughout much of the film, Joe meets in secret with Betty while his employer (and perhaps keeper), Norma Desmond, sleeps. Joe and Betty have a cute relationship. They laugh, they share stories, they appreciate each other’s intelligence, and eventually they fall in love. And while things don’t work out for Holden and Olson’s characters in ‘Sunset,’ they fare much better in Force of Arms.
Force of Arms takes place during World War II in Italy. Holden plays another character named Joe, this time Lieutenant Joe “Pete” Peterson who is part of the American 36th Infantry Division. After a hard fought battle in San Pietro, Joe and his division are given five days’ rest in a small Italian town. One evening, while walking through a cemetery, Joe meets WAC Lieutenant Eleanor “Ellie” MacKay (Olson). Joe tries to better make Ellie’s acquaintance, but is rebuffed because she is in no mood to be picked up while in a cemetery. Later, Joe and Ellie are reunited when he and his friend go to the post office to see if they’d received any correspondence from back home. It turns out that Ellie works at the post office. Earlier in the day, Joe had received a promotion from sergeant to lieutenant, and Ellie offers to buy him a celebratory drink. He accepts.
Joe and Ellie begin to spend more and more time together and grow closer as the movie progresses. However, despite how much Joe wants to be with Ellie, she keeps him at arm’s length as she’s afraid to fall in love again. It seems that she was previously engaged to another soldier and was deeply in love, but then he was killed in the war. She is too scared to fall in love as she doesn’t want to experience heartbreak again. However, her mind is changed when Joe’s leave is cut short. Not wanting to lose him, she agrees to marry him when he returns on his next leave.
The film then transitions into a bunch of battle scenes which usually don’t interest me. I love World War II era movies (or in this film’s case, films that take place during the war), but I am more interested in the homefront aspect–or if it directly involves the war aspect, there needs to be another storyline interwoven with the battle scenes. Thankfully, Force of Arms has a romance that is intermingled between the gunfire and carnage. Despite being involved in the very serious situation that is war, Joe remains determined to see Ellie again. Even after falling into a deep depression after the death of a friend and not wanting to see anyone, even Ellie, we know that true love will prevail–Ellie and Joe will be together again. Otherwise, what was the point of this movie?
Nancy Olson was the perfect person for the part of Ellie. Her cherubic face, her sweet demeanor. She is what brings hope to Holden’s bitter, cynical Joe. Were a harsher woman cast, Joan Crawford, for example, or Ida Lupino, I don’t think this film would be nearly as heart wrenching. Ellie is the perfect compliment for Joe. She can provide sympathy and warmth to an angry man. Ellie represents hope and happiness for Joe. No matter how nasty he acts towards her, she remains in love with him. Ellie is what keeps Joe from giving up all hope. She makes him want to live. When Ellie receives some shocking news about Joe, she is in disbelief. She cannot believe what she is being told. Ellie’s anguish is palpable.
William Holden plays the type of character he became best known for in this film. Joe is a handsome everyman, who is just angry at himself, angry at the world. However, despite his bitterness, he never once becomes mopey. Never is Joe mean. He isn’t an unbearable person. He’s just disappointed. Upset. Depressed. Tired. Despite how cynical and jaded Joe is, there’s always this glimmer of hope. He knows that things can get better. Joe just needs some luck or an opportunity. Holden always manages to bring a charm and vulnerability to his roles. You can’t hate Joe. You can’t hate Holden.
While this might not be the greatest World War II-set romantic drama ever made, I loved this film when I first saw it. But I’m always a sucker for a genuinely romantic film, free of most of the typical plot contrivances that malign the romance genre.
2021 is (finally) coming to a close. While the year wasn’t so hot as a whole, except for my fabulous trip to Southern California in October, it was another year of discovering new favorite films. One of the best thing about being a fan of film, especially classic film, is that you never run out of “new” movies to see. As Lauren Bacall says in an episode of Private Screenings with Robert Osborne, “It’s not an old movie, if you haven’t seen it,” and I couldn’t agree more. There is an entire world of movies to discover, a world of films just waiting to become someone’s favorite.
Without further adieu, in no particular order, here are some of my new favorites that I watched for the first time in 2021:
#1 Road House (1948) This was a fabulous film noir that I watched right at the start of the new year. It is the final volume in the Fox Film Noir DVD series (I own the entire collection). I decided to take a look at it, because I’m a big fan of Ida Lupino. In addition to Lupino, it also starred Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, and Celeste Holm. At first, it seems like Ida is going to be the femme fatale, but it is soon revealed that she is a woman who will not be made a pawn in the games of the men, Wilde and Widmark. Even though she was originally brought into the Road House by Widmark to be another of his fly by night floozies, she refuses to be used and becomes a big star and later saves the day. In a time when every woman who wasn’t Judy Garland or Doris Day was dubbed, Ida uses her own voice to warble out “One for my Baby (And One More For the Road)” and it was fabulous.
#2 Mrs. Miniver (1942). I know. This is a big Oscar winner. A major classic of the studio era, but I hadn’t seen it yet. I absolutely loved this movie and actually bought the blu-ray literally right after watching it. That’s how much I loved it. Greer Garson won an Oscar playing the titular Mrs. Miniver and infamously delivered the longest acceptance speech, a record which still stands today. Long-winded speech or not, Garson deserved her award. In Mrs. Miniver, Garson portrays a very stoic woman and mother who stays strong and protects her family even directly in the line of fire during the German invasion of Britain. She puts humanity above all else, even when directly threatened by an injured German pilot. The scene with Mrs. Miniver and her husband and children hiding in the shelter while bombs fall all around them is heartbreaking. This family does not know what they’ll find when they emerge, or whether their house will still be standing. Despite everything, Mrs. Miniver remains a calm influence even in the middle of a tumultuous event, like a World War. I cannot say enough good things about this film, it was fantastic.
#3 Girl Happy (1965). Like the esteemed Mrs. Miniver, this Elvis movie is another film that I purchased immediately after watching it. I loved it. For years, with the exception of Viva Las Vegas (my favorite Elvis movie), I wrote off Elvis’ movies as pure fluff, and not fluffy in a good way, and many of Elvis’ movies are ridiculous, like Girl Happy, but if you can suspend disbelief and just go along with whatever plot is presented, I’ve found that many of Elvis’ movies are enjoyable diversions. In Girl Happy, Elvis plays a musician (a premise setting up lots of opportunities for Elvis to sing) who, along with his band, is hired by his boss to indirectly chaperone his 18-year old daughter, Shelley Fabares. Shelley is traveling to Florida for Spring Break and her overprotective father is worried. Elvis happily agrees, because he gets an all expenses paid trip to Florida. Like how most movies with this plot go (see Too Many Girls), Elvis starts to fall in love with the girl whom he’s chaperoning, and the girl discovers that he was hired to watch her and gets upset. Regardless, this movie was charming, fun, and I loved it.
#4 History is Made at Night (1937) This was a movie that I’d never even heard of until I heard that Criterion was restoring it and releasing it as part of their esteemed (at least among the boutique label community) line of films. I first watched it on the Criterion Channel and must have seen a pre-restoration print, because it was pretty rough. After watching it, I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of it. It had one of my faves, Jean Arthur! And Charles “LUCY! RAWWWR” Boyer. How has this movie been hiding from me this entire time? In this movie, Jean Arthur plays Irene, a woman who leaves her husband, Bruce, (Colin Clive) after he falsely accuses her of having an affair. To prevent the divorce from being finalized, Bruce tries to manipulate a situation to frame Irene for infidelity. He hires his chauffeur to pretend to be Irene’s lover, so that a private detective walks in and catches them in a compromising position. While this is taking place, Paul (Charles Boyer) is walking by Irene’s window. He overhears the ruckus and comes to Irene’s rescue, pretending to be an armed burglar. It’s a weird set-up, but ultimately leads to a beautiful love story with an ending that I was not expecting.
#5 Naked Alibi (1954). This was another film noir that I’d never heard of until I was reading Sterling Hayden’s filmography and discovered that he’d made a film with one of my faves, Gloria Grahame. Fortunately, my library had this film available and I was able to borrow it. This was a great movie. Hayden plays a police chief who tails a suspect, Willis, to Mexico. Willis is suspected to be the mastermind behind a series of crimes in the small town from which he and Hayden hail. While in a border town on the Mexican border, Hayden meets Grahame, a singer with whom he becomes smitten. Unfortunately, Grahame is the girlfriend of Willis, despite the shoddy treatment she receives from him. Hayden and Grahame’s connection with one another continues to grow until the very end of the film. This was a wonderful film and I thought that Gloria Grahame looked absolutely gorgeous.
#6 Dead End (1937). Despite the appearance of the Dead End Kids, whom I cannot stand (I don’t get their appeal), I thought this was a great movie. This film is a story about social classes and the privileges that are afforded to those of a higher social standing. The neighborhood in the film is a “dead end” both figuratively and literally. The rich live in high rise apartments that overlook the slums and tenements. Those who are not privileged to live in the high rises literally have the rich looking down upon them. If you have the misfortune to be born into the slums, it is all you can do to get out. Some try to do so honorably, like Dave (Joel McCrea), who dreams of making a career as an architect. However, he can’t just seem to book the right gig, so he has to survive by doing odd jobs. Others, like Drina (Sylvia Sidney) have slightly less honorable means to get out of the tenement, she wants to marry a rich man. Then, there are those like Hugh “Baby Face” Martin (Humphrey Bogart), who did manage to get out of the slums, but he did so by becoming a big-time mobster. The Dead End Kids represent the next generation who most likely will remain in the slums, unless they can somehow be guided into making a better life for themselves. Marjorie Main has a heartbreaking role as Baby Face’s mother. Claire Trevor is fantastic as Baby Face’s old girlfriend, who was never able to get out of the slums.
#7 Klute (1971) This was the first film in Alan J. Pakula’s “Paranoia Trilogy,” which unfortunately I watched all out of order. I don’t think the films in the trilogy have anything to do with one another, so I think I’m okay. Anyway, there’s just something about the 1970s thrillers that I find fascinating. There’s a grittiness, a seediness, combined with the earth tones aesthetic that I just love watching. Anyway, in this film, Jane Fonda gives an Oscar-winning performance as Bree Daniels, a prostitute who aids police detective, John Klute, in investigating a murder. After finding an obscene letter addressed to Bree in the murder victim’s office, Klute rents an apartment in Bree’s building and begins tracing her. Concurrently, Bree is working as a freelance call girl to support herself while she tries to make it as a model/actress. Bree is also trying to find meaning in her life through sessions with a psychiatrist. This was such a fantastic movie and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to find out who was responsible for the murder.
#8 Thunder on the Hill (1951) I am a big fan of Ann Blyth and this was a film of hers that I hadn’t heard of until I purchased Kino Lorber’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema box sets. Thunder on the Hill, by the way, is on the second collection in the series. In this film, Blyth plays Valerie, a young woman convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged. However, on her way to the gallows, Valerie and the police officers accompanying her, are forced to spend the night in the hospital ward of a convent due to massive flooding. Running the hospital ward is Sister Mary (Claudette Colbert), a woman who is also battling with her own mental troubles involving her sister’s suicide. Valerie is understandably combative and angry, but confides to Sister Mary that she is innocent of the crime of which she was convicted. Sister Mary, who has been warned in the past about meddling in other people’s affairs, is convinced of Valerie’s innocence and sets to save her before she is executed. This was such a wonderful film. It was interesting to see Blyth in such a different role than that of Veda in Mildred Pierce or the mermaid in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. I loved the suspense of the story and the cinematography was gorgeous. I am also a big fan of Douglas Sirk, so this film fit the bill.
#9 King Creole (1958) A second Elvis film on the list? Yes! I watched a lot of Elvis movies this year according to LetterBoxd, so it was bound to happen. This was an excellent film. It was much higher brow fare than Elvis would be offered once he returned from his stint in the army. In this movie, Elvis plays super senior Danny, who has failed high school once and looks like he’ll fail it again due to his behavior. He is offered a chance to graduate if he agrees to take night classes, but Danny turns it down, much to the chagrin of his father, Dean Jagger. There is drama between Danny and his father, in that Jagger lost his job as a pharmacist after his wife died. The family is forced to leave their nice home outside of New Orleans for a much more modest flat in the French Quarter. To help make ends meet, Danny was working before and after school. Now with school out of the way, Danny starts working at a club. As how most Elvis movies go, he is coerced into singing and is offered a job performing at the club, much to the chagrin of the club’s main act. Danny is soon a sensation. Eventually his connection with the local gangs threaten to affect his family, his relationship with a young woman named Nellie (Dolores Hart), and his life. This was such a great movie with a stellar cast. Aside from Elvis, Dean Jagger and Dolores Hart, Carolyn Jones, Walter Matthau, Vic Morrow, and Paul Stewart also star in this film… and it was directed by none other than Michael Curtiz!
#10 Private Lives (1931) This was a fabulous pre-code starring Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery. In this film, Shearer and Montgomery play Amanda and Elyot, two ex-spouses who end up staying at the same hotel while honeymooning with their new respective spouses. Both honeymoons are NOT going well. Amanda and her new husband Victor (Reginald Denny) are already fighting due to Victor’s incessant need to talk about Elyot. Because yes, let’s talk about your new bride’s ex-husband on your honeymoon. Great idea, Victor. Elyot is dealing with the same thing from his new wife, Sybil (Una Merkel) who won’t stop asking about Amanda. Eventually, Amanda and Elyot find each other and begin to reminisce about “the old times.” They end up leaving the hotel together and head to a new place in St. Moritz. This was a fabulous pre-code that had plenty of racy moments. I am not as big a fan of Shearer in her production code movies like The Women, but I love her in pre-code. She and Montgomery also make a great pairing. Poor Una Merkel is wasted in her role, but she is wonderful in her scenes.
#11 Hold Back the Dawn (1941) This was an amazing movie. One that I’d always wanted to see but it seemed like it was never on TCM–then finally it was and the movie was everything I’d hoped it would be. In this film, Charles Boyer stars as Georges Iscovescu, a Romanian immigrant who is stuck in a Mexican border town. Per immigration laws, he is looking at up to an eight year wait to obtain a quota number for entry in the United States. Georges then runs into an old flame, Anita Dixon (Paulette Goddard), an Australian who married a US citizen purely to obtain US citizenship. As soon as she could, she divorced the man and retained her citizenship status. Anita suggests that Georges do the same thing, then he and she could be free to start a new life together in New York. Georges immediately goes to work and spots Emmy Brown (Olivia de Havilland), a California school teacher whose bus has broken down. The bus is set to be repaired shortly, but Georges manipulates the situation (by “losing” a vital piece of the bus’s machinery) and forces Emmy and her class to stay overnight. This gives Georges enough time to woo Emmy and they are married after a whirlwind romance. However, Georges is required to wait in Mexico a few weeks before he can join Emmy in California. Emmy returns unexpectedly and Georges takes her on a trip (under the guise of a honeymoon, but in reality he is trying to hide from an immigration officer who is looking for con artists like Georges and Anita). Georges’ plans are complicated when he finds himself falling in love with Emmy. This was such an amazing film. Even though we’re supposed to dislike Georges, it’s hard to do because it’s Charles-freaking-Boyer. It’s easy to see why Emmy falls for him. I love true, legitimate romantic films (with no contrived plot points), and this is one of the best that I’ve seen.
#12 Gaslight (1944) Another Charles Boyer film! Third one on the list! Surprisingly Boyer was not on my top 10 actors watched in 2021, per Letterboxd. This was an amazing film. I don’t know how I went so long without seeing it. This is the film that gave the name to a form of psychological abuse, where one partner mentally manipulates another into thinking that they’re losing their mind. In this film, Boyer plays Gregory Anton, a pianist who marries Alice Alquist (Ingrid Bergman), a famous opera singer. Gregory works as Alice’s accompanist. At first, Gregory seems sweet, he convinces Alice that they move into her deceased aunt’s old home #9 Thornton Square in London, seemingly under the guise that Alice loved her aunt so much and that her aunt would want her home to be lived in. However, Gregory has ulterior motives which are revealed throughout the film. To keep Alice from catching onto Gregory’s motives, he gaslights her by manipulating situations and then making her think she caused them. Alice begins to think she’s going insane. And while she begins to question Gregory’s actions, he’s gotten her mind so messed up that she can’t convince herself that she’s right. A young, 17-year old Angela Lansbury makes her film debut as Nancy, a tart of a maid who takes pleasure in observing Gregory’s manipulation of Alice. Nancy even plays along to exacerbate the situation. Ingrid Bergman’s performance was a tour-de-force and she deserved every piece of the Oscar that she received.
#13 I Want to Live! (1958) If there are two things I love, it’s classic film and true crime. I Want to Live! has both. This film is a biopic of Barbara Graham, a prostitute who was executed in California in 1955 for her part in the murder of a wealthy widow. Susan Hayward gives an Oscar-winning performance as the doomed woman who at the beginning of the film, works as a prostitute who is arrested for soliciting sex across state lines. She then receives jail time after providing a false alibi to two friends who committed crimes. Despite her growing rap sheet, Barbara continues to “make a living” by committing petty crimes and turning tricks. Eventually, she hits the big time when she gets a job working with a big time thief, Emmett Perkins. Her job is to lure men into his illegal gambling parlor. Meanwhile, her husband has a drug addiction and is unemployed–leaving Barbara as the breadwinner. Eventually Perkins ends up becoming involved with criminals, John Santo and Bruce King. Barbara returns to Perkins’ establishment which is soon raided by the police. Barbara surrenders to the police for her involvement in the gambling ring, but soon learns that she is being accused in being complicit with Santo and King’s murder of a wealthy widow. Barbara tries to give her alibi, saying that she was home with her husband and son, but her husband has skipped town. Unless he can be found, Barbara is toast. This was such an amazing film. I know that there was controversy regarding how Barbara Graham was portrayed in the film, versus the real life events. I can’t comment on that; but what I can say is that real facts or not, this was a great movie.
#14 Suspense (1946) I went into this film noir not knowing entirely what to expect. It starred Barry Sullivan whom I like and Albert Dekker who always turns in a good performance. Sullivan and Dekker’s co-star was British figure skater, Belita. Often when athletes are put into films, especially athletes whose sport is exploited on screen, the results can vary drastically–especially if the athlete has limited acting talent. Sometimes this is good, such as the case with Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan series. Other times, it can be limiting like is the case with Belita in another film of hers that I’ve seen. However, in this film, I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not saying Belita was amazing; but she was asked to play a figure skater, and Belita delivers on that front. In this film, Sullivan plays schemer, Joe Morgan, a newcomer to New York City who ends up taking a job at a theater as a peanut vendor. Belita plays the star performer, figure skater, Roberta. Albert Dekker plays Leonard, the owner of the theater and Roberta’s husband. Joe ends up suggesting a new act for Roberta, which revitalizes the show–as a reward he is made a manager. When Leonard leaves for a business trip, he puts Joe in charge. Joe and Roberta end up striking up a romance which Leonard soon discovers. This was a fantastic film. I actually was in suspense and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.
#15 The China Syndrome (1979) This was another 1970s thriller that I watched which I really enjoyed. In this film, Jane Fonda plays television reporter, Kimberly Wells, who keeps getting stuck with the fluff stories during the local news segments. There is chauvinism present at the station, as it is thought that she couldn’t possibly handle a serious story. Her cameraman is the hot-tempered Richard Adams (Michael Douglas). One day, Kimberly and Richard end up getting a plum gig: doing a report from the Ventana, CA nuclear power plant. While visiting, they witness a malfunction in the nuclear power plant turbine operation and emergency shutdown protocol. Richard, despite being asked not to film, covertly records the entire incident. The incident is played off as not a big deal, but it becomes clear that the plant was thisclose to a meltdown. Jack Lemmon gives a fantastic performance as Jack Godell, the supervisor of the plant. Wilford Brimley was also excellent as the long-time employee, Ted Spindler, who battles with knowing what is right and his resentment over being passed up for promotion opportunities. I loved this movie. This isn’t normally my type of thing, but as a fan of 1970s thrillers and Fonda and Lemmon, I gave it a try. I’m glad I did. I was captivated from beginning to end and I especially loved Lemmon’s performance in the second half of this movie.
A Cry in the Night (1956). Raymond Burr, Natalie Wood, Edmond O’Brien.
Jane Fonda in Five Acts (2018). A fabulous documentary on HBO Max.
The Caine Mutiny (1954). Humphrey Bogart, Fred MacMurray, Van Johnson, Jose Ferrer.
Once a Thief (1965). Alain Delon, Ann-Margret, Van Heflin.
Walk on the Wild Side (1962). Laurence Harvey, Jane Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Anne Baxter, Capucine.
Moonrise (1948). Dane Clark, Lloyd Bridges, Gail Patrick.
The Glass Wall (1953). Vittorio Gassman, Gloria Grahame.
The Big Combo (1955). Richard Conte, Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace.
Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021) The Great Gonzo, Pepe, Will Arnett.
Die Hard (1988) Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson.
Confession (1937) Kay Francis, Basil Rathbone, Ian Hunter.
Three Days of the Condor (1975) Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Max Von Sydow, Cliff Robertson.
I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955) Susan Hayward, Richard Conte, Eddie Albert.
Possessed (1947) Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey
“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”
“We’ll always have Paris.”
“Play it Sam, play ‘As Time Goes By.'”
“I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on here.”
“Here’s looking at you, kid.”
“Everybody comes to Rick’s.”
These are just some of the amazing quotes from Casablanca. Casablanca is considered one of the greatest films of all time, and for good reason–it is a fantastic movie. Almost every line of dialogue is quotable. The characters (especially Rick, Ilsa, and Louis) are iconic. The last scene between Rick and Ilsa at the airport and later, the ending scene with Rick and Louis walking off into the fog are forever symbolic of Classic Hollywood. Between the quotes, the scenes, the music, Rick and Ilsa’s romance, Louis’ corruption… there is so much to remember about Casablanca. However, does anyone remember the object that plays a central role in the film? 1
1 Obviously a rhetorical question, because duh, we’re all Classic Hollywood film fans, OF COURSE we know the answer to this question; but roll with it.
Answer? The letters of transit. The letters of transit are introduced in the film as a piece of crucial documentation that refugees must present to leave Casablanca, Morocco. These refugees are hoping to obtain a letter of transit so that they can travel through German-occupied Europe to Lisbon, Portugal (which is neutral), then board a ship/plane to head to their new life in the United States. These documents are the objects that motivate the main characters’ actions in the film. The audience is first introduced to Peter Lorre’s character in the film, Ugarte, as he races through town and into Rick’s (Humphrey Bogart) club, Rick’s Cafe American. Ugarte boasts that he murdered two German couriers to obtain these precious letters of transit. He wants to sell them in Rick’s club. In the meantime however, Ugarte asks Rick to keep the letters of transit safe.
Later, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) arrive in Casablanca and head over to Rick’s. Victor is the leader of the Czech Resistance movement. Because of his activity, Victor ranks high on the Germans’ list of persons to not allow to leave Casablanca. Thanks to Rick’s business rival, Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet), Rick is suspected of having the letters of transit in his possession. This suspicion is what leads Ilsa and Victor to Rick’s. Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), the corrupt prefect of police, also suspects Rick has the letters of transit. He is a subject of the German-controlled France and is supposed to be preventing Ilsa and Victor’s escape.
But does the audience care about the letters of transit? No. Not really. As the audience, we are immediately captivated by Rick’s sour reaction to Ilsa’s showing up at his club. What’s the story there? That’s what we want to know. Judging from Ilsa’s acquaintance with Sam (Dooley Wilson), Rick’s pianist and friend, and her asking him to play “it,” we know that there’s a story there. Sam knows what “it” is and reluctantly agrees to play the song when Ilsa persists. When Sam acquiesces to Ilsa’s request and begins playing “As Time Goes By,” (i.e. “it”), Rick angrily emerges from his office, demanding to know why Sam is playing *that* song. He spots Ilsa and oof. If looks could kill. Rick’s reaction, combined with Sam quickly grabbing his piano bench and scurrying out of the way, is what we need to know about. What is the story behind Rick and Ilsa?
The story of Rick and Ilsa provides the main framework of the story and the main conflict. Add in the fact that Ilsa is married to Victor, and a love triangle develops. Rick and Ilsa’s romance is re-kindled and soon it’s up in the air as to whether Ilsa will want a letter of transit to leave Casablanca. A different side of Rick emerges. He was a cynical, world weary ex-pat living in Casablanca, seemingly impervious to everything. Then Ilsa shows up (unexpectedly) and the romantic side of him emerges. Louis is there, kind of playing both sides, both as an ally of Rick’s but also wanting to follow through on his “duty” and prevent Victor’s escape. He knows Rick knows where the letters of transit are, but he doesn’t really work too hard to look for them. Louis, a French police officer, is stuck in the middle between duty to his country and duty to the corrupt Nazi regime who had taken over Vichy France. At the end of the film, Louis tosses the full bottle of Vichy water into the trash, symbolically showing that he is severing his ties with the Nazis. Louis, like Rick, becomes a patriot.
At the end of the film, Rick makes the ultimate sacrifice and sends Ilsa off with Victor. He hands over the letters of transit very casually. There is no big fanfare, no big build up when Rick hands off the coveted documents. Instead, we are treated to Rick’s very self-sacrificing monologue, the monologue in which he finally severs ties with Ilsa and closes this chapter of his life. This is closure to the romance that we’ve been captivated by since the beginning of the film. We’re finally finding out the resolution of the love triangle. Which man will Ilsa end up with? The man she fell in love with after her husband was thought to be dead? Or her husband, whom she reunited with (and abandoned Rick in the process) after learning that he was still alive? Does she stay with the man who escaped the war to live in Casablanca? Or does she stay with the man who is conducting very important, but also dangerous work on behalf of the Resistance? The letters of transit are essentially irrelevant in the context of the real crux of the film.
RICK: “Last night, we said a great many things. You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I’ve done a lot of it since then, and it all adds up to one thing: you’re getting on that plane with Victor where you belong.”
ILSA: “But Richard, no… I… I…”
RICK: “Now you’ve got to listen to me! You have any idea what you’d have to look forward to if you stayed here? Nine chances out of ten we’d both wind up in a Concentration Camp. Isn’t that true, Louis?”
LOUIS: “I’m afraid Major Strasser would insist.”
ILSA: “You’re only saying this to make me go.”
RICK: “I’m saying it because it’s true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”
ILSA: “But what about us?”
RICK: “We’ll always have Paris. What we didn’t have, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.”
ILSA: “When I said I would never leave you.”
RICK: “And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t have any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”
(ILSA lowers her head and begins to cry)
(RICK gently grabs Ilsa’s chin and raises it, so they can look into each other’s eyes.)
RICK: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Humphrey Bogart (Rick), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa), and Claude Rains (Louis) in one of the most iconic scenes in Classic Hollywood.
The final scene between Rick and Ilsa is one of my absolute favorite scenes in any film. Who knew that a scene where two people are breaking up could be so romantic and heartbreaking. It was beautifully written and acted. After taking in the emotional gravitas of this scene and the absolutely heart-wrenching ending to this romance, who is still thinking about the letters of transit?
This is one of the ultimate classics that I should have seen by now, but hadn’t until a couple days ago. In this film, Greer Garson stars as Kay Miniver, who is referred to often as “Mrs. Miniver.” Mrs. Miniver is portrayed as a very kind, beautiful woman. She is very warm and welcoming and treats everyone the same across the board, regardless of class or status. She seems to be well liked by everyone in her English village, especially by James Ballard (Henry Travers), the local train engineer. He shows Kay a rose that he cultivated in his garden outside the train station–a beautiful red rose that he’s named “Mrs. Miniver” in honor of Kay. He basically says that he named it after her because of the kindness that she shows him again and again when she visits his station.
Anyway, Kay along with her husband Clem (Walter Pidgeon) live in a beautiful estate named “Starlings,” on the River Thames. Clem is also part of the River Patrol and is enlisted to help out in the Dunkirk evacuation at one point in the film. Kay and Clem live at the estate with their two young children. Their oldest son, Vincent aka “VIn” (Richard Ney) attends Oxford. He comes home as Germany’s invasion into England is imminent during WWII. He announces his intention to enlist in the Royal Air Force because he wants to do his part. Kay of course doesn’t want her son in the war, but knows that they’re all in the fight with Germany together.
At the same time, Vin meets Carol Beldon (Teresa Wright), the granddaughter of the very wealthy Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty). Lady Beldon is very much “old money” and resents the lower classes trying to acquire the same material possessions that she and her fellow rich folk enjoy. She basically doesn’t want the middle class trying to be upper class. Anyway, there is a conflict when Vin and Carol fall in love and want to marry. Meanwhile, during all of this, Germany officially invades England and the Minivers are right in the midst of all the “action” (so to speak).
This was a heartbreaking film. I’m not one to cry at movies and I didn’t at Mrs. Miniver, but I can see how someone would. There are so many emotional scenes, some tragic and some happy. The scene of the Minivers hunkered down inside of their shelter while bombs blasted all around them was very suspenseful and scary. I cannot even imagine being confined to this small little bunker while bombs are literally falling down all around you, shaking your shelter. I can just imagine how scary it would be knowing that you could possibly emerge from the shelter and your home is leveled to the ground. I thought the scene with Kay and the German soldier was very suspenseful and also showed the strength of Kay’s character. She remains so stoic throughout the entire scene and throughout the film.
I loved this film. It was fantastic. I loved this film so much in fact, that I bought the Blu Ray right after seeing it. I love wartime dramas and this is definitely one of the best. I wish I had seen it earlier. I also forgot how much I liked Greer Garson. I think I have a bunch of her films on my DVR that I’ll need to prioritize.